Harriet Ellan Miers (born August 10, 1945) is a Republican lawyer and former White House Counsel to President George W. Bush. In 2005, she was nominated by Bush to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but bipartisan opposition led President Bush to reluctantly withdraw the nomination.
Early life and education
Miers was born in Dallas, Texas, and spent most of her life there until she moved to Washington, D.C. (2001) to work in the Bush administration. She has described herself as a "Texan through and through." She is the fourth of the five children of real estate investor Harris Wood Miers, Sr., and his wife, the former Erma (Sally) Grace Richardson.
Miers graduated from Hillcrest High School (Dallas, Texas), a public high school, in 1963.
Miers entered Southern Methodist University intending to become a teacher. The economic plight of her family was so dire that she almost dropped out in her freshman year, but she was able to find part-time work that put her through college. Then her father had a debilitating stroke. When a lawyer helped organize her family's financial situation, Miers was inspired to enter law school. Miers graduated from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics (1967) and from its Law School with a Juris Doctor degree (1970).
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In the summer of 1968, between her second and third years of law school, Miers worked as a clerk for Belli, Ashe, Ellison, Choulos & Lieff, the San Francisco law firm founded by Melvin Belli. Miers was immersed in tort law. Her supervisor was Robert Lieff, then a partner in the Belli firm and later a founder of the nationally prominent plaintiffs' law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. In a 2005 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Lieff stated that Miers "saw what we did for people who needed to get a lawyer and were only able to get a lawyer by a contingent fee."
After graduating from law school, from 1970 to 1972 Miers was a law clerk for the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Joe E. Estes. She was admitted to the Texas bar in 1970 and admitted to the DC bar in 1997.
In the late 1990s, while Miers was on the advisory board for Southern Methodist University's law school, she helped create and fund a Women's Studies lecture series named after pioneering Texas lawyer, Louise B. Raggio, who was a mentor to Miers. Raggio, who died in 2011, knew Miers for nearly 40 years, since Miers was a student at Southern Methodist University. Miers was one class behind Raggio's son at SMU, and Raggio became a mentor for Miers; years later she served as a close advisor to Miers during the Texas Bar race. "I was interested in having a woman president," Raggio says. "She was an electable woman, a woman with a big firm behind her. Women's groups supported her because they wanted to show that a woman would be a competent president.".
From 1972 until 2001 Miers worked for the Dallas law firm of Locke, Liddell & Sapp (and predecessor firms before mergers). She was the first female lawyer hired by the firm and later became its president. When the merger that created Locke, Liddell & Sapp took place in 1999, she became the co-managing partner of a legal business with more than 400 lawyers. In 2000 the firm settled a lawsuit for $22 million that accused the firm of having "aided a client in defrauding investors". According to the Class Action Reporter, Miers "said the firm denies liability in connection with its representation of Erxleben. 'Obviously, we evaluated that this was the right time to settle and to resolve this matter and that it was in the best interest of the firm to do so,' Miers said."
As a commercial litigator, she represented clients including Microsoft and the Walt Disney Company.
In 1986, Miers became the first female president of the Dallas Bar Association. In 1992, Miers became the first woman to head the State Bar of Texas. She has served as chair of the Board of Editors for the American Bar Association Journal and as the chair of the ABA's Commission on Multi-Jurisdictional Practice.
In 1989, Miers was elected to a two-year term as an at-large member of the Dallas City Council. She did not run for reelection in 1991 after a restructure of the city council converted Miers' at-large seat, elected by voters citywide, into a single-district seat.
Miers met George W. Bush in January 1989 at an annual Austin dinner affair for legislators and other important people. Nathan Hecht, a mutual friend and Miers' date, made the introduction. Miers subsequently worked as general counsel for Bush's transition team in 1994, when he was first elected Governor of Texas. She subsequently became Bush's personal lawyer and worked as a lawyer in his 2000 presidential campaign.
