Feature

Bush’s surprise pick for the Court

Harriet Miers, longtime friend and lawyer to the president, is his controversial nominee for Supreme Court justice.

What happened
President Bush this week nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. A fellow Texan and born-again Christian, Miers, 60, was formerly Bush's personal lawyer, and headed the selection committee vetting his potential judicial nominees. If confirmed, she would be the first nominee since William Rehnquist to ascend to the nation's highest court without ever having served as a judge. The president's political base, which was hoping for one of a half-dozen prominent conservative jurists, initially reacted to Miers' nomination with dismay. 'œI can understand people not, you know, knowing Harriet,' Bush said. But he said Miers was 'œplenty smart' and a strong constitutional conservative. 'œI picked the best person I could find.'

Like Bush's previous nominee, John Roberts'”who was sworn in last week as chief justice'”Miers has no clear track record on hot-button social issues like abortion. If confirmed, she would fill the seat vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor, often the swing vote on a politically divided court. After a call from Bush political advisor Karl Rove, James Dobson of Focus on the Family declared himself convinced of Miers' conservative credentials. 'œSome of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about,' said Dobson.

What the editorials said
'œThis nomination was a missed opportunity,' said National Review Online. Harriet Miers may conceivably turn out to be the sort of conservative heavyweight Bush promised his supporters, in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia. But there is little 'œpersuasive evidence' to think so. She seems merely to be the most qualified nominee 'œin Bush's inner circle.' What a pity Bush didn't pick someone with the legal brilliance and intellect to move the court rightward 'œby the sheer force of her arguments.'

What a relief he didn't, said The New York Times. The little we do know about Miers 'œgives at least some reason to hope that she could be a moderate, pragmatic judge' in the O'Connor mold. Her work as a corporate attorney would suggest she's an open-minded realist, not an ideologue. But Miers has an even skimpier 'œpaper trail' than the enigmatic Roberts, so the Senate 'œneeds to get to work' finding out who this woman is.

What the columnists said
Let me put it plainly, said George F. Will in The Washington Post. It is 'œimportant that Miers not be confirmed.' If you asked a hundred judicial experts to each list a hundred qualified candidates for the Supreme Court, 'œMiers' name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.' Traditionally, the Senate defers to the president's discretion in picking nominees, but it's clear Bush picked Miers solely because she's a friend and a woman.

The issue is cronyism, said Randy Barnett in The Wall Street Journal. 'œDoes anyone doubt that Ms. Miers' only qualification to be a Supreme Court justice is her close connection to the president?' The Miers nomination is troubling not simply because of her lack of experience but 'œbecause we want a judiciary with independence from the executive branch.' The Founding Fathers insisted all Supreme Court nominees be confirmed by the Senate specifically to prevent the president from sending personal friends and allies to the highest court in the land. Time for the Senate to fulfill that vital role.

This wailing by conservatives is the best reason for Democrats to support Miers' nomination, said Thomas Oliphant in The Boston Globe. For all their condemnations of 'œjudicial activism,' conservatives were desperately hoping for another ideologue to fulfill their 'œlong-delayed hopes of a revolution via the courts.' Instead, Miers appears to be a sensible, moderate pragmatist 'œwhose nomination has deeply disturbed conservatives.' For disenfranchised Democrats, 'œthese days, that's as good as it gets.'

What next?

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