Miller LAW ’95 balances Tea Party ideals with Yale roots

Tea Party darling Joe Miller LAW ’95 upset an incumbent to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Alaska.
Tea Party darling Joe Miller LAW ’95 upset an incumbent to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Alaska. Photo by Danny Serna.

Before he went to Yale Law School, Joe Miller LAW ’95 went rogue.

An underdog who beat the incumbent Republican to win the nomination for U.S. Senate in Alaska, Miller began his educational career at West Point and went on to serve as a tank commander in the Gulf War, where he earned a Bronze Star. His military service — and his staunch conservative views — won him support from such Tea Party titans as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, but both neglected to mention in their endorsements that Miller earned a degree from America’s most selective and, as critics might say, elitist law school.

In a recent interview with the News, however, Miller distanced himself from the Tea Party.

“The Tea Party has endorsed me, but I don’t see myself as anything other than a constitutional conservative,” he said. “I look at this country as being at a crisis. The entitlement state is broken, and I think we’ve got to get a different answer to where we are today.”

Throughout Miller’s recent but conspicuous arrival on the national stage, little attention has focused on his time at Yale, a law school at once known for being overwhelmingly liberal and also for producing prominent conservative minds. While Miller’s Ivy League credentials may seem to clash with the Tea Party movement’s populist ethos, Miller identified his law school years as a formative stage in his life, just as he suggested that the Tea Party might not best define his political persona.

Miller, for his part, also refuted the notion of the Tea Party movement as anti-intellectual.

“That’s a misperception of the [Tea Party] movement across the United States,” he said. “Even though some people might say it’s a move against intellectualism, I think it’s a commonsense movement. … People recognize that fiscally, the country can’t continue in the way it’s going.”

Miller said his conservative beliefs were tested while he was at Yale, given that most of his classmates were more liberal than he was. Confronted by these different views, Miller said he only became more certain of his views.

Cory Wilson LAW ’95, a fellow member of the Federalist Society and now the deputy secretary of state of Mississippi, said he remembers Miller as both a serious student and conservative. He said he remembers that Miller’s views were very similar to the way they are today, adding that Miller showed an interest in the world of politics.

But classmate Jason Chen LAW ’95 said he was surprised to find Miller’s name in headlines as a political candidate closely associated with the Tea Party movement, since he didn’t strike his classmates as a political activist while in law school, or even as that conservative.

“If you were to ask me to list the dozen or so people who came to Yale Law School with overt political ambitions, he certainly would not have been on that list,” Chen wrote in an e-mail.

Whether or not Miller was vocal about his beliefs on campus, he found camaraderie in his right-wing views by getting involved in the Federalist Society, a Law School group for conservative and libertarian students, though family restraints prevented him from ever taking on leadership roles in the group.

Miller was only 25 when he entered the Law School, but as a newlywed, he had a very different set of priorities from most of his peers, he recalls. He said he turned down Harvard and the University of Chicago law schools, partly because he thought Yale would offer a better setting in which to raise a family. Chen said while Miller was both social and well-liked, he was never found at Thursday night happy hours. Miller and his wife, Kathleen, decided not to live in New Haven, but rather in neighboring Hamden.

Miller was also set apart from his classmates when, forgoing potential jobs at law firms in New York or Washington, he decided to practice law in Alaska after graduation, heading to the Last Frontier for what he has called a love of the outdoors. In law school, Miller had spent an “intensive semester” working under the tutelage of Professor George Priest ’69, helping on a case with the attorney general’s office in Alaska against a North Slope oil company that wasn’t paying full royalties.

“He was an adventurous guy,” Priest said of Miller. “I certainly didn’t have any sense that he was ultimately going to become a politician. He was different than a lot of our students that are easily placed in Wall Street law firms. He was interested in public service, but I didn’t have a sense it was politics.”

Current polls show Miller at least six points ahead of his main opponent, Democratic candidate Scott McAdams. The race could become more complicated, though, if incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican Miller knocked out in the August primary, decides to mount a write-in candidacy — a prospect on which Murkowski has said she will announce a decision by Friday.


  • theantiyale

    I remember hearing Barry Goldwater speak to a PACKED Woolsey Hall as a Presidential candidate in the 1960’s: The Tea-Party’s Great Great Grandfather. HE advocated using nuclear weapons. Cool head.

  • Mikelawyr2

    I have never been so worried about my country. Remember, we BEAT Goldwater. Could we really say he’d lose today? Could we really say he was as extreme as what we’re looking at today?

    Imagine how other nations view us. Kooks are gaining power, and those of us who sit on the sidelines are complicit. That’s why my wife and I, both alums, are taking our two kids to Washington on October 2nd. If we can take time out of our busy lives to do this, you who are on the same four-year joyride my wife and I experienced — and will always cherish — can do it too. Let’s throw our bodies at this one.

  • Redbob

    I often wonder what it is that makes the various “Establishments” in this country so fearful of the Tea Party movement? And why do they seek to portray it as a monolithic “party” like Democrat or Republican, when it is really a true grassroots movement, loosely organized if at all, of people who are genuinely concerned about this country’s direction?
    Is it because they realize that as Americans awaken to the predicament we’re in now, that their cushy places at the public trough are very much in danger?
    Joe Miller is not “distancing” himself from Tea Partiers so much as he is distinguishing himself from those who claim to be leaders in that movement.

  • YaleMom

    Judge Joe Miller: *Please* don’t use nuclear weapons! Look what happened to *Hiroshima*!!

  • barbarossa

    The article says he distanced himself from the tea party, then quotes him with nothing that actually supported the claim.

  • 06460

    “I look at this country as being at a crisis. The entitlement state is broken, and I think we’ve got to get a different answer to where we are today.” Firstly, PLEASE come back to Connecticut to represent us! Secondly, to answer those asking why are the established parties afraid of the Tea Party- I'd say it's due to their fear of actual change. The status quo is just fine with them both. Both parties are deeply entrenched in a political system where they pay to play, make careers as elected officials, and shower their family and friends with unusual benefits of being higher class citizens. The idea of an alternate party puts them in the position of defending their ideas, forging new alliances to get legislation passed, and possibly even being held accountable for their decisions. Scary. Oh please on the Ed Schulz march comment. Fine, waste your time "supporting" the democratic puppet host. My, how radical of you. I bet you feel like it's the 60's all over again, except this time you are supporting the "establishment". That's like cheering on Nero to play "freebird" while Rome burns behind him. If you actually care about the country's situation how about addressing the issues of deficit spending, immigration reform, and addressing an insolvent social security system for starters.

  • theantiyale

    Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich are the new Goldwaters. You think they’ve got a better chance at the W-House than Barry?