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All in the Family

Illustration by Mr. Fish

George Bush’s attorney Harriet Miers will almost certainly provide the swing vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and end a woman’s right to choose an abortion. If, that is, the Senate confirms her to serve on the Supreme Court. Because journalists are advised to avoid reporting the future, I hedge my bet with the qualifier “almost.” But it’s a prediction you can take to the bank — almost.

In appointing the lawyer he took to Washington with him, the president again demonstrates the brilliance of his political adviser Karl Rove, who helped move Miers from litigation to the political practice of the law. Miers never served as a judge. She has no paper trail that senators could use to predict what sort of justice she will be. The White House is refusing to release correspondence between Miers and her client George Bush. And despite her high-profile position as a partner at a Dallas law firm, she has a scant record of litigation. So there’s much the public and the Senate won’t know.

What they should know is that Miers is an anti-abortion-rights zealot, who, as we say in the South, is “keeping company” with a Texas Supreme Court justice who defines anti-abortion zealotry in Texas. Miers’ love interest, Nathan Hecht, anchors the right wing of one of the nation’s most conservative high courts. He is the Texas Supreme Court’s most vocal — and at times most reckless — opponent of a woman’s right to choose. He was the midwife to Miers’ born-again experience in 1979, when the two of them fell to their knees (in prayer) in Miers’ office at the Dallas law firm where they worked. Now, on orders from White House political operative Rove, he is selling Miers to the party’s evangelical Christian base. He’s not saying much about her record.

Miers does have a record, even if it is not a public one. A highly regarded Republican Texas jurist has described Miers’ position on women’s reproductive rights as solidly anti-choice. A political consultant who ran Miers’ campaign for Dallas City Council places her on “the extreme end of the anti-choice movement.” The nondenominational evangelical Christian church Miers attends has been described by one of its former ministers as a “Bible-based congregation that is opposed to abortion.” But most importantly, as president of the Texas Bar Association, Miers campaigned very hard to end the American Bar Association’s support of a woman’s right to choose.

That campaign says a lot about Miers’ philosophy. Not only her religious philosophy as a member of Valley View Christian Church, but the professional philosophy that informed her actions while she was president of the Texas Bar Association in 1993. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison graduated from law school, could find no one to hire her as a lawyer and ultimately took a job as a TV news reporter. She considers Miers “a pioneer” in the legal profession. The senator is right. Miers was one of the very few women to be hired by a first-tier Dallas law firm in the ’70s. She was the first woman elected to head the Dallas Bar Association. And she broke the gender barrier at the Texas Bar Association, where in 1993 she became the first woman to serve as president.

There was more to Miers’ pioneering. Miers was the first female president of a state bar to campaign against the American Bar Association’s support of a woman’s right to choose. She ran her national anti-choice campaign without the backing of the bar association that elected her president. And she ignored the women’s lobby within her own state organization. “We were very much opposed to it,” said a lawyer who was working with the Texas bar’s Women in the Law group. “We considered it a raw deal.” The Texas Bar Association had passed no resolution on the issue of choice. And the Texas Bar’s Women in the Law section supported the ABA position on abortion rights. “She did it without our consent,” said the former WIL member. “In the Women in the Law section we had a big row about what we considered a stealth attack on a woman’s right to choose. She traveled around the country representing her position as the bar’s position. And it wasn’t.”

There’s more context to Miers’ anti-choice philosophy. Miers is a member of an extended family of anti-choice candidates moved into public office by Karl Rove. The Texas Supreme Court is loaded with them. On that court, Justice Hecht was also romantically linked to Priscilla Owen. (It was Owen’s appointment to the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that almost destroyed the United States Senate last year.) Hecht and Owen were two of seven Rove candidates on the Texas court when Rove moved to Washington in 2000. Miers almost became number eight. When U.S. Senator John Cornyn left the court to run for attorney general in 1998, Bush considered appointing Miers to fill the vacant seat. “Everyone was excited about the prospect of a love triangle involving three justices,” said a lawyer working at the court. Bush made another appointment, judiciously avoiding the nation’s first Supreme Court pro-life ménage à trois. Miers followed Bush and Rove to Washington in 2000.

Karl Rove is not a Christian Ideologue. It’s likely that in his heart of hearts he doesn’t care one way or another about abortion. He is a pragmatist who cares about one thing: winning elections. Hecht is cut from different cloth. That’s why Rove has him selling Miers to the party’s evangelicals. Hecht is well-suited to the task. Besides providing a literal and a certain romantic cachet to the term “judicial activism,” Justice Hecht’s opinions on reproductive rights are considered extreme by Texas standards. Like Priscilla Owen, Hecht worked very hard to create insurmountable hurdles for minors going to court to obtain abortions. In one of the Jane Doe minor abortion cases the Texas court decided in 2000, Hecht quoted so extensively from the district-court transcripts of one girl’s case that he revealed her identity — a breach of confidentiality so great that it drew an angry opinion from a fellow Republican justice. When Hecht speaks, the evangelicals in the Republican Party would be wise to listen.

The evangelicals would prefer a court-tested conservative such as Owen, the author of anti-abortion opinions on the Texas high court. Or perhaps Owen’s bench mate at the 5th Circuit, Edith Jones, who, as a federal appeals-court judge, declared that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Jones is also known as “Judge No” on death-penalty appeals. And when a lawyer representing a woman in a sexual-harassment case reminded Jones that the defendant had groped her client’s breast, Jones responded: “Well, he apologized later.” She’s a right-wing Christian dream candidate, often said to be on Bush’s shortlist for the high court.

So Bush could have picked better. There is a deep Republican bench filled with ideologues tested on the single issue that animates the religious right. But evangelicals have no reason to fear Harriet Miers. She’s with them in the pew. She’ll be with them on the bench.


Lou Dubose is the author of several books, including The Hammer: Tom DeLay: God, Money and the Rise of the Republican Congress and Boy Genius: Karl Rove, the Architect of George Bush’s Remarkable Political Triumph.


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