The Magazine

A Faith-Based Nomination

The White House is emphasizing Harriet Miers's religious views.

Oct 17, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 05 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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IT WAS EARLY ON THE first Monday in October, two hours before the Supreme Court heard its first case of the new term, that President Bush announced the nomination of Harriet Miers to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. That evening, James Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, a vast evangelical ministry based in Colorado Springs, came out strongly in favor of the choice. On Fox News, Dobson conceded he hadn't met Miers, but said he could support her nomination because the president had appointed high-quality judges and thus could be trusted to make another good choice. "Beyond that," he said, "I do know things that I am not prepared to talk about here."

That comment, surely not in the White House talking points, led Senate Democrats to wonder whether Miers might have made commitments to her sponsors as to how she would decide certain cases. And so on Tuesday, the second day of her young and already controversial nomination, she found herself having to assure the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, that she had spoken to no one about how she might vote.

What "things," then, does Dobson know? "There are some things we learned about her Christian commitment," an aide to Dobson told me, speaking not for attribution. And those things very likely are among the ones that within 48 hours of her nomination were being widely reported. The stories relied on sources authorized by the handlers of the Miers nomination, who also spoke to evangelical leaders. Those sources include Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht and Miers's pastor, Ron Key, who both are from Dallas, the nominee's hometown. Both are longtime friends and share her Christian faith, which, like the president's, is that of an evangelical Protestant.

Born in Dallas in 1945, Miers graduated from Hillcrest High School, then took her undergraduate degree (in mathematics) and her law degree at Southern Methodist University, not more than a ten-minute drive from Hillcrest. After clerking for a federal district judge, she joined a prestigious Dallas firm, Locke Purnell Boren Laney & Neely, where she soon made partner, specializing in commercial litigation. For Miers, however, career success only went so far, says Hecht, then a junior lawyer at Locke Purnell. "She began thinking about what's important--what do I want to believe and what will give me meaning."

Miers had grown up going to Catholic and Episcopal churches, but her faith had yet to acquire depth, says Hecht, who likely is the person Dobson was referring to last week when he told the New York Times, "I know the person who brought her to the Lord." In 1979, during one of evidently many conversations with Hecht about ultimate questions, Miers decided to become a believer--in the well-known evangelical vernacular, to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. "I was with her at the time," says Hecht, and the question came up about where she might go to church. "I said, 'Why don't you come with me to my church?'" She did, and soon she was baptized (full immersion) and became a member of Valley View Christian Church, in North Dallas.

Ron Key became pastor of Valley View in 1972, eight years after its founding. Christian Churches like Valley View are descended from the early nineteenth century Restorationist Movement, so-called because of its intention to restore New Testament teaching about the church. Valley View is part of what Key calls "a loose confederation" of Christian Churches known as the North American Christian Convention. It was formed in 1927, at a time when Protestant churches generally were dividing along theologically progressive and conservative lines. The conservatives among the restorationists called themselves "independents," and the North American Christian Convention amounted to a declaration of their independence from the liberal programs and doctrines of the (also restorationist) Disciples of Christ. The convention has not evolved into a denomination (which is why Valley View describes itself as "nondenominational") and remains still simply a fellowship of like-minded churches whose doctrines are within the mainstream of American evangelicalism. As a visitor to www.vvcc.org can see, the church believes in the Bible as "the only infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God" and that "to receive Christ is to believe in Jesus as God's Son and Savior of the world, repent of personal sin, confess Christ publicly and be baptized."