While head of the State Bar of Texas, Miers joined an unsuccessful effort to have the American Bar Association maintain its then-official position of neutrality on abortion. The ABA had adopted abortion neutrality at its 1990 annual meeting in Chicago after strong opposition by the State Bar of Texas to a pro-choice position. By the summer of 1992, at its annual meeting in San Francisco, the issue was again pending before the ABA assembly. Miers, who had not been involved in the Chicago meeting, supported ABA abortion neutrality in San Francisco. At the San Francisco meeting, the ABA Assembly and House of Delegates voted to take a pro-abortion rights position, and the state bar of Texas dropped its plans to ask the ABA's policy-making body to hold a referendum of the group's 370,000 members on the issue.
Since September 1994, Miers has contributed to the campaigns of various Republicans (at about the same time she began to work for George W. Bush), including Kay Bailey Hutchison, Phil Gramm, and Pete Sessions, with recorded contributions to Republican candidates and causes totaling nearly $12,000. Her earlier political history shows support for the Democrats during the 1980s, with recorded contributions to Democratic candidates and causes, including the Democratic National Committee, the Senate campaign of Lloyd Bentsen and the 1988 presidential campaign of Al Gore, totaling $3,000. Her last recorded contribution to a Democratic cause or campaign was in 1988. Ed Gillespie said that she was a "conservative Democrat" at the time.
In April 2007, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell announced that Miers was returning to the firm. In her new role at the firm, Miers has registered with the United States Department of Justice as an agent for the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Embassy of Pakistan.
In 1995, George W. Bush, then Texas governor, appointed Miers to chair the Texas Lottery Commission. Some have credited Miers with reforming the commission after a previous corruption scandal.
Her tenure has also been criticized. In 1997, the commission under Miers hired Lawrence Littwin as executive director but fired him five months later. At the time, the contract to operate the lottery was held by the politically connected GTech Corporation, which had obtained the contract with the help of a former Lieutenant Governor of Texas (Democrat Ben Barnes). Littwin, as director, began an investigation into whether GTech had made illegal campaign contributions and whether GTech owed the commission millions of dollars for breaches of its contract. He stated that Miers ordered him to stop the investigation. He brought a lawsuit alleging that he was fired in retaliation for the investigation and to ensure that GTech would keep its contract.
According to Texans for Public Justice, GTech paid Littwin $300,000 to settle the suit.
Miers resigned from the lottery commission in early 2000, a year before her term ended. She said her resignation had nothing to do with lagging sales in the system's biggest game, Lotto Texas, but rather that she wanted to allow her successor time to prepare for rebidding the lottery's primary operator contract.
There was some speculation during Bush's 2000 campaign that Bush would appoint Miers to the position of Attorney General. This was seen as possible with her trusted role as Bush's personal attorney and her many appointments during his tenure as governor. This also recalled William French Smith, who was Ronald Reagan's personal attorney before being named Attorney General. Miers was not chosen and John Ashcroft became Attorney General instead.
In January 2001, Miers did follow Bush to Washington, D.C., serving as Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary during the first two years of his presidency. In that role, she opposed the administration's 2001 decision to stop cooperating with the ABA rating of judicial nominees. In 2003, she was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. In November 2004, Bush named her to succeed Alberto Gonzales, his nominee for Attorney General, to the post of White House Counsel, the chief legal adviser for the Office of the President.
Miers is said to be one of Bush's closest personal friends and appears given to effusive praise for the President. According to former Bush speechwriter David Frum, Miers has called Bush the most brilliant man she had ever met and says he was the "best Governor ever." She also stated that "serving President Bush and Mrs. Bush is an impossible-to-describe privilege" and noted that Bush's personal qualities "make a brighter future for our nation and people all around the world possible."
Miers' last public speech before her nomination was given to the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce on June 2, 2005.
Supreme Court nomination and withdrawal
On July 1, 2005, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her intention to retire upon the confirmation of a successor. Bush appointed Miers as head of the search committee for candidates to replace O'Connor. On July 19, 2005, Bush nominated John G. Roberts, Jr. to replace O'Connor. Several weeks later, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died of thyroid cancer. Bush then withdrew Roberts from consideration as O'Connor's replacement, instead nominating Roberts to fill the Chief Justice vacancy. The Senate confirmed Roberts on September 29.
