President Bush’s nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court is an evangelical Christian and longtime member of a Dallas church whose preaching pastor is arguably the most influential Church of Christ minister in the Southern Baptist Convention.
White House Counsel Harriet Miers had a Catholic upbringing but joined Valley View Christian Church 25 years ago. Barry McCarty, the church’s preaching minister, has been chief parliamentarian for every Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting since 1986, the only non-Baptist to hold the post.
Miers’ pastor, Ron Key, who left the church recently after 33 years, said she taught Sunday school, made coffee, brought donuts and served on a missions committee. “She worked out her faith in practical, behind-the-scenes ways,” Key said, quoted by Marvin Olasky in a World Magazine blog. “She doesn’t draw attention to herself. She’s humble, self-effacing.”
Nathan Hecht, a Texas Supreme Court justice and elder at the church, described the congregation as “a conservative evangelical church … in the vernacular, fundamentalist, but the media have used that word to tar us.”
Key told Olasky that the church is strongly pro-life, but that in the 25 years he has known Miers they never talked about her views on abortion, an issue certain to be a focus of her confirmation hearings. O’Connor has been a swing vote in several cases involving a woman’s right to privacy in early pregnancy and permitting restrictions in later terms only if they don’t endanger the woman’s health.
The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America said the burden is on President Bush and Miers to demonstrate she shares O’Connor’s commitment to “fundamental freedoms, including a woman’s right to choose.”
As president of the Texas State Bar in 1993, Miers urged the American Bar Association to put the abortion issue to a referendum, questioning whether the ABA should “be trying to speak for the entire legal community” on a divisive issue.
In 1989, the year she was elected to the Dallas City Council, she donated $150 to Texans for Life, an anti-abortion group.
Hecht, a strongly pro-life justice who stood up for parental notification laws regulating abortion five years ago, said of Miers, “her personal views are consistent with that of evangelical Christians.”
“You can tell a lot from her from her decade of service in a conservative church,” Hecht said. He said Miers gave a full tithe to the church while she was there.
In addition to her church work, she has served on the board of Exodus Ministry, a non-denominational Christian organization in Dallas established to assist ex-offenders and their families become productive members of society by meeting both their spiritual and physical needs.
The organization is in not related to Exodus International, a controversial ministry that says homosexuals can charge their sexual orientation through a faith commitment. Exodus International has not yet taken a position on Miers’ nomination to the Court.
Miers’ nomination has received mix reviews from conservatives.
Eugene Delgaudio, president of Public Advocate, called it “a betrayal of the conservative, pro-family voters whose support put Bush in the White House in both the 2000 and 2004 elections and who were promised Supreme Court appointments in the mold of Thomas and Scalia.”
Instead, he said, conservatives were given “stealth nominees” without records on controversial issues, in the mold of David Souter, a moderate justice appointed by the president’s father.
“When there are so many proven judges in the mix, it is unacceptable this president has appointed a political crony with no conservative credentials,” Delgaudio said. “This attempt at ‘Bush Packing’ the Supreme Court must not be allowed to pass the Senate and we will forcefully oppose this nomination.”
On the other hand, Jay Sekulow of Pat Robertson’s AmericanCenter for Law and Justice, “enthusiastically” endorsed her nomination.
“Harriet Miers is an excellent choice with an extraordinary record of service in the legal community and is certain to approach her work on the high court with a firm commitment to follow the Constitution and the rule of law,” Sekulow said. “I have been privileged to work with her in her capacity as White House counsel. She is bright, thoughtful, and a consummate professional and I enthusiastically endorse her nomination.”
Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for the Colorado-based conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, said he hopes Miers will carry her religious convictions into the court if confirmed.
“We hope her faith will have an effect upon her decisions; we hope her Christian worldview gives her a moral framework in which to rule upon the cases before the Supreme Court,” Minnery said in an interview with Religion News Service.
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, a Virginia-based evangelical Christian ministry, called Miers “a surprising, but inspiring choice” and a “woman of great integrity.”
Concerned Women for America was more cautious.
“We give Harriet Miers the benefit of the doubt because thus far, President Bush has selected nominees to the federal courts who are committed to the written Constitution,” Jan LaRue, CWA’s chief counsel, said in a statement. “Whether we can support her will depend on what we learn from her record and the hearing process.”
James Dobson of Focus on the Family said at present Miers “appears to be an outstanding nominee for the Supreme Court,” but he looks forward to learning more about her at her confirmation hearings.
Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said since Miers has never been a judge, Senate questioning will be crucial.
“It is imperative,” said Lynn, “that the judiciary committee uncover her judicial philosophy and her views on the relationship between religion and government.”
In his interview with World Magazine, Hecht described Miers’ judicial philosophy as, “She’s an originalist,” meaning the she looks at the plain words of law.
“That’s the way she takes the Bible,” he said, and that’s her approach to the Constitution as well.
Hecht, 55, and Miers, 60, have known each other for 30 years. Neither has ever married. He said the two are “very close friends,” who “dated some” and have a “close, Platonic” relationship. They go to dinner, he said, and he goes to Washington for special events.
Hecht said the couple “went to two or three pro-life dinners” in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Hecht downplayed questions about Miers’ politics because she made donations of $1,000 to Lloyd Bensten in 1987 and Al Gore in 1988. She was a Democrat for many years before the early 1980s, he said, and if she gave money to Democrats in the late 1980s, it was because her law firm made her do it.
He said she was very loyal to President Bush, and that Miers and Laura Bush are “very close.”
World also quoted another lawyer, a conservative Christian who worked with Miers in Texas, who gave a more critical analysis.
“Harriet could have become a conservative in Washington, but unless she did, she doesn’t have any particular judicial philosophy,” said the attorney, not named because World said criticizing Miers would seriously hurt his practice.
“I never heard her take a position on anything,” he said. “We’ll have another Sandra Day O’Connor.”
“Harriet worships the president and has called him the smartest man she’s known. She’s a pretty good lawyer…. This president can be bamboozled by anyone he feels close to. If a person fawns on him enough, is loyal, works 25 hours a day and says you’re the smartest man I ever met, all of a sudden you’re right for the Supreme Court.”
Beginning with Charles Stanley in 1986, Barry McCarty’s counsel took center stage in parliamentary rulings in the late 1980s that helped fundamentalist SBC presidents solidify control of the nation’s largest non-Catholic faith group.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.