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Senate's top Democrat explains why he praised Miers so quickly

WASHINGTON—When Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid surprised liberals this week by prominently applauding Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court, he was displaying a hint of his disdain for elitists as well as his admiration for a Western lawyer, who like him, pulled herself up by her bootstraps.

Reid, who grew up in a small Nevada mining town and worked his way through law school, alluded in an interview with Knight Ridder to Miers' struggles as a young woman working part time to pay for her education after her father was incapacitated by a stroke.

"She overcame difficult family circumstances to become the managing partner of a successful 400-lawyer Dallas law firm," Reid said.

He contrasted Miers with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Harvard-educated blue-chip constitutional lawyer whom Reid voted against.

"As bright and brilliant and as good a lawyer as Judge Roberts was, I asked him—he'd never taken a deposition, he'd never picked a jury, never tried a case," Reid said. "He never tried a case. She has. We need people like that who have real-life experiences."

Reid has voiced admiration for Miers since he first met her about six months ago when she paid him a courtesy call upon her appointment as White House counsel. In a conversation with Internet bloggers last week, before Bush nominated Miers, Reid recounted how he urged Bush to consider her for the court.

"I said, `The vice president got here in a very unusual way. He was chosen by you to find a candidate to be your vice president. You liked the person in charge of finding a candidate better than the people he chose.' I said, `I think that rather than looking at the people your lawyer's recommending, pick her.'"

Liberals have tried to link Miers, a longtime Bush loyalist, to their denunciations of Bush for cronyism. Reid himself on Tuesday called for changing "the culture of corruption and cronyism spreading throughout the nation's capital—a culture that led to `Brownie' at FEMA and the failures of Katrina and the Republican scandals we're now reading about," he said, referring to the government's response to Hurricane Katrina under former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown.

But, speaking to the bloggers, Reid made one thing clear about Miers: "I will include everybody as a crony, but not her, when I make my case."

For all that, Reid said in the interview that he wasn't committed to vote for Miers' confirmation. He said she must prove her mettle during Judiciary Committee hearings.

While most Democrats are withholding judgment on Miers, Republicans are openly divided over her.

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas on Tuesday voiced doubts about Miers.

"I have said in the past that I would like a nominee with a proven track record on important issues to all Americans and whose judicial philosophy is well-formed," said Brownback, a Judiciary Committee member. "I am not yet confident that Ms. Miers has a proven track record, and I look forward to having these questions answered."

Brownback, who's weighing a run for the presidency in 2008, was echoing doubts voiced loudly by conservative activists whose support he would need.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a leading conservative and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who's not expected to seek the presidency in 2008, expressed unqualified support for Miers.

"A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned, but they don't know her as I do," Hatch said. "She's going to basically do what the president thinks she should, and that is be a strict constructionist."

Bush, in a news conference Tuesday, tried to answer critics on the right.

"I'm interested in people that will be strict constructionists," Bush said, describing jurists who don't interpret the Constitution broadly. "Harriet Miers shares that philosophy."

Bush also said he doesn't employ a "litmus test" on abortion when selecting judicial nominees. Pressed on whether he and Miers, who've known each other for more than 10 years, had ever discussed abortion, Bush replied, "Not to my recollection ..."

Ralph Neas, the president of People for the American Way, a liberal lobby, said that staunch conservatives on the Judiciary Committee might decide that, like Democrats, they need to know more about Miers' legal thinking before they can support her. That could lead them to forge an odd alliance with Democrats to demand answers about her judicial philosophy and to seek documents from the White House about her legal work for the president.

Bush indicated that the White House would reject such calls.

"I just can't tell you how important it is for us to guard executive privilege in order for there to be crisp decision-making in the White House," he said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Harriet Miers

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