Meanwhile, Bush considered nominating Miers as O'Connor's successor, factoring into account suggestions by several senators that the nominee should come from outside the appellate court system. This caused several commentators to draw parallels with the 2000 election, when Dick Cheney, the head of Bush's vice-presidential search committee, was ultimately selected as the running mate.
On October 3, 2005, Bush nominated Miers to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, saying, "Harriet Miers will be the type of judge I said I would nominate: a good conservative judge." Miers' nomination was criticized by people all over the political spectrum due to the fact that she had never served as a judge at any level, her perceived lack of intellectual rigor, her close personal ties to Bush, and her lack of a clear record on issues likely to be encountered as a Supreme Court Justice. Many notable conservatives vigorously criticized her nomination, and numerous conservative groups normally considered part of Bush's political base planned to mount an organized opposition campaign.
Miers met with the Senate Judiciary Committee after her nomination and in those meetings she was ill-prepared and uninformed on the law. Senator Tom Coburn told her privately that she "flunked" and "[was] going to have to say something next time." Miers had difficulty expressing her views and explaining basic constitutional law concepts. Miers had no experience in constitutional law, and did not have extensive litigation experience; at her Texas law firm, she had been more of a manager. In addition, Miers had rarely handled appeals and did not understand the complicated constitutional questions senators asked of her. To White House lawyers, Miers was "less an attorney than a law firm manager and bar association president."
In an unprecedented move, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy also requested that Miers re-do some of her answers to the questionnaire submitted to her by the Committee, noting that her responses were "inadequate," "insufficient," and "insulting" because she failed or refused to adequately answer various questions with acceptable accuracy or with sufficient detail. Miers also privately expressed a belief in the right to privacy to the pro-choice Arlen Specter, only to later deny that she had communicated that position. Her answers also included an error on constitutional law where she mentioned an explicit constitutional right for proportional representation; though many court rulings have found that legislative and other districts of unequal population violate the equal protection clause, the right to proportional districts is not explicitly mentioned in the United States Constitution.
After Miers failed in these private meetings, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Sam Brownback began drafting a letter asking the President's office to turn over legal memoranda and briefs Miers had written for Bush, in order to elucidate her views on political matters. Brownback and Graham knew the memos were protected by executive privilege, that the White House was not required to turn them over, and that Miers could refuse to deliver the memos and then ostensibly step down on principle. Miers would later use this request as part of a face-saving exit strategy for stepping down. In her letter withdrawing her nomination, she pointed to the senators' request for confidential documents as potentially damaging the executive branch's independence.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) stated shortly after the meetings that "I think, if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority, either in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor." However, Specter, the committee chairman, rejected the notion that Miers' nomination was shaky. He said that most senators were waiting for the hearings before making up their mind. "There are no votes one way or another," he said on CBS' Face the Nation. On October 19, 2005, Specter and Leahy announced their intent to begin confirmation hearings for Miers on November 7, 2005.
On October 27, 2005, the White House announced that Harriet Miers had asked President Bush to withdraw her nomination, citing fears that the nomination would create a "burden for the White House and its staff and it is not in the best interest of the country." President Bush stated that the Senate's interest in internal White House documents "would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel" and that he had "reluctantly accepted" her request. Miers was the first Supreme Court nominee to withdraw since Douglas H. Ginsburg in 1987 and the seventh to do so in U.S. history.
Bush then nominated Samuel Alito for the seat on October 31, 2005. The Senate subsequently confirmed Alito on January 31, 2006. Miers remained as White House Counsel for another year until announcing her resignation on January 4, 2007.
