Then, last week, as high-level Republican scandals were gathering like storm clouds around the White House, and it appeared that the prez would accelerate his naming of a second Court nominee in order to distract the press, the thinking was that this time, he’d pick a strict constitutionalist to fill the vacancy still left by O’Connor’s retirement--someone in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, just as he’d promised conservatives during the presidential campaign that he would do. And again, Bush confounded expectations, tapping instead White House counsel Harriet E. Miers, a 60-year-old former president of the Texas State Bar with absolutely zero experience as a judge, and few stated positions on abortion or other divisive social issues.
Harriet Who? exclaimed conservative bloggers, feeling cheated again of their Scalia/Thomas clone, and further upset to hear that Miers has contributed in the past to Democratic war chests, including those of Al Gore (to whom she gave $1,000 during his 1988 presidential campaign) and then-Senator Lloyd Bentsen (who received another $1,000 from her in 1987). When Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) praised Miers this morning as “a very fine lawyer,” and added that he was happy that she’s a trial lawyer (“That’s what I am,” he reminded listeners), the right-wing lit up like a Christmas tree. Manuel Miranda, a conservative strategist and ex-aide to Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, issued a statement saying, “The reaction of many conservatives today will be that the president has made possibly the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas, who had been the president’s lawyer. The nomination of a nominee with no judicial record is a significant failure for the advisers that the White House gathered around it.” William Kristol, former chief of staff to Dan Quayle, and now editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, pronounced himself “disappointed, depressed, and demoralized” by Bush’s nomination of Miers. He added: “What does this say about the next three years of the Bush administration--leaving aside for a moment the future of the Court? Surely this is a pick from weakness. Is the administration more broadly so weak? What are the prospects for a strong Bush second term? What are the prospects for holding solid GOP majorities in Congress in 2006 if conservatives are demoralized?” And a poster at the RedState.org Web site chimed in: “The conservative apologists for Miers are essentially reduced to pleading that at least she’s not as bad as a [John] Kerry appointee, and oh shouldn’t we be happy because she’s a good Christian. But the undeniable fact is Bush could only choose her by passing over candidates with far better proven commitment to the Constitutional rule of law, who show Miers a dubious lightweight in comparison ... I doubt even Bush thinks Miers was the best choice. No, he just thought it wasn’t worth a fight to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with a reliable vote for the ‘What you see is what you get’ school of interpreting the Constitution’s text.”
Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of the well-respected nonpartisan newsletter The Cook Political Report, tells The New York Times that Bush’s choice of Miers is a sure sign that “the swagger is gone from this White House. They know they have horrible problems and they came up with the least risky move they could make.”
However, by promoting a member of his “inner circle” to the Supreme Court, Bush just reinforces the growing negative public perception, echoed by the media, that he’s an ardent believer in cronyism above competence. His faith in Miers is well-documented. As The Washington Post notes,
Miers’s low-key but high-precision style is particularly valued in a White House where discipline in publicly articulating policy and loyalty to the president are highly valued. Formerly Bush’s personal lawyer in Texas, Miers came with him to the White House in 2001 as staff secretary, the person who screens all the documents that cross the president's desk. She was promoted to deputy chief of staff before Bush named her counsel after his reelection in November. She replaced Alberto R. Gonzales, another longtime Bush confidant, who was elevated to attorney general.Former Bush speechwriter David Frum goes further in a National Review column, explaining: “In the White House that hero worshipped the president, Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal: She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met. She served Bush well, but she is not the person to lead the court in new directions--or to stand up under the criticism that a conservative justice must expect.”
“Harriet Miers is a trusted adviser on whom I have long relied for straightforward advice,” Bush said at the time.
I don’t know about you, but after witnessing the dubious caliber of loyalists Bush has installed in high-level positions all over the U.S. government--former FEMA chief Michael Brown, political strategist and serial secrets leaker Karl Rove, U.N. ambassador and anger-management candidate John Bolton, inept and color-codes-obsessed bureaucrat Tom Ridge, and David Safavian, the federal procurement office chief who was recently arrested for obstructing a criminal investigation, to name just a few--I’m not excited to see another sycophant promoted, this one to a lifetime position with the power to make the laws of the land.
ADDENDUM: With so much contradictory and questionable information being spread around right now regarding Harriet Miers’ credentials and nomination, Eriposte at The Left Coaster blog has created a special page “to consolidate key facts about Ms. Miers.” Well worth the read.
READ MORE: “Spoiling the Party,” by Michael Scherer (Salon); “Let-Down Lady: Harriet Miers Isn’t Just No John Roberts. She’s No Sandra Day O’Connor,” by Emily Bazelon (Slate); “Conservative Republicans Divided Over Nominee,” by Charles Babington and Thomas B. Edsall (The Washington Post); “Slate Blanked,” by Michael C. Dorf (The American Prospect); “Bush May Have Eyes on His Legacy with Miers,” by Tom Raum (AP); “Cronyism: Alexander Hamilton Wouldn’t Approve of Justice Harriet Miers,” by Randy E. Barnett (The Wall Street Journal); “Cronyism and the Court,” by Geoffrey R. Stone (The Huffington Post); “The Crony Queen,” by Steven Hart (The Opinion Mill); “A Bid for Confirmation, Rather Than Convictions,” by Dan Balz (The Washington Post); “The Things She Couriered,” by Adele M. Stan (The American Prospect); “Harriet the Sly,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “Miers Is Example of Bush Picking Picker,” by Laurie Kellman (AP); “Harriet Miers: Bush’s Pit Bull,” by Marjorie Cohn (TruthOut); “Harriet Miers and the Clerkship Test” (The Anonymous Liberal); “Are Senate Dems Playing Mind Games With GOP, Or Being Duped Again?,” by Steve Soto (The Left Coaster); “Order in the Court,” by Nicholas Kristof (The New York Times); “Ex-Aide: Miers Opposed Abortion in 1989; Stance Now Is Unknown,” by Dave Levinthal (The Dallas Morning News); “Miers Wanted ABA to Rethink Pro-Abortion Stance” (Houston Chronicle); “New Supreme Court Nominee’s Ties to Bush’s National Guard Scandal,” by William Bunch (Attywood); “Miers Led Law Firm Repeatedly Forced to Pay Damages For Defrauding Investors,” by David Sirota (The Huffington Post); “Miers Backed Gay Civil Rights,” by Calvin Woodward (AP).