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Monday, October 3, 2005

'A pit bull in size 6 shoes'

That's someone's characterization of Harriet Miers, White House counsel and, as of a few hours ago, the second Bush administration nominee for the Supreme Court. Bush formally named her today, listing (as has been his habit with other appointees) her "heart" and her "character" as qualifying characteristics for the highest court in the land. It's fair to say those qualities count (how did Scalia get that job?), but there's an absence of other factors that have already made Miers' nomination a lightning rod -- not for controversy, but for curiosity.

Miers would be one of the 39 previous justices who came to the bench with no previous judicial experience, and the first since William Rehnquist not to be a judge. Miers, a longtime friend of the Bushies, a native Texan and previously the director of the Texas State Lottery, would bring to the court someone without the baggage of past judicial decisions.

Harriet Miers is also a mystery for exactly that reason. Because she's never been a judge, there's precious little of the paper trail for journalists, court-watchers in general and the Senate Judiciary Committee in particular to sift through hoping to divine the way she'd rule on Case X or Appeal Y. For now, at least, Harriet Miers is as close to a tabula rasa as they come in Washington.

But there have been glimpses of an at least historical willingness to think outside the lines. In younger years a Democrat, Miers made contributions to the 1988 campaigns of Democrats Al Gore and Lloyd Bentsen. By 1999 all that had changed; she contributed to campaigns of Republican candidates. Somewhere in that eleven years she switched, but that past inclination toward Democratic philosophy suggests there may be a centrist in the works -- someone with the kind of "first-rate intelligence" that F. Scott Fitzgerald described as a person with "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

Maybe it's that prospect that's got the knickers of some of the GOP punditocracy in a serious twist. Bill Kristol, conservative columnist, is reportedly "disappointed, depressed and demoralized" by Bush's selection of Miers. "Surely, this is a pick from weakness," he said on the Weekly Standard. In a statement, Manuel Miranda, a conservative strategist and former aide to Senate Majority Leader & Stock Trading Enthusiast Bill Frist, called Miers "possibly the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas," referring to the personal attorney of President Lyndon Johnson.

Pat Buchanan is equally dismayed: "Bush recoils from greatness," he screams on the MSNBC.com Hardblogger. "Bush may have tossed away his and our last chance to roll back the social revolution imposed on us by our judicial dictatorship since the days of Earl Warren. ... He blew it."

Maybe it's this reaction from conservatives that has the Democrats cautiously optimistic, and given to thinking how a negative may really be a positive, how "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Sen. Charles Schumer, part of the judiciary committee, was upbeat. "It could have been a lot worse," he said today, invoking a sentiment more often used after a root canal that wasn't as painful as you feared it would be. And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said that Miers' status as a non-judge "is a plus, not a minus," presumably underscoring his sense of how refreshing it would be not to cross swords with an ideologue.

Schumer's admission that Miers "has the potential to be a consensus nominee" suggest that the Democrats on the committee may be inclined to move quickly on her nomination -- early thinking is that the Miers hearings will be done & done by Thanksgiving.

We expect those hearings will be somewhere between a pitched battle and a love feast, but it's anyone's guess as to which party will do what. It's encouraging that Miers' own party feels left out, outsiders with scant knowledge of the nominee's position on weighty matters. All to the good: That indicates something positive about Miers, despite a lack of traditional qualifications.

Harriet E. Miers may be from outside the mainstream, and it is true, someone needs to gently take her by the hand and tell her the Tammy Faye Bakker eyeliner treatment isn't really working. But she's right where she needs to be right: She's apparently as willing to keep her private beliefs private outside the judicial chambers as she would be constitutionally expected to keep them private as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.

So far, what's not to like?
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Image credit: Miers: Public domain

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

AlterNet: Blogs: Peek: SCOTUS nominee is blogging
Posted by Evan Derkacz at 11:21 AM on October 3, 2005. Unless Harriet Miers is a cast member of the O.C. this is satire.
I'm glad I ran across your blog. It's very good. I like it.

Sonny M.

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