Harriet Miers: Profile of a Tireless Competitor

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As Supreme Court candidates go, Harriet Miers is fairly inexperienced in judicial decision-making. She was a good enough law student at Southern Methodist University to make law review and win a judicial clerkship with Federal District Judge Joe Estes in Dallas after graduation in 1970. But from Estes' chambers she went, not to a federal Court of Appeals or Supreme Court post, but into private practice. That is where Miers is unquestionably impressive. Her rise to the top of one of Dallas's biggest firms, Locke Liddell & Sapp has made her a role model for Texas' leading women lawyers. And, in her various roles at the firm, she has become, in the eyes of influential Republicans, a loyal, spotlight-shunning lieutenant.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, 56, is one of Harriet Miers' closest male friends. She interviewed him for her law firm some 30 years ago and they hit it off. She hired him as an associate at Locke Liddell & Snapp and they have been friends ever since, even attending church together at Valley View Christian Church in Dallas. He knows how indefatigable she can be—and how competitive. Says Hecht: "We used to go jogging after work when we were both at the firm and I always kidded her because she would run faster uphill and slower downhill. I said to her once, 'You're just determined to fight against any obstacle or assistance, aren't you?' If we're going uphill, she speeds up just because she won't let it beat her, and she goes slow downhill because she won't allow herself to be affected by it."

As for her opinions on hot button social issues, Hecht refuses to go into details. "She is conservative, and is very comfortable in the Bush Administration and has felt comfortable being his lawyer," says Hecht, who is known as an arch-conservative jurist in Texas. "She's far more reasonable than I am."

He makes no apologies about repeating the same lines about her tirelessness that everyone else brandishes. "She's there at the office before anybody, and she's at her desk long after everyone leaves. She was known at the firm for being available to her clients, no matter what—early mornings, late nights, or last-minute cross country trips." Hecht points out a certain indiscriminate propulsion: "For most of us there are things that are important — and then there are things that are really important. With Harriet, everything is really important. For something others would say could wait until Monday, Harriet wouldn't. She takes the attitude that if it needs to be done, let's get it done."

And then there is her now-legendary turn as a ranch-hand at the Presidential compound in Crawford. "When she was staff secretary she had to go with President Bush everywhere and she went to Crawford a lot,” Hecht recalls. "The President back then wasn't into bicycle riding. He was into jogging. But he did a lot of brush-clearing at the ranch and he would pick guys, mostly from his security team and whoever else wanted to, to go out and chop cedar, put it in piles and set it on fire. Harriet insisted on being right in the middle of it. She was the only woman most of the time along with all these big burly 6-foot security guys. Well, they gave her a chainsaw but they got so scared of the way she was handling it that they started just giving her the fire starter. But whatever the task was, she would get out there and do what all the guys were doing and get grimy and sweaty in the heat along with them."

Hecht believes that temperament has been the secret of her success in the West Wing. "She's not really impressed with the limelight. She has a very clear view of her limited role in things. She didn't seek the spotlight. When she was a staff secretary she realized that her role was making sure the President's trains ran on time and everything went smoothly. She didn't think that entitled her to sit at his right hand."

Nevertheless, some former staffers have criticized Miers for that very tendency. One anonymously complained to The Legal Times last December that Miers was a micromanager bogged down with minutiae who failed to grasp the big-picture view of West Wing operations as Deputy Chief of Staff to Andrew Card. "I don't think that's true," Hecht says. "There's no question that Harriet is careful about getting it right. She is determined not to make a mistake and feels very bad when one is made. She feels like it's her job to get it right and to that extent, she'll be more careful about details than others. But with respect to the job she did for Andy Card, having been around them many times, I think Andy has nothing but regard for Harriet. I think he thinks she did a great job. Those are comments that surfaced when she moved to the counsel's office and I think it was just snippiness. People who think that they think in larger terms are going to get frustrated with someone who wants to go back and look at the details and make sure it all holds together. She will be sure that if it's a grand idea it isn't just built on a lot of stuff that won't hold up."