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School & District Management

High Court Pick’s Record Has Little on Education

By Andrew Trotter — October 11, 2005 2 min read
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Harriet E. Miers, President Bush’s choice to replace retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, helped shepherd the No Child Left Behind Act through its final stages in her staff role at the White House, according to one of the president’s closest advisers on education at the time.

“Clearly, everything went though Harriet that went to the president; she would provide times to see the president and [pass along] the different pieces of paper the president would need to see,” said Sandy Kress, who was Mr. Bush’s education adviser in 2001, when the White House and Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on a major reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. At the time, Ms. Miers was the White House staff secretary.

The president announced his selection of Ms. Miers, now the White House counsel, for the high court on Oct. 3. His longtime confidante, who handled mostly business-related work as a lawyer in Dallas and does not have judicial experience, appears to lack much of a paper trail from which to draw conclusions about how she might rule in an area as specific as K-12 education.

“She is completely a blank slate to me,” said Tom Hutton, a lawyer at the National School Boards Association. “She’s not a blank slate to the president, and that’s what matters.”

Ms. Miers’ low profile is in contrast to the president’s first Supreme Court pick, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who handled several prominent education cases as an appellate advocate and had opined on many school issues as a young White House lawyer under President Reagan. (“Roberts’ Education Views to Face Senate Scrutiny,” Sept. 7, 2005)

Mr. Kress, now a consultant on education issues, said Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who was the White House domestic-policy adviser during President Bush’s first term, was more closely involved than Ms. Miers in formulating the administration’s approach in the No Child Left Behind law. But “we would have conversations with [Ms. Miers] about where [the legislation] was,” he said.

Mr. Kress, who said he has known Ms. Miers for many years, was one of a number of prominent Bush administration allies who voiced support for the nominee, even as her selection was met quickly by a backlash from many conservative Republicans.

Some Democrats, including Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate minority leader, spoke favorably of Ms. Miers, while reserving judgment on her nomination.

Online Questions

Ms. Miers, as the deputy chief of staff for policy in the White House, promoted the No Child Left Behind law as the host of a pair of online forums last year with citizens who e-mailed questions on a wide range of topics.

In an August 2004 edition of “Ask the White House,” she responded to a question about what could be done to eliminate poverty in the country.

“An effective education system helps demonstrate society’s commitment to each member regardless of income level, background, race, or ethnicity,” Ms. Miers replied. Also essential were “economic growth and opportunity, and social services, including those provided by faith-based organizations,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2005 edition of Education Week as High Court Pick’s RecordHas Little on Education

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