A Nuanced Way of Challenging Miers' Qualifications

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Nuanced Way of Challenging Miers' Qualifications

Bush's newest nominee for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, may present Democrats with an opportunity to fight a nomination for reasons other than ideology.

Although she has clerked for a judge, she has never actually served as one herself. Of course, until 1953, that was also true of Earl Warren, who was nominated by Eisenhower for the Supreme Court.

Actually, the best way for Dems to approach the "qualification" issue may be from a different angle. Democratic senators should raise the concern that presidents have traditionally chosen high court nominees whose work and whose lives have been conducted far from the presidents who nominated them. And this has assured the public that these nominees had at least a modicum of independence.

Historians might be hard-pressed to find another nominee who was less of an administration insider and presidential confidante than Miers. According to CNN:
Once described by White House chief of staff Andrew Card as "one of the favorite people in the White House," Miers has been there for President Bush at every turn for more than a decade.

She was Bush's personal lawyer in Texas, took on the thankless job of cleaning up the Texas Lottery when he was governor, and followed him to Washington to serve as staff secretary, the person who controls every piece of paper that crosses the president's desk.

In 2004, Bush appointed her White House counsel .... Card, in a 2003 interview with the publication Texas Lawyer, said Bush's affinity for Miers is clear in the frequent invitations she receives to visit the presidential retreat at Camp David, "a privilege that is not enjoyed by a lot of staff."

"She's a quiet, highly respected force and someone who is seen as not having any agenda other than the president's," he said.
Precisely. This does not appear to be a nominee who has staked out a legal philosophy of her own. Miers is not just a Bush operative; much of her public life has been defined by her personal relationship to the Bush himself. She may simply be a Bush who wears high heels and has a better command of the English language.

I've no doubt that Miers is a bright, capable woman. But capable of what? She may be very capable at advancing the Bush agenda, but has she been singing the president's tunes so long that she hasn't developed any of her own?

When and how has she demonstrated the independence of legal thought that would qualify her to be an effective justice on the nation's most powerful court?

Perhaps Miers and her supporters will have a good response to that last question. But I'd like to see Democrats bring attention to this concern.

In the end, of course, Dems can do very little to fight any nomination unless they can succeed in getting moderate Republicans like Snowe, Specter, Chaffee and Voinovich to buy into their "qualification" concern. But pursuing this line of argument may be the only realistic option for Dems -- after all, Miers has no lengthy track record of court decisions that staffers can poke holes through.

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