Serving the People, Serving God: An Interview with Harriet Miers and Nathan Hecht
By Dusty Rubeck
In October 2005, George W. Bush introduced Harriet Miers as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. He had once introduced her as a “bulldog in size six shoes.” This nomination capped a long and steady rise of her career in the law. Although she was not yet well known across the nation, fellow Texans were well aware of her rise to prominence.
Harriet holds degrees from Southern Methodist University and the SMU Law School. The National Law Journal has named her to the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” list and the “50 Most Influential Women Lawyers in America” list. She was the first female lawyer hired by the firm that became Locke, Liddell & Sapp and later became the co-managing partner and president of the firm. She was the first female president of the Dallas Bar Association and first female president of the State Bar of Texas, along with serving as a member of Dallas City Council.
In 2001, Harriet was chosen to serve as White House staff secretary under President George W. Bush. In 2003, she was promoted to deputy chief of staff for policy, and in 2004 she was selected to serve as White House counsel (the chief legal adviser for the office of the president).
If you read the transcripts of her testimony before Congress, you will see a person who is cool under fire and one who has a tremendous grasp of using the English language as persuasive power. She is the same in person. She speaks quietly with careful attention to the meaning and impact of her statements.
Justice Nathan L. Hecht is senior appellate justice (of 98 active judges) in the state ofTexas. First elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1988, he is the longest-serving justice of that group. If he chooses to run and is elected for another term in 2012, he will be the longest-serving justice in Texas Supreme Court history. But that doesn’t really seem to be a motivating factor for him.
Justice Hecht is often described as the quiet judge. You must seek his opinion in friendly conversations, because he is not one to speak frivolously or force his words upon others. His words are few, but carefully measured and carry great weight.
In addition to degrees from Yale University and SMU Law School, Justice Hecht is an accomplished pianist and a popular Bible teacher.
Harriet and Nathan are members of Cornerstone Christian Church, which meets on the campus of Dallas Christian College. Ron Key serves as senior minister in this congregation and has enjoyed a long relationship with them as their preacher and friend. The article on these pages is a summary of recent interviews with them.
How has your faith motivated and informed your government service?
Harriet Miers: Only a sense of calling would have made me move from my home inDallas and give up a position in the private sector to leave for the foreign environment ofWashington, D.C. This was a precious opportunity and a God-given blessing. Beyond the sense of calling, there was also a sense of stewardship. In other words, if you have developed skills and then are asked to use them for public service, you should feel obligated to do so.
Nathan Hecht: I also view this service as a calling. The Lord summoned me here and has kept me here. This is the place God wants me to be. That gives me a lot of strength through good times and bad times. In good times, faith reminds me that I did not do all this . . . it is not for my own credit. And in bad times, I know I am here for a reason. So, faith has a leveling aspect to it.
Harriet, what about during your most difficult days in D.C.?
HM: There are many challenging days in the White House, of course, but certainly the most public time for me was when I was nominated for the Supreme Court. During that time, my faith allowed me to have a sense of contentment that surprised some. Any unpleasantness of those days did not take as great of a toll because of this contentment. And I also received constant and uplifting sentiments from many who were praying for me.
What about those who called to say rude or hurtful things?
HM: They didn’t get through . It was also reassuring to me that President Bush chose to nominate me.
What misconceptions about politicians and government service are perpetuated by those in the church?
NH: Some churchgoers tend to treat politicians as abstractions, rather than as real human beings with real dreams and goals who feel real pain and have real struggles in making political decisions. Most issues are more complicated than they look from a distance. We should have patience with that. There are two sides to every case, and both are often reasonable.
HM: When Christians as well as non-Christians elect public officials, they must set them free to do what the officials believe is right in their hearts and according to their principles. They are not going to decide everything as you want.
NH: Another thing is that there is more you can do to help them than you think. It is helpful to pray for them. It is not as helpful as you think to give them an earful of criticism. Public servants already feel underappreciated.
What do you think about polarization in America today? Is it greater than in the past? Is it greater within the church than in the past?
NH: I think there was probably more polarization in the church during the rise of the Moral Majority than there is today. In fact, there seems to be a growing apathy about politics in the church today. The Internet and cable television news highlight today’s polarization inAmerica, but it is not necessarily greater than it used to be. There’s just nonstop and very loud coverage that never goes away. There is no news cycle; it is always on.
HM: Members of both parties have said horrific things to one another. Some act as if there are no boundaries anymore. And this is true sometimes within the three separate branches of government as well. All three branches must work together in a civil fashion. It is sad when attacks are over the top. The president is our elected leader and the most powerful person in the world. His office deserves respect. We should pray for and support those in authority. If you don’t like their policies, work and get someone else elected.
NH: Rather than judging the president’s motives, you should leave that to God. It is dangerous to try to divine intentions. And the church must not let the civic discourse divide it. The church’s mission is very different from the mission of the U.S. government. The church should take the long view. As the book of Timothy says, we should pray for our rulers, that we may live in peace. The church ought to pray by name without ceasing for her leaders.
HM: At the same time, the public needs to be more demanding of its political leaders to be role models of character, diligence, and civility. When they behave in an unacceptable manner, they should not be reelected. Humility in a public servant is essential. Lawyers have a concept of being the fiduciary, and a public servant is the ultimate fiduciary. They are to act for the people they serve, not themselves.
What advice would you give to other Christians seeking political office?
NH: First, you should recognize this as a very high calling. Thus, you ought to do it if you can. Second, you should recognize that it is very hard and there will be a great deal of sacrifice you must be willing to make. Third, you should recognize that your employer (the American people) is not often appreciative of your service. There is rarely a “thank-you.” In fact, negative comments are far more prevalent than positive ones. That’s the nature of public service today.
HM: You should enter into a time of prayer, study, and counsel from wise friends. You need to answer the question: Is this the right thing to do? At the same time, you should realize that the answer to having leadership with whom you can agree is to make yourselfavailable with resources and time to help get them elected.
NH: Since I do not have a family, I have a great deal of independence and freedom to serve. I don’t have the same financial pressures and needs, I have more personal time available, and I don’t have to worry about my family taking the brunt of criticism against me.
Dusty Rubeck serves as president of Dallas (Texas) Christian College.