President Bush has kicked up another political dust storm in Washington this week with his choice of longtime colleague Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Lost in the cloud is exactly what Ms. Miers believes, and what kind of justice she would make.Harrop writes that she'd like to go out to lunch and a movie with Miers.
This time, Mr. Bush's political base seems as upset about the nomination as the administration's left-leaning critics, chiding the president for choosing a "crony," rather than someone with a proven record of conservatism as a sitting judge. Republicans are fearful that Ms. Miers -- a former Democrat, who has managed to charm Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid -- could turn out to be "another David Souter," the justice appointed by the first President Bush who has tended to side with the liberals on the court.
Others maintain that Mr. Bush may be demonstrating, for the umpteenth time, that he is not as dumb as his critics make out. Ms. Miers, they say, has no apparent "paper trail" that would provide opponents with the means to bring her down. Also, whereas Mr. Souter was a stranger to the first President Bush, Ms. Miers is someone with whom the current president has worked closely, and whose political philosophy he knows well. And as a single woman who has thrived in the male-dominated legal profession, she may make a difficult target for feminist interest groups. . .
Any ultimate judgment on Ms. Miers will, of course, have to be formed in the weeks ahead, as her record is scrutinized and the Senate begins to hold hearings on her nomination.
But those who know her well regard her as smart, tough but reasonable, and a team player. She has wide experience in working with others: as a lawyer who rose to the head of a large firm; as president of the Texas Bar Association; as a Dallas City Council member; as head of the Texas Lottery Commission; as a Sunday-school teacher. Although regarded as conservative, she seems inclined to be practical and moderate, rather than ideological, in performing her duties. This suggests that she could be a fitting successor to Justice O'Connor.
As for her lack of bench experience, there is something to be said for drawing Supreme Court justices from a variety of backgrounds. Ms. Miers, 60, knows much about politics, practicing law, running a business, and meeting a payroll. Such a background could help the Supreme Court better reflect on the real-world implications of its rulings.
Despite the dearth of hard information, movement conservatives have declared her nomination a defeat for them. That Miers is President Bush's White House lawyer offers little comfort. Bush, everyone knows, is damaged goods. He's been weakened by the Katrina mess, the inconclusive Iraq war, spreading government scandals, and budget deficits that no true conservative would tolerate. He can't afford to fight on another front. He needs a relatively peaceful Supreme Court nominating process.Look, I'm a conservative, maybe I'm even a "movement" conservative, but I don't agree with Harrop's friend about looking for a fight with a purposedly controversial nomination. Nonetheless, I still think there were other potential nominees, with track records, who would have been initially better received by conservatives. And if there was a partisan battle, so be it.
The conservatives' problem with Miers isn't how she thinks, because they have no idea. It's that she's not like them. Miers is not an energizer-conservative beating the drums under the windows of the liberal enemy.
Liberals do seem to be sleeping well over the Miers choice. No less a left-leaner than Sen. Charles Schumer has responded to her nomination with "it could have been a lot worse." That's New York-ese for "what a nice surprise."
All this pains the right-wing warriors as their delusions of permanent power continue to crack. Their batteries badly needed recharging with an in-your-face conservative along the lines of an Antonin Scalia or a Clarence Thomas.
"It really disappointed us," a right-wing friend told me. "We were looking forward to a filibuster by liberals against a qualified black woman candidate."
He was speaking of Janice Rogers Brown, one of the women on the conservatives' short list. His assumption that conservatives could successfully repackage opposition to Brown as racism is rather dated. The trick of finding a minority to represent the right wing's most outrageous views is pretty shopworn. Liberals didn't give Clarence Thomas a free pass because he was black, and that was 14 years ago. (Only the public revulsion at Anita Hill's opportunistic sexual-harassment charges against Thomas caused them to cave.)
I'm no big fan of affirmative action, but I do like the idea of a female justice replacing another pioneer, Sandra Day O'Connor. At age 60, Miers remembers the days when law firms asked women applicants whether they were on birth control. As she rose to power in the Texas legal establishment, Miers became the first woman this and the first woman that. She knows how things were for women with ambition.
She also knows how things were for women without legal access to abortion. Third parties tell us that Miers personally opposes abortion. That could be true or not. But there are lots of people who are against abortion but want it kept legal. O'Connor seems to be one.
Nor should we read anything into Miers's resistance to the American Bar Association's policy supporting abortion rights. As president of the Texas Bar in the early '90s, she thought the ABA should be neutral on the subject, or at least base its position on a vote by the association's members. That was a principled stance, which had the support of some pro-choice members.
So while conservatives describe themselves as "depressed" over the Miers nomination, I declare myself initially impressed. I would love to share these feelings with Harriet over a tuna salad.
To my mind, the main reason there is so much concern among conservatives is because Miers is an unknown: they fear another Souter, as Harrop explains. But, as she also points out, while George H.W. Bush didn't know Souter, Bush knows Miers. He himself has said he "know(s) her heart." Are conservatives willing to trust him, or not? I think that many simply didn't want to be put in the position of having to trust him, they wanted to "know" right off whether the nominee was one they could "count on."