White House Shifts Focus On Miers

(CBS/AP) With Harriet Miers still under attack from the right, President Bush is launching a new, more aggressive strategy in defense of his Supreme Court nominee.

The White House wasn't expecting conservative opposition and it spent much of last week on the defensive. This week, the president and members of the administration are trying to frame the debate around Miers' legal qualifications, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.



Miers looked close to home for free cases

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers looked close to home, or the office, in choosing the free legal cases to take on as a private lawyer. No sweeping constitutional matters for her, or even terribly contentious ones.

She helped a garage attendant for her building complete an adoption. She won a case for a Nigerian woman who was fighting a deportation order. She lost when representing an indigent single mother denied disability benefits.

"She handled small matters," said lawyer Jerry Clements, who has worked with Miers. "Somebody needed a divorce, somebody needed an adoption."

As head of the State Bar of Texas, she urged lawyers to take on more pro bono, or unpaid, cases for the poor, but she resisted proposals to make such work mandatory. "The real issue is how to provide more services of better quality to the poor who need them," she said.

Her Dallas law firm, Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP, didn't keep track of how many free cases she accepted or how many hours she devoted to them, and associates are not aware of her doing so on a frequent basis.

In any event, her pro bono cases were strikingly more private or limited in legal precedent than those taken on by Chief Justice John Roberts when he worked as a lawyer at the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson for some 13 years.

In her pro bono work, as in other aspects of her career, Miers left a light mark on matters of great controversy.

Roberts provided assistance on a death row appeal, helped lawyers on Supreme Court arguments to overturn a Colorado referendum that would have allowed discrimination against gays, and advised Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2000 presidential election dispute.

Miers once pitched in with Catholic Charities of Dallas to save a woman from being sent back to her native Nigeria.

That woman "was alone in life with her little baby, just a kind of a victim in a terrible relationship," said Vanna Slaughter, who handles immigration matters for Catholic Charities. The woman's advocates had to demonstrate that she would face extreme hardship if deported, and the charity did not think it could help her win.

Slaughter said Miers met the woman separately, called the charity offering her help, and must have spent more than 100 hours on the case. "It was a pretty daunting situation and she prevailed in it," Slaughter said. "We're forever grateful to her."

Clements said Miers also helped a man who parked cars in their firm's garage. "One of them desperately needed help with an adoption issue," he said.

In 1981 case of Ware v. Schweiker, she represented Carolina Ware, a single mother caring for six dependent children who had sought Social Security disability benefits, arguing that various medical problems had prevented her from working.

Ware, who waived the right to a lawyer in her initial appeal, had her claim denied. She sought another hearing and Miers was her lawyer.

"Now ably represented by volunteer private counsel, obtained through a community legal aid service, an applicant for Social Security Disability Benefits and for Social Security Supplemental Income seeks reversal of the secretary's decision, made after a hearing at which she was not represented, denying her those benefits," the judge wrote.

Ware and Miers lost as the court agreed that the denial of benefits was appropriate. The court said Ware had offered no medical evidence except for her own testimony.


Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.


Maybe Souter's the 'Male Harriet Miers'

In the fight over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, a lot of really nasty stuff has been said about Justice David Souter as critics try to draw a sharply negative comparison with President Bush 's pick. Namely: Souter was a Republican unknown whose political friends conned former President George H. W. Bush into naming him to the court, where he blossomed into an embarrassing moderate liberal. Conservative Phyllis Schafly sneers that Miers is a "female Souter." Or maybe he's a male Miers: Both are single, in their 60s, frugal, and workaholics. What would happen if Cupid strikes in the court, some ask?

Silly issues, all, say Souter's few allies who'll talk. He isn't paying attention to how Miers's critics are hooking the two together, they say. "I pay little attention to this kind of foolishness, and I don't think he does either," says former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman, Souter's rabbi in the 1990 confirmation. Blasted as a political Trojan horse by even party elders, Souter evidently is ignoring all the harsh words, and friends say he's probably not even aware of the flap. The abstemious justice watches little TV, skips court stories in the media, and devotes all his energy to his work. "That's David," says a friend. "If I told him about what people were saying, he'd say, 'What? I didn't know that.' " Souter's pal pauses, chuckles, then adds: "We should all be so lucky."