Supreme Court nominee was gaming regulator

Author:
Updated:
Original:

WASHINGTON -- White House Counsel and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers
might have a blank judicial slate, having never served as a judge, but she
does have a substantial public record in a surprising field -- gaming.

Miers was nominated Oct. 3 by President Bush to succeed retiring Supreme
Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She spent much of her legal career as a
private attorney and as Bush's personal lawyer in Texas when she headed a
large Dallas law firm. After coming to Washington with him she rose through
White House legal ranks to the position of chief lawyer for the presidency,
the White House Counsel. This work might leave a scanty public record, and
much of it might be shielded by attorney-client and executive branch
privilege.

But she did work in the public eye as the senior gaming regulator in Texas.
She served as chair of the three-person Texas Lottery Commission from May
1995 to March 2000. Transcripts for her final year on the commission are
available online. They show that she dealt with a range of gaming industry
issues, from the fundamental challenge led by evangelical Christians to
details like minority business contracting. A subdivision of the commission
regulated charitable bingo, a big operation in its own right.

A number of major gaming companies, such as Gtech Corp. and Scientific
Games Corp., had business before her commission. Gtech is still primary
contractor for the Texas lottery, and a controversy reaching to Bush has
rekindled over the renewal of its contract during Miers' tenure.

The lottery commission had no direct involvement with tribal casinos. But
the existence of the Texas lottery became a major issue in the state's
drive to shut down the Speaking Rock Casino, owned by the Tigua Tribe of
Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo -- still a highly controversial episode.

Despite Bush's political debt to a conservative Christian base, much of
which regards gambling as sinful, both of his Supreme Court nominees have
done work for and with the gaming industry. Newly invested Chief Justice
John Roberts represented some Las Vegas interests as a private attorney.

The anti-gaming crusade by religious groups directly affected the Texas
Lottery Commission, which considered itself a target. In an early show of
political strength, religious lobbyists had persuaded Congress to set up a
National Gaming Impact Study Commission to focus on what they saw as the
dangers of a surge in legalized gaming. A bill sponsored by Rep. Frank R.
Wolf, R-Va., launched the NGISC in August 1996, and it issued a 200-page
final report in June 1999. On Aug. 11, 1999, with Miers presiding as
chairman, the Texas Lottery Commission discussed the NGISC report.

Linda Cloud, Texas Lottery Commission's executive director, told the
commissioners that the report was "really kind of targeting lotteries
because the casino industry and the Indian gaming industry hired lobbyists
and people to fight their fight, and the lotteries are going to catch the
brunt of this for the most part, and that's very concerning."

Another staff member briefed the commissioners on the response from state
lotteries. "The National Council of Legislators from Gaming States took
considerable exception to many of the recommendations issued by the NGISC,"
he said, "and in particular we're concerned about the composition of the
commission itself.

"Of the nine members, none of them came from the public sector. None of
them represented state government in any way, shape, or form, and the chief
target of criticism from the report was 37 state-operated lotteries."

Cloud assured the commissioners that a new association of lottery states
would fight to ensure that "state's rights" would be respected in
implementing the NGISC recommendations.

Another commissioner did ask about the NGISC complaint that lottery
advertising targeted poor and minorities. He was assured that a recent
report showed that the state's lottery players cut across class lines, with
no "inordinate incidence of lottery playing in the impoverished
communities."

Although Miers didn't participate in this discussion, she took the lead on
another topic that might put her in good stead in confirmation hearings.
She showed a lively interest in a program to encourage minority business
participation in lottery contracts. The commission had adopted a policy
calling for 35 percent minority participation, and Miers pressed the staff
on getting further help from other government agencies on meeting the goal.
"This is a critical mission for us," she said.

Another discussion on contracting revealed that her involvement with the
gaming industry extended beyond the commission. She recused herself from a
dispute over a contract for out-of-state Scientific Games Corp. "in an
abundance of caution," she said, "because it became clear in a presentation
that was made to us that a major contractor, or subcontractor, of the
vendor here complaining was a client of my firm."

After Miers resigned from the commission in March 2000, the minutes of the
next meeting offered fulsome praise of her work. Her successor, Chair C.
Tom Clowe Jr., said, "She served with distinction and set a benchmark for
ethics, legal and correct performance that I hope, as chair, to continue in
the time to come.

"I wanted to go on the record as expressing appreciation to her for
maintaining, in all of her efforts, the integrity, the honesty and fairness
of the games of Texas and say that she performed beautifully during the
years of her tenure and she will certainly be sorely missed."

This praise might grate on the critics of gaming, some of whom, notably
Rep. Wolf, have extended their opposition to an assault on tribal casinos,
sovereignty and the recognition process. One key evangelical Christian
figure, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was a member of the
NGISC, and has been visibly conflicted in supporting Miers. Her resume in
gaming, in fact, might emerge as the main stumbling block for her
confirmation.