Resignation and departure from the White House
Joshua B. Bolten, upon becoming President Bush's chief of staff in April 2006, pressed for Miers' resignation, but Bush rejected the idea. After the 2006 elections, when Democrats won a majority of both chambers of Congress, Bolten asked again for her departure, arguing that the president needed an aggressive lawyer and increased staff for the Office of Legal Counsel to fend off congressional inquiries and subpoenas. The second effort succeeded; Miers announced her resignation January 4, 2007 and left January 31, 2007. In April 2007, Miers rejoined her previous firm, Locke Liddell & Sapp, and became a partner in its litigation and public policy group. She maintains offices in Austin, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. The firm is now known as Locke Lord.
Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy
Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, wrote to Miers in January 2006 to recommend that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys, saying that limiting the number of attorneys "targeted for removal and replacement" would "mitigat[e] the shock to the system that would result from an across-the-board firing." In March 2007 the White House had suggested that the plan came from Miers, who had left the White House in January 2007, before the dismissal received public attention. The firings have led to Congressional investigations regarding the dismissals.
On June 13, 2007, the Senate and House Judiciary Committees issued subpoenas to Miers and to Sara M. Taylor, former deputy assistant to President Bush and the White House director of political affairs, asking them to produce documents and appear before the committees to testify about what role, if any, both may have had in the U.S. Attorney firings controversy. Miers was requested to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 11, 2007. The White House reiterated its longstanding demand that no past or present White House officials would be permitted to testify under oath before the panels, and that private interviews, not under oath, and without transcripts would be permitted. The Chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees reiterated that the White House terms were unacceptable. Ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Arlen Specter (R-PA) said that the committee had "really had no response from the White House" regarding possible testimony on the firing of several U.S. attorneys, and that that had prompted the subpoena to compel a response. Miers refused to appear before Congress because Bush ordered her not to. On Wednesday, July 25, 2007, the House Judiciary Committee voted 22-17 to cite Miers for contempt of Congress for her failure to appear before the committee in response to its subpoena. On Feb. 14, 2008, the full House of Representatives voted to cite her for contempt by a vote of 223-32. Many Republicans walked out of the chamber in protest, deriding the priorities of the speaker in calling the vote, as opposed to a vote on a surveillance bill.
On March 4, 2009, Miers and former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bush Karl Rove agreed to testify under oath before Congress about the firings of U.S. attorneys.
Awards and honors
Miers' mother and three brothers live in Dallas. She had a sister, Kitty, who is deceased. Miers has not married and has no children.
She is a close friend of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht has known her for more than 25 years. After Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court, Hecht was cited as an unofficial spokesperson representing her views.
In 1979, after she made partner in her law firm, she became an evangelical Christian after having had a series of long discussions with Hecht, who was her colleague at the firm.
- August 10, 1945: Harriet Miers born in Dallas, Texas.
- 1967: Miers graduates from Southern Methodist University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics
- Summer 1969: Miers works for the firm of Belli, Ashe, Ellison, Choulos & Lieff
- 1970: Miers graduates from Southern Methodist University School of Law with a law degree
- 1970-1972: Miers works as a law clerk for Joe E. Estes, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas
- 1972: Miers begins working in private practice for the Dallas firm of Locke, Liddell & Sapp and predecessor firms before mergers.
- 1986: Miers becomes the first female president of the Dallas Bar Association
- January, 1989: Miers meets George W. Bush.
- 1989-1991: Miers elected an at-large member on the Dallas City Council; did not run for reelection.
- 1992: Miers becomes the first female head of the State Bar of Texas.
- 1994: Miers works as general counsel for Bush's transition team when Bush becomes governor of Texas.
- 1995: She becomes Bush's personal lawyer.
- 1995: Texas governor George W. Bush appoints Miers to chair the Texas Lottery Commission.
- 2000: Miers resigns from the Texas Lottery Commission, a year before her term ended.
- 2000: Miers is a lawyer in George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.
- 2001-2003: Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary
- 2003: Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy
- 2004: White House Counsel, the chief legal adviser for the Office of the President.
- October 3, 2005: Nominated to Supreme Court.
- October 27, 2005: Supreme Court nomination withdrawn.
- January 4, 2007: Announced resignation as White House Legal Counsel.
- January 31, 2007: Effective date of resignation and departure from the White House.
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