WASHINGTON - President Bush named White House counsel Harriet Miers to a Supreme Court in transition Monday, turning to a longtime loyalist without experience as a judge or publicly known views on abortion to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Miers "will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws. She will not legislate from the bench," the president said as the 60-year-old former private attorney and keeper of campaign secrets stood nearby in the Oval Office.
Miers' was Bush's second selection in three months for vacancies on a high court long divided on key issues. The announcement came shortly before the president attended a ceremony marking John Roberts' new tenure as the nation's 17th chief justice.
"The wisdom of those who drafted our Constitution and conceived our nation as functioning with three strong and independent branches has proven truly remarkable," Miers said at the White House before departing for the Capitol and a confirmation campaign already taking shape in the Senate.
Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said through his spokesman he wanted a confirmation vote by Thanksgiving, a compressed, seven-week timetable by recent historical standards. Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pledged thoroughness.
"There needs to be, obviously, a very thorough inquiry into her background as a lawyer and her activities, people who will know her on the issues of character and integrity, which we will find out," he said.
In conference calls and interviews, the White House worked aggressively during the day to tamp down concern among conservatives determined - as Bush has pledged - to turn the court in a new direction.
Despite criticism, initial reaction suggested Bush had managed to satisfy many of the conservatives who helped confirm Roberts - without inflaming Democrats who repeatedly warned against the selection of an extreme conservative to succeed O'Connor, who has voted to uphold abortion rights and preserve affirmative action.
Several officials familiar with Bush's consultations with Congress said that Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, had recommended that he consider Miers for the vacancy. In a written statement, Reid praised the Dallas native as a "trailblazer for women as managing partner of a major Dallas law firm" and said he would be glad to have a former practicing attorney on the court.
Frist greeted Miers by telling her, "We're so proud of you." Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, issued a statement saying he looked "forward to Ms. Miers' confirmation."
Republicans hold a 55-44 majority in the Senate, with one independent. Barring a filibuster, they can confirm Miers on the strength of their votes alone.
Miers has served as an adviser to Bush for more than a decade, in positions as varied as private attorney, chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission and in the White House.
When Bush decided to run for governor of Texas in the early 1990s, he turned to Miers to research his own background for information that his opponents might try to use against him. When terrorists struck the United States in 2001, she was with him as staff secretary on what had been a routine trip to Florida.
While her loyalty to Bush is unquestioned, Democrats publicly and Republicans privately wondered about her qualifications for the high court.
"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, several senators, Reid and Specter among them, said they would be pleased to have a justice with no prior judicial experience, and the White House moved to fend off any charge that Bush was merely picking a longtime associate.
The administration released material showing that 10 of the 34 justices appointed since 1933 had worked for the president who picked them. The list included the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, first tapped for the court by Richard M. Nixon, and Byron White, named by John F. Kennedy.
Republican concerns tended to be more muted. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a strong foe of abortion, pointedly declined to issue a statement responding to the nomination.
First-term Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said he was reserving judgment. "It has been my expectation that President Bush would nominate someone in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas and it is my hope that Harriet Miers will prove to be such a person," he said. Both justices have voted to overturn the 1973 abortion ruling.
Officials said state and local GOP leaders peppered the White House with questions during a conference call, raising concerns about a lack of a documented Miers record on abortion and about her overall qualifications for the court.
They also wondered about Miers' $1,000 donations Al Gore's 1988 presidential bid, and to Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen's re-election campaign the same year. She also has donated money to Bush and other Republicans.
Abortion has overshadowed all over issues in Supreme Court nominations in recent years - and to the consternation of conservatives, Miers has scant public record on the issue.
As president of the Texas State Bar in 1993, Miers was a leader in an unsuccessful fight to persuade the American Bar Association to reconsider its pro-abortion rights stance by submitting it to a nationwide referendum.
At the time, she questioned whether the group should "be trying to speak for the entire legal community" on an issue that she said "has brought on tremendous divisiveness" within the organization.
While Miers evidently did not publicly state a view on the issue of abortion at the time, one conservative cited the events to support her nomination.
"It took a degree of courage for Harriet to be involved in that," said Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society. "The ABA is a place where there was an awful lot of liberal activism, so it took some courage for a woman to take the position she did."
Bush apparently discerned similar personal qualities in Miers long ago.
In 1996, Bush called her a pit bull in size 6 shoes. "When it comes to a cross-examination, she can fillet better than Mrs. Paul," he said on another occasion, referring to a frozen fish company.