AUSTIN, Texas -- Uh-oh. Now we are in trouble. Doesn't take much to read the tea leaves on the Harriet Miers nomination. First, it's Bunker Time at the White House. Miers' chief qualification for this job is loyalty to George W. Bush and the team. What the nomination means in larger terms for both law and society is the fifth vote on the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Aside from that bothersome little matter, the Miers appointment is like that of John Roberts -- could've been worse. Not as bad as Edith Jones, not as bad as Priscilla Owen -- and you should see some of our boy judges from Texas.
Miers, like Bush himself, is classic Texas conservative Establishment, with the addition of Christian fundamentalism. What I mean by fundamentalist is one who believes in both biblical inerrancy and salvation by faith alone.
She is enrolled in the Valley View Christian Church of Dallas, which she attended for at least 20 years before moving to Washington five years ago. Among that church's other members is Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court, considered second only to Priscilla Owen as that court's most adamant anti-abortion judge.
According to Miers' friends, she was pro-choice when a young woman, but later changed her mind as a result of a Christian experience of some kind. Those who spoke of this did not know her well enough to say whether it had been a born-again experience or simply a different understanding of theology.
Miers had the support of feminists when she ran for office first in the Dallas bar and later when she became the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association, even though the feminists were aware she was anti-choice.
At that time, the far more conservative TBA was at odds with the American Bar Association and sometimes threatened to withdraw from the national organization. Miers was considered a moderate in that she did not want to withdraw from the ABA, but favored a proposal to change the organization's stance from support for abortion rights to a position of neutrality.
One of Miers' key backers was Louise Raggio, a much-revered Dallas feminist lawyer. The women lawyers groups favored Miers despite her stand on abortion because she was a candidate acceptable to the Establishment, thus making her electable as a woman.
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Miers sometimes took women judicial candidates through her very prestigious firm Liddell, Sapp for the obligatory meet 'n' greet and even donated to Democratic candidates. Both these behaviors were well within the conventions of Dallas city and judicial politics, particularly in the 1980s. Dallas city politics are nonpartisan, and rather like Texas tea ("sweet or un?") come in only two flavors -- Establishment or less Establishment. Miers qualifies as ur-Establishment, despite "being a girl," as few of the old dinosaurs still put it. The slightly feminist tinge to her credentials is a plus, but she is quite definitely anti-abortion.
She ran for city council in 1989 as a moderate, but struggled during her interview with the lesbian/gay coalition. (At the time, it would have been considered progressive to even show up.) The Dallas Police Department did not then hire gays or lesbians, and when asked about the policy, Miers replied the department should hire the best-qualified people, the classic political sidestep answer.
When pressed, she said she did believe one should be able to legally discriminate against gays, and it is the recollection of two of the organization's officers that the response involved her religious beliefs.
Miers' church states on its website that it believes in biblical inerrancy, full immersion baptism, original sin and salvation dependent entirely upon accepting Jesus Christ. Everyone else is going to hell.
I have said for years about people in public life, "I don't write about sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll." If I had my druthers, I wouldn't write about the religion of those in public life, either, as I consider it a most private matter. Separation of church and state is in the Constitution because this country was founded by people who had experienced both religious persecution and state-supported religions. I think John F. Kennedy's 1960 statement to the Baptist ministers should stand as a model of how public servants should handle the relation between religious belief and public service.
Nevertheless, we are now beset by people who insist on dragging religion into governance -- and who themselves believe they are beset by people determined to "drive God from the public square."
This division has been in part created by and certainly aggravated by those seeking political advantage. It is a recipe for an incredibly damaging and serious split in this country, and I believe we all need to think long and carefully before doing anything to make it worse.
As an 1803 quote attributed to James Madison goes: "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries."