WASHINGTON - President Bush nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on Monday, turning to a lawyer who has never been a judge to replace Sandra Day O'Connor and help reshape the nation's judiciary.
"She has devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice," Bush said as his first Supreme Court pick, Chief Justice John Roberts, took the bench for the first time just a few blocks from the White House.
If confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Miers, 60, would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the nation's highest court and the third to serve there. Miers was the first woman to serve as president of the Texas State Bar and the Dallas Bar Association.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist outlined a timetable calling for confirmation by Thanksgiving - a tight timetable by recent standards that allowed less than eight weeks for lawmakers to review her record, hold hearings and vote. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made no commitment, saying he wanted a thorough confirmation proceeding.
O'Connor has been the court's majority maker in dozens of controversial cases in recent years, casting deciding votes that upheld the 1973 ruling that established the constitutional right to an abortion, sustaining affirmative action programs and limiting the application of the death penalty.
Within hours of Bush's announcement in the Oval Office, Miers travelled to the Capitol to begin courtesy calls on the senators who will vote on her nomination.
Frist, R-Tenn., was first on the list. His welcome was a statement in praise. "With this selection, the president has chosen another outstanding nominee to sit on our nation's highest court," it said.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid was complimentary, issuing a statement that said he likes Miers and adding "the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer."
At the same time, he said he looked forward to the "process which will help the American people learn more about Harriet Miers, and help the Senate determine whether she deserves a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court."
Reid had personally recommended that Bush consider Miers for nomination, according to several sources familiar with the president's consultations with individual senators. Of equal importance as the White House maps its confirmation campaign is that the Nevada Democrat had warned Bush that the selection of any of several other contenders could trigger a bruising partisan struggle.
Other Democrats sounded anything but conciliatory. "The president has selected a loyal political ally without a judicial record to sit on the highest court in the land," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
At the same time, Republican strategists who spoke on condition of anonymity said they would have to work hard to assure the support of some of the more conservative Republicans in the Senate, particularly on the issue of abortion. All 55 GOP senators voted to confirm Roberts.
Little is known publicly about Miers' position on abortion, an issue of surpassing importance to outside groups on both ends of the political spectrum.
When delegates to a national American Bar Association convention adopted a position in favor of abortion rights in 1992, she worked as head of the Texas state bar to force a reconsideration of the issue by submitting it to a referendum by the 360,000-membership. "This issue has brought on tremendous divisiveness and loss of membership..." she said in early 1993.
Miers, whom Bush called a trailblazer for women in the legal profession, said she was humbled by the nod.
"If confirmed, I recognize I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong and to help insure the court meets their obligations to strictly apply the laws and Constitution," she said.
Whatever her credentials for the high court, Miers' loyalty to Bush - who once called her a pit bull in size 6 shoes - is above question. When he first decided to run for governor in the early 1990s, he hired Miers to comb his background for anything derogatory that opponents might try to use to defeat him.
Miers also introduced Bush to Alberto Gonzales, who served as Bush's counsel in Austin and later in Washington, before being named U.S. attorney general.
During Bush's first term as governor, Gonzales used information turned up by Miers to persuade a local judge to excuse Bush from jury duty, a civic task that would have forced him to disclose his 1976 arrest for drunken driving in Maine. The incident was not divulged until the waning days of Bush's 2000 campaign for the White House.
Federal Election Commission records show Miers contributed $1,000 to Bush when he first ran for the White House in 2000 and $5,000 to the Bush-Cheney Recount Fund in the post-election struggle that finally sealed his victory over Al Gore.
Ironically, she had donated $1,000 to Gore a dozen years earlier, when he first sought the White House.
There was little outright opposition to Miers in the first few hours after her selection was announced - and what there was came from the most unyielding conservative anti-abortion groups.
"It's not that we don't know anything, and the small pieces of information we do know are disappointing. For example, she's Southern Methodist, notoriously pro-abortion,"said Troy Newman of Operation: Rescue.
While House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president had seriously considered 12 to 15 contenders for the job. He said more than one Democratic senator had broached Miers' name to the president, but declined to identify them.
The president, who met with Miers on four occasions during the past several weeks, offered the job to Miers Sunday night over dinner in the White House residence. Bush told Roberts in a phone call around 7 a.m. EDT and informed O'Connor in another call around 7:15 a.m. EDT, McClellan said.
Eager to rebut any charges of cronyism, the White House produced statistics showing that 10 of the 34 Justices appointed since 1933 had worked for the president who picked them. Among them were the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, first tapped for the court by Richard M. Nixon, and Byron White, whose president was John F. Kennedy.
Formerly Bush's personal lawyer in Texas, Miers came with the president to the White House as his staff secretary, the person in charge of all the paperwork that crosses the Oval Office desk. Miers was promoted to deputy chief of staff in June 2003.
As an attorney in Dallas, Miers became president in 1996 of Locke Purnell, Rain & Harrell a firm with more than 200 lawyers where she worked starting in 1972. After it merged a few years later, she became co-manager of Locke Liddell & Sapp.
When Bush was governor of Texas, she represented him in a case involving a fishing house. In 1995, he appointed her to a six-year term on the Texas Lottery Commission. She also served as a member-at-large on the Dallas City Council and in 1992 became the first woman president of the Texas State Bar.