This Week's Debate: The Harriet Miers Nomination

What do we know about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers?

Very little, so far -- and what is known has prompted dissatisfaction from both the Administration's opponents and a surpising numbers of its reliable supporters. Hopefully, more information will surface as we debate this crucial nomination over the next week. Here's a quick rundown of what we do know from the opinions already voiced.

We know Miers is a loyal member of the president's inner circle. In a LiveOnline discussion yesterday when asked about Miers's statement that Bush is brilliant, Gene Robinson replied, "I think it's good that a president would have aides who were so admiring and loyal. I'm not sure it's good to put them on the Supreme Court."

Bush's relationship with Miers is so close and longstanding that Bush says he knows her heart. Of course, this is the same man who claims to have seen Russian President Vladimir Putin's soul, and it's still a mystery how he came to the conclusion that Putin was anything other than an anti-democratic ruler who spreads fear to get his way. Point is, I haven't seen much evidence so far that Bush's claims of familiarity with someone's heart or soul are particularly strong indications of good character. (Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles has a hilarious take on this today.)

The cronyism aspect was of most interest to E.J. Dionne, who calls Miers a dangerous choice at a time when Bush is already battling charges of cronyism over former FEMA head Michael Brown. Why nominate someone with no judicial record but with a long record of loyalty to the Bush inner circle? "It's also strange that Bush, whose greatest obsession has been to maintain his political base, would select a candidate who may end up without any base at all," he says, speculating that opposition to Miers could come from both sides of the aisle.

Dionne's column appeared in the Post on Tuesday along with two guest columnists writing about Miers and an editorial about the nomination. The Tuesday New York Times had an editorial on The President's Stealth Nominee but the only reference to Miers on the op-ed page was two quick namedrops in a Nicholas Kristof column about judicial activism. (It's not a fabulous column, so no need to fork out the cash to read it.)

George Will was doing the usually-staid-columnist version of spitting fire in his op-ed yesterday. "First, it is not important that she be confirmed," he said, and it might even be very important that she not be confirmed. He suggests that "her nomination is not a defensible exercise of presidential discretion to which senatorial deference is due."

(The Wall Street Journal editorial board disagrees in its Tuesday editorial, Faith-Based Nominee: "If his track record on judges is a guide, Mr. Bush deserves some deference." Besides, they say, Miers has been part of the president's judicial selection committee for the last five years. Surely that must count for something.)

Will goes on to say that she doesn't appear to be smart enough to be a good choice for the court. "It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument" for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons." He goes on to say that "the president has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution" by signing McCain-Feingold (which Will points out Bush had previously called a violation of constitutional principles) into law.

To review: Bush isn't a protector of the Constitution and his nomination for Justice O'Connor's seat is probably not entitled to the usual Senatorial deference. And that's just according to conservative columnist George Will.

Harold Meyerson tries to explain why conservatives like Will are so bitterly disappointed. "The problem isn't only that Miers is not openly a movement conservative but that she's as far from a public intellectual as anyone could possibly be," he writes. "In one fell swoop, Bush flouted both his supporters' ideology and their sense of meritocracy." He also proved that "intellectual seriousness" isn't really a priority for him, though Meyerson wonders how any conservatives could still think it was given that "Loyalty and familiarity count for more with this president than brilliance (or even competence) and conviction."

Meyerson also suggests that Bush, still licking his wounds from the recent social security battle, wanted to sidestep the even more bruising battle he would have faced by nominating the sort of outspoken, right-wing heavyweight favored by conservative intellectuals.

Reading Tony Blankley's op-ed in the Washington Times, however, makes me wonder if perhaps Meyerson is being too generous in suggesting that conservatives are upset with the nomination because of their fierce dedication to intellectualism. Blankley writes of "the curious case of the unloved spinster just launched on the rocket docket to the Supreme Court."

Later in the piece he has to insert a Clinton jab: "Where Bill Clinton had an uncontrollable need to be loved (yes, that way as well as politically), Mr. Bush seems to be preternaturally a rock and an island unto himself ... If Mr. Clinton's weakness was unmanly, W's self-possession is too manly. As Barbara Walters might say: He is not being gentle with us." This assessment is not exactly ringing with intellectualism -- although Blankley does like to use some big words here and there.

The Tuesday Washington Times editorializes that it is relatively willing to trust that Miers would be the kind of justice he promised to appoint -- one in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas. "Bush presumably is sure he knows the judicial philosophy of Miss Miers. That puts him in a distinct and very small minority." They hope this is not another instance of a President Bush forfeiting an opportunity to change the court. In the print edition, right next to the editorial was a cartoon of Miers's face inside a big question mark.

Hopefully over the next several days we'll be able to replace with question mark with something more solid. If you come across any opinions you think I should highlight in an upcoming post, send an e-mail to debate@washpost.com.

By Emily Messner |  October 6, 2005; 11:04 AM ET  | Category:  This Week's Issue
Previous: The Facts: Miers Nomination | Next: Appearances Matter -- At Least for Female Nominees

Comments

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Crap, I wrote out a nice post and got another typepad error. Grrrrrrr.

Emily,

The Old Guard conservatives are indeed upset as Miers isn't qualified to them. She has a third tiered education, and a third tiered career. Her expertise on constitutional law is almost non-existent. Conservatives have been working for decades to supplant the Warren era SCOTUS, and having O'Connor replaced with another woman with even less expertise and experience just is abominable.

Neo-Conservatives aren't very intellectual, barring the East Coast New York/Beltway set that are Ivy Leaguers. They don't put much weight on academics, as much as who can vote like them and on the social agenda they want to push. To that subset, they'll be pleased with Bush's nomination (as it'll emotionalize the court, what didn't happen with the Schiavo fiasco).

So the Kristols and the Wills of the conservative side are truly deflated over this nomination. It's geniune displeasure. The real issue is if the displeasure will ignite the social conservatives to push for a nominee to their liking, or will they have the patience to wait another two or three decades (again) to change the direction of the court.

I personally think the status quo will prevail, since this party has been brow beated into standing behind Bush, and loyality is more important than individual liberty to think different (I guess it'll be "unpatriotic" or "unAmerican" to differ with the President during a time of "war"). They'll agree with Miers, and they'll lick their wounds like the good puppies they are.

SandyK
Hoping the Neo-Cons dry up and go away so us Traditionals can have our darn party back!!

Yes, to conservation/ERA/fiscal responsibility and individual liberty!!

Posted by: SandyK | October 6, 2005 12:39 PM

Who is SandyK? You're taking up a lot of airtime on a lot of blogs (sometimes good, sometimes not so good.)

Posted by: wHy | October 7, 2005 11:53 AM

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