The support for SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers often refers to her as a "pioneer" among women in the law. I have read and heard repeated references to the fact that she was the first partner her a large, established Texas law firm. Her presidency of the Texas state bar association and the fact that she was the first female to hold that position has also been trumpted. I see bragging about the powerful corporations whose interests she has represented.
But let's place these remarks in context with what else we know about Miers, and what tends to be true of very large, traditional law firms.
It has been said of Miers that "[s]he put herself in servant roles, making coffee every Sunday morning and putting doughnuts out." That she scrutinized literally every piece of paper that approached Pres. Bush, vigilant for punctuation miscues. That she spent a full day rewriting Pres. and Laura Bush's Christmas card.
I'll make this bold statement: if a large firm were making a decision to integrate by gender, a woman fitting those descriptions is exactly the type of woman it would choose for its foray into equality. It would look for a woman who would be more concerned with the minutae of typos than with the larger concerns of "what are we doing to aggrandize anyone other than ourselves." It would be pleased with a woman who is unlikely to change the existing partners' status quo.
And, it would likely be even happier if she puts out cookies and coffee for them at the partners' meetings.
Nor, for that matter, am I especially impressed that she has represented Microsoft (how many lawyers have pushed one piece of paper or another for Microsoft? thousands?); or that she was the first woman president of the Texas State Bar Association. This is a hortatory position that is important to lawyers, but that does not require Miers' personal commitment to advancing and developing the law.
What I have yet to see, and what would make a difference to me, is evidence that Miers has ever used whatever intellect she has to take risks to push the edge of the law to someplace new - - on behalf of someone who has no hope unless his lawyer is willing to rock the boat. Pres. Bush joked that Miers was a "pit bull in size six shoes," but over what? He didn't indicate, and no one has made that clear.
At the same time that Miers' supporters were shoring up her support, another item received hardly any mention in the news. Vivian Malone Jones, just two years older than Miers and thus coming up in the same era as Miers, passed away. Jones was one of two black students who faced down then-Governor George Wallace to officially integrate the University of Alabama. Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to oppose them, and finally had to stand aside and let them pass.
If I'm looking for a "pit bull in size 6 shoes," one whose "pioneering" on behalf of a group of people had some meaning, Vivian Malone Jones would fit that description. Miers, who had far more advantages in life than Jones, appears to have done little with all that she was given. I do expect more of someone described as a "pioneer," especially if she is to assume a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.