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Harriet Miers: Hacking Her Way to the Supreme Court?
by Philip Curtis
13 October 2005

Last year, then-Deputy Chief of Staff Harriet Miers hosted four sessions of Ask the White House — "an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House." Miers’ responses suggested some characteristics that one might not necessarily associate with a prospective Supreme Court justice:

Miers’ Ask the White House responses also include some statements that may serve as the basis for a few provocative confirmation hearing questions.

On “Borrowed” Time
Forum participant "C", from Tyler, Texas, questioned (then) Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Miers on a day devoted to domestic policy issues: Will there ever be a stop to the time changing [sic]. It is hurting everyone. It’s been proven that our kids do worse in school everytime [sic] there is a time change....

On October 14, 2004, Harriet Miers responded:

Daylight saving time has been around for most of this century and even earlier. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin first suggested the idea in an essay he wrote titled, "An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light"? The title of Franklin’s essay captures one of the principal reasons we have daylight saving time today: it saves energy.

The Uniform Time Act passed by Congress in 1966 created daylight saving time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October. Any area that wanted to be exempt from Daylight Saving Time could do so by passing a local ordinance. The law was amended in 1986 to begin daylight saving time on the first Sunday in April. This was done mostly to conserve energy during the month of April. Adding the entire month of April is estimated to save nationwide about 300,000 barrels of oil each year!

Studies done by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that daylight saving time trims the entire country’s electricity usage by almost one percent each day with daylight saving time. We save energy in both the evening and the morning because we use less electricity for lighting and appliances. The same poll indicated that Americans liked Daylight Saving Time because "there is more light in the evenings/can do more in the evenings." [Emphasis added].

One would expect that by the fourth quarter of 2004, any prospective Supreme Court justice would be cognizant of the recent turn of the century. Unfortunately, Miers’ response does not conclusively provide evidence of her level of awareness of the transition to the new millenium as the majority of the writing in her response does not appear to be her own.

Bob Aldrich of the California Energy Commission wrote these familiar words in his online article, "Saving Time, Saving Energy: Daylight Saving Time, Its History and Why We Use It":

Daylight Saving Time has been around for most of this century and even earlier. Benjamin Franklin, while a minister to France, first suggested the idea in an essay titled "An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light."

...The Uniform Time Act of 1966 (15 U.S. Code Section 260a) created Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October.Any area that wanted to be exempt from Daylight Saving Time could do so by passing a local ordinance. The law was amended in 1986 to begin Daylight Saving Time on the first Sunday in April.

... Studies done in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country’s electricity usage by about one percent EACH DAY with Daylight Saving Time.

[A poll by the U.S. Department of Transportation] indicated that Americans liked Daylight Saving Time because "there is more light in the evenings / can do more in the evenings."

All of the text cited above was written by Mr. Aldrich and was published verbatim and without attribution at WhiteHouse.gov in 2004 as part of Harriet Miers’ response. Archive.org confirms that the majority of Aldrich’s text was published online in 1998 and that some minor revisions were completed in 2001. The following copyright statement is listed at the bottom of the article:

Any reprinting of this document is prohibited without prior approval. © 1995–2005 Bob Aldrich

Did Miers or her staff obtain permission to publish excerpts from Mr. Aldrich’s article without attribution?

“Borrowing” from the Department of Justice
In her responses, Harriet Miers also appeared to borrow entire passages from federal Web sites without attribution.

In one example, Jeannie, from Tampa, Fla., asked:

Is it true that the right for African Americans to vote will expire in 2007, when the Voters Rights Act expires? From what I’ve been told is that Former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Act in 1965 and it was amended by Former President Ronald Reagan in 1982 for another 25 years. Please advise.

Harriet Miers responded:

Thanks for the question, Jeannie. The Department of Justice has received numerous inquiries concerning a rumor that has been intermittently circulating around the nation that the Voting Rights Act will expire in 2007. The rumor is false. The voting rights of African Americans are guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, and those guarantees are permanent and do not expire. The 15th amendment to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibit racial discrimination in voting. Under the 15th amendment and the Voting Rights Act, no one may be denied the right to vote because of his or her race or color. These prohibitions against racial discrimination in voting are permanent; they do not expire...

Except for the first sentence thanking the questioner, Miers’ response appears to have been copied directly from the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.

Does the federal government have a rule that authorizes its employees to freely use each other’s writing without any form of acknowledgement? Is failure to credit the published work of others a commonly accepted practice?

