Dallas gay leaders OK Miers pick

Only known record of her stances on gay rights surfaces in lesbian’s garage
By David Webb
Staff Writer


President Bush on Monday nominated Dallas native Harriet Ellan Miers to the United States Supreme Court — turning the eyes of the nation on a 16-year-old document stored in the garage of longtime lesbian leader Louise Young.
Bush named Miers, the White House counsel, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Miers, formerly a prominent Dallas lawyer and a past president of the State Bar of Tex-as, is a longtime, close associate of Bush’s. She has no prior experience as a judge.

When she heard the news of Bush’s nomination, Young re-membered that Miers had appeared before the Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition’s screening committee when Miers ran for the Dallas City Council in 1989. The politician did not ask for the political coalition’s endorsement, but she filled out the questionnaire and spoke to the group.

Rummaging through the storage boxes that she had moved from Dallas to Vermont and back, Young found the document. Its existence has now been reported by virtually every news organization in the country.
Young said that she fielded numerous calls from the media this week.
“I think I’ve talked to just about everybody,” Young said. “It’s been kind of wild.”

Young said she kept all of the records from the coalition, which eventually merged with the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, because to do otherwise “would be like throwing away our history,” she said.
Her foresight apparently paid off.

“It’s interesting that the only paper trail on her stand on gay rights was in my garage,” Young said. “Isn’t that odd?”

Young said her recollection was that Miers appeared uncomfortable when she appeared before the political coalition’s members.

“I say that just because of her demeanor,” Young said. “She didn’t want our endorsement, but on the other hand she was there. She was cordial and not hostile at all.”

Young said some of Miers’ answers on the questionnaire appeared to contradict one another.

Although the candidate said she supported equal rights for gay and lesbian residents, she said that she would oppose efforts to overturn Texas’ sodomy law, which applied only to homosexuals. On another question, Miers said she thought the AIDS epidemic was the responsibility of the entire community and favored greater funding to fight it. Yet she failed to make a firm commitment to opposing discrimination based on HIV status, saying she would prefer that the Legislature address the issue.

“It was kind of contradictory,” Young said. “Some of the answers were not good.”

Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the questionnaire, which his organization distributed nationwide, lends hope that Miers would be a fair-minded justice if she is confirmed by the Senate.

“It raises the possibility that she is more fair-minded than opponents are hoping,” Solomonese said in a press release. “We will be closely watching how the White House responds to this news, and it will be a good test of whether the extreme right wing has hijacked the process on nominating a Supreme Court justice.”

None of Dallas’ gay City Council members served at the same time as Miers. But they all said they have met her and respect her abilities and accomplishments. All said they would be comfortable with her appointment to the Supreme Court.

Chris Luna, a Dallas attorney, worked with Miers more closely than any of the other gay council members. She chaired the city’s Judicial Nominating Commission when he was a council member, Luna said..

“She is judicious, she listens to people, gets all of the facts, doesn’t jump to conclusions. Then she makes a decision,” he said.

Luna added that pinning down Miers’ positions on issues would be difficult because she typically keeps her opinions to herself.

“I think that is why she has been so successful, because she didn’t get way out there and prejudge and stake a claim,” Luna said. “She is flexible, she listens and she keeps her personal viewpoint in check so she will have more maneuverability and flexibility.”

An exception to that habit, aside from the questionnaire she provided to the Dallas gay rights group, came in the 1980s. The Washington Post reported that Miers told a friend that she believed that life begins at conception — and said she was opposed to abortion. The newspaper reported that she had attended a lecture at a Dallas evangelical church with Nathan Hecht, who is now a Texas Supreme Court justice, and expressed that opinion to him after the event.

Luna said he believes Miers is capable of change if she comes to realize she made a mistake.

“When she has made the wrong decision she has no problem in doing a 180 and saying ‘I’ve learned more, and now I understand more about the facts,’” Luna said.

Luna said that Miers has always been accepting of him.

“She certainly knows I’m gay,” Luna said. “She wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for me to the Texas Bar Association.”

Former council member Craig Holcomb said Miers seemed comfortable when he and his partner encountered her at civic and political events.

“She was always very nice to us as a couple and did not seem to feel awkward or anything,” Holcomb said.

Former council member Craig McDaniel said he also found Miers to be cordial. He said it will be difficult for anyone on the right or the left “to mobilize the masses” against Miers because she gets along well with many different types of people.

“A lot of the women in Dallas who have emerged as leaders have seemed to have that same type of personality,” McDaniel said. “They seem to have a comfortableness with lots of different situations and views.”

McDaniel said he is delighted that the president nominated Miers.
“This is as good as we would ever get out of a Republican administration,” McDaniel said.

William W. Waybourn, a former president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance who is president of Window Media, which owns and operates a group of gay newspapers, said he is also comfortable with the selection.

“She was always very nice and very cordial and friendly,” Waybourn said. “I don’t remember anything bad about her.”

Waybourn said as a council member Miers had appointed some gay people to municipal boards and commissions, including gay Dallas attorney Don McCleary, whom she appointed to the Community Development Commission.
“I don’t think the right-wing Republicans are going to feel comfortable with her,” Waybourn said.

Political consultant Pat Cotton said Miers has always been viewed as a moderate. Miers impressed people because she is “very smart, quiet and does her homework,” Cotton said.

“I think she will do that as a Supreme Court justice and not let other people make her decisions for her,” Cotton said.

Cotton said she likes the idea that Miers has been a practicing lawyer, because the Supreme Court lacks that experience.

Cotton said she considers Miers’ nomination an “interesting one.”
She added that she believes Bush is confident about how Miers views the issues that are important to him.

“I think he was very deliberate and very careful,” Cotton said. “If she does change into someone with whom he is uncomfortable, he’ll be the most shocked of all.”