President Bush threw the Senate a curveball last week. He looked at the long list of qualified candidates for the Supreme Court, and then he made it into a paper airplane and flew it out the Oval Office window. White House Counsel Harriet Miers picked it up off the lawn on her way into work. When she stopped by Bush's office to ask the boss if maybe he needed the list, he told her she was his choice for the nation's highest court. Just imagine if Barney, his Scottish terrier, had fetched it!
Everyone is talking about the obvious cronyism in this selection, even some Republicans. It is bad timing on Bush's part, considering the mess that political crony Michael Brown made of FEMA's Katrina response. The best comment I saw was from Steve Chapman, who said that this selection shows that the best bet to replace Alan Greenspan in January is the acccountant who does Bush's taxes.
As most people now know, Miers has never been a judge. In that respect, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is much more qualified, but the fundamentalist right would never support him because they want a strong anti-abortionist. However illogical it sounds, though, judicial experience is not essential for the Supreme Court, just as proven leadership ability is not a prerequisite for the presidency (a string of failed businesses and a figurehead governorship do not count). Still, the evangelicals are concerned that Miers hasn't demonstrated sufficient fealty to the anti-abortion cause. Maybe she should blow up a clinic or two; that would surely please them. Bush has tried to assure his "Christian" pals that there is nothing to worry about. In an encore to his dimwitted remark about Vladimir Putin, Bush said, "I know her heart. Her philosophy won't change." That's the silliest thing I've heard since I learned that Nancy Reagan used a psychic to schedule her husband's appointments, but in Bush's mind, that should be enough to satisfy his holy backers. Too bad Bush didn't know Miers' heart in 1988 when she gave money to Al Gore's presidential campaign. See, sometimes people do change philosophies. We can only hope she returns from the dark side when she dons that black robe.
The experience that Miers does have is more troubling. She has been the consummate corporate lawyer, defender of the powerful. That gives us faint hope that she will ever take the side of the "little people" on the bench. If a case challenging Bush's idea of "tort reform" (suppressing lawsuits from consumers, patients, etc. to "protect" corporations) ever comes to the Supreme Court, she will be there to affirm its constitutionality. And as a White House insider, she probably will defend and uphold the administration's controversial legal positions, such as those condoning torture. Unfortunately, Bush would not nominate anyone who doesn't wholly embrace his skewed legal philosophy, so criticism along these lines is irrelevant.
Most of us progressives were astounded to hear that Miers called Bush the most brilliant man she had ever met. Her poor judgement of intellect could be forgiven--she clearly bet on the right horse years ago in Texas and feels compeled to lavish praise as she rides that pony to the top. Plus her contrarian viewpoint was good for a guffaw or two. Whether she was being sincere or patronizing, I'm sure Ms. Miers will change her statement soon: I am inviting her to have lunch with me. Give me a call, Harriet!
What troubles me most about this nomination is not the cronyism rampant in this administration, nor is it Miers' lack of judicial experience. It is not her background as a corporate defender or her ridiculous praise of Bush's diabolical mind. The biggest question for me is, what does Miers know? When he ran for governor of Texas, Bush hired Miers to investigate his past to determine whether anything would cause him trouble in his political career. If he has anything to hide, she knows exactly where the bodies are buried. In fact, given Bush's previous bouts with the bottle, Miers probably has more knowledge of his past than he himself can recall. As a White House insider, Miers also knows exactly what lines Bush has crossed from a legal standpoint. And just to toss a bone to conspiracy theorists, Miers was accompanying Bush in Florida as staff secretary on September 11, 2001. With this nomination, Bush has bought Miers' eternal loyalty. Whatever she has in her head, she will carry it to the grave. She will not write a tell-all book after Bush leaves office. She won't sit down with Barbara Walters to explain how she worked around the legal system to further the administration's pernicious objectives. Plus, I'm sure her presence will come in handy when the inevitable criminal cases against administration officials begin.
What can the Democrats do about it? Alas, nothing. I am in the camp with those who grudgingly accept that anyone else Bush could pick would be worse. Someone with a heinous record a la Priscilla Owen (talk about judicial activism!) is undoubtedly a more dangerous choice than Miers, who at least has a remote chance of occasionally taking a moderate position. Scalia and Thomas are Bush's favorite justices, and if we do not accept Miers, Bush may nominate one of their proteges instead. The Katrina fiasco may tempt some Democrats to try to ride the wave of Bush opposition and fight Miers, but I think their limited leverage could be better used elsewhere.