An Answer in Search of a Proofreader
Joshua, from Albany, Ga., wrote:

[H]ow is Pres. Bush’s plan for healthcare going to provide better healthcare policies, and extend coverage? In Britain they have national coverage. Why wouldn’t that work here?

Harriet Miers responded:

Thanks for the question, Joshua. The American medical system is the envy of the world because it provides the best care and provides patients with the most choices. The President firmly believes that medical decisions should be made by patients and their physician, not by government bureaucrats. President Bush has proposed a comprehensive and affordable plan to make health care more affordable and more accessible for all Americans. See my answer to the question from Justin from Oklahoma City for more details or Thanks for the question, Joshua. [editor’s note: and here’s where she cuts off and then repeats herself... ] The American medical system is the envy of the world because it provides the best care and provides patients with the most choices. The President firmly believes that medical decisions should be made by patients and their physician, not by government bureaucrats. President Bush has proposed a comprehensive and affordable plan to make health care more affordable and more accessible for all Americans. See my answer to the question from Justin from Oklahoma City for more details or http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/healthcare/. Have a great day! [Emphasis added].

Miers seems to have avoided fully answering Joshua’s question — twice. One would expect that Miers would have an assistant available to proofread her published writings to catch such obvious errors.

Beating a Dead Horse
Not surprisingly, hosting Ask the White House often involved regurgitating administration talking points. In one such instance, fully embracing a discredited party line that had misled many Americans, Miers strongly disagreed with a questioner who suggested that the government should cease linking Iraq and 9/11 as there was no evidence that Iraq was involved in the attacks on America.

Caleb, from California, wrote:

Dear Harriet, [w]ith the 911 Commission report stating there was no linkable evidence between Sept. 11th and Iraq, why are the two often grouped together? Shouldn’t they be considered two separate fights? Thanks.

Harriet Miers responded:

Hello, Caleb. I believe you must be referring to some language in the Report that can be misread. Like the Administration, the Commission did not find evidence that, before 9/11, these long-established ties between Iraq and al Qaeda had evolved into a "collaborative operational relationship" for "carrying out attacks against the United States." (chapter 2, §2.5, page 66) However, the Commission’s report catalogs some of the extensive contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda ... [cites alleged contacts]. So, no, I don’t think they should be considered separately. They are both part of the War on Terror. [emphasis added].

"Hustling" on 9/11
Responding to an open-ended question on 9/11, Miers’ recollection of the events of the day focused on receiving a tidbit of praise from the President upon ensuring successful completion of what appears to have been a clerical task.

Karrin, from Ohio, asked:

Where were you on September 11th and what did you do?

Harriet Miers responded:

Karrin, I was traveling with the President on September 11, 2001. So I started out in Florida. I was the President’s Staff Secretary at that point in time, so I continued to do those duties. I was responsible for making sure the remarks he prepared to give to the Nation from Louisiana were properly prepared for him. It took some time, and the President saw me hurrying to give them to him. He said, "Good hustle!" He made me feel good that I was contributing. Typical. That was a remarkable day I will never forget. I will never forget how strong the President’s response was to something so dreadful and so unexpected. [Emphasis added].

"He made me feel good that I was contributing" is not a statement one might ordinarily expect from the former managing partner of a major law firm and past president of the Texas State Bar.

A Few Questions for Ms. Miers
Ms. Miers’ Ask the White House responses may offer a few possibilities for potential confirmation hearing questions. A senator might wish to ask the nominee to elaborate on her published statement on stem cell research:

Scientists tell us it is too early to tell what can be accomplished through embryonic stem cell research. And, taking one life to save another presents moral and ethical issues, and these important issues must be balanced with the potential scientific benefits that may be derived from stem cell research.

Or, Miers might be asked to comment on her willingness to embrace this rather hyperbolic definition of the war on terror.

John, from Scheldt, offered:

GOD BLESS AMERICA AND GEORGE w. BUSH [sic]- Could you please emphasize the point that we are in a struggle for civilization and the survival of the free world against anarchism and barbarism? - this is not just about Iraq or even the Middle East - it’s about the fight to preserve our way of life against extremists who would return us to the Dark Ages. Would it be too much to ask to promote this point at every opportunity - does the White House feel the same??John

Harriet Miers expressed her strong concurrence:

John, thank you for writing and for expressing yourself so wonderfully. I certainly agree with you. As I said before, we will persevere and we will not relent!

For more of Harriet Miers Hosts Ask the White House:

August 11, 2004
September 10, 2004
October 14, 2004
October 29, 2004