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In the Middle: Harriet Miers

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From: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left
To: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right
Subject: Harriet Miers

I’d like to propose a simple question this week that’s likely not so easy to answer from my side or yours:

Should Harriet Miers be confirmed as Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court?

The political winds are shifting. The latest blast finds some conservatives at significant odds with President Bush for the first time. For those of Democratic leanings, it might be tempting to make strange bedfellows with the likes of George Will and Charles Krauthammer by joining in the growing chorus now slamming the president’s nomination.

Increasingly, it’s looking as though a great deal will play out during the confirmation hearings. Though he likely regretted it and later backed off his statement, even Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R – PA) stated that Miers might do well to take a “crash course in constitutional law.”

Shouldn’t anyone nominated to sit on the highest court in the land be somewhere in the neighborhood of Expert (if not Wizarding) Level when it comes to constitutional law? Cases that come before the Supreme Court require spectacularly potent intellects and experience gained over a lifetime of considering such matters. In the wake of Katrina and the failures of FEMA, Bush had to know that he’d be vulnerable to charges of cronyism.

So should moderates and progressives want Miers to get confirmed? It’s a complicated question, but I’ll open by saying that I think the consensus will be: let the Republicans bruise and batter one another, but hope that Miers makes it through… because the alternative could be far worse.

And then we will promptly set the hope-ometer to Breathtakingly Optimistic that she’ll turn out to be far more Souter than Scalia once on the court.

From: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right
To: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left

You’re right, that’s not very easy to answer. I’m certainly glad that I don’t have to vote one way or the other on Harriet Miers, because I really don’t know what I would do.

Let cut to the chase here, shall we? Hardcore conservatives want the two new justices to tip the scales on Roe v. Wade, so that a future case goes 5-4 to overturn rather than 5-4 to uphold, while hardcore liberals want to preserve the status quo with regard to abortion.

There are many other issues with which the Supreme Court deals year in and year out, but this is very nearly the only one that is considered when evaluating a nominee for the court, and all of the other arguments and questions are designed to get at the issue from odd angles.

I happen to think that Roe v. Wade serves conservatives more than liberals, though most people don’t see it that way. To the conservatives ready to reject Miers for fear she won’t be firmly in their camp on Roe v. Wade, I say this: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!

In the real world, though, abortion isn’t nearly the only issue of importance.

You asked a very specific question about qualifications for Supreme Court Justice. I don’t know the answer. Once someone puts on those black robes, they seem to become “something else.” We suddenly expect them to be impartial on issues about which you and I feel passionately, and to never make mistakes. In reality, politics plays a much stronger role in decisions than any of us like to think about, and the court makes mistakes constantly. What percentage of the court’s decisions have ever been unanimous? I don’t know the answer, but I bet it’s a very, very low number. Does that mean that there tend to be members of the court that are stupid? Or that different judicial philosophies, consistently applied, result in different decisions? Or both? Is one worse than the other?

Supreme Court Justices have come from many different walks of life, and some have seemed more qualified than Miers and tanked badly, while others have been purely political appointees and done well with time. If she lacks experience, can Miers recognize that and learn on the job?

That may be the biggest question of all. Not, “Can she think?” but, “Will she think for herself?” Conservatives with their eyes on “the prize” for the first time in a long time are desperately wondering if she’ll go with the party line on abortion, and I think they’re missing the point.

From: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left
To: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right

There would indeed be a seismic shift in the political landscape if Roe v. Wade was decisively overturned by a conservative Supreme Court. While social conservatives would lose one of their favorite and most enduring issues, a broad swath of voters would surely be ignited, if not enraged, for some number of years to come. And I’m not even going to get into the real world implications of such a decision, which would, in the very least, be dreadful. From a practical and policy standpoint, it serves conservatives best to try and chip around the edges of Roe.

But back to the main point. Will Harriet Miers serve the interests of the Bush administration as well as those of the social conservatives, who are nearly ready to make her walk the judicial plank?

I think it’s important to remember that the conservative movement, which is most often traced back to the Barry Goldwater days (George Will went further on This Week by half-jokingly crediting National Review founder and prolific writer William F. Buckley, Jr. for sparking the movement that presided over the fall of communism), felt at the precipice on triumph. Roberts as the new Chief Justice replaced another conservative in recently deceased Chief Justice William Rehnquist. That left the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to be replaced, a key swing vote on many important issues before the court – and not just abortion rights. This was the moment, as “Paleocon” Pat Buchanan and others call it, for a return to “constitutionalism,” or a tightly defined construction of the Constitution. Roe was likely viewed by many as the crown jewel in a conservative movement begun during an age of liberal social programs and government largesse.

I believe President Bush badly misinterpreted this historic moment. While Bush presidency architect Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and others were busy defending themselves from investigations, George W. Bush (perhaps influenced by Chief of Staff Andy Card) decided to go with his instincts. And that meant choosing a hyper-loyal associate with whom he felt comfortable. Bush’s instincts also called for maximum secrecy and an element of surprise, which may have come from some inclination to prove that he’s not married to the social conservative camp.

By nominating an arguably unqualified non-judge with no paper trail and strong support from only George “Trust Me” Bush himself, most conservatives feel as though they’ve been served thin gruel and not he filet mignon they’d been cooking up for forty-odd years. Pat Buchanan summed up this sentiment on Meet the Press:

“We were on the precipice of victory in the battle to return the Supreme Court to constitutionalism,” Buchanan said. “And the president of the United States picks a woman with no known judicial philosophy who has never taken a stand on any of these great questions, who has never written or said anything about Supreme Court rulings, and we have been told to take it on faith.”

While Miers may well be a “stealth candidate” who will follow Justice Antonin Scalia into the promised land of conservative judicial activism, no one — on the left, right, or in the center — can be sure.

Phillip, you asked, “If she lacks experience, can Miers recognize that and learn on the job?” I think most would argue that the American people needn’t take this chance if there are dozens of qualified judges (or other constitutional scholars, politicians, etc.) who would hit the ground running with a proven track record.

But from my center-left perspective, I’m left feeling dazed and ambivalent. The long term Machiavellian play from the Democratic side is to allow her to get through but to hope for a further weakened Republican majority in the process.

From: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right
To: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left

I go back and forth on this, so let me tell you both of my views.

One the one hand, I wonder if Bush blew it big-time. We really don’t know anything about Harriet Miers, but what little is leaking out makes her sound like a relatively weak candidate. It could be that our collective expectations have been raised by Chief Justice Roberts, who was a surprisingly strong nominee, but even so, the appointment of Miers seems to be purely political. If so, however, why pick a candidate about whom both sides seem so uneasy? It doesn’t make much sense, and that’s unlike President Bush.

On the other hand, I wonder if this is all a big political game. Perhaps Bush is gambling on an unknown, hoping that he can keep her views quiet until she’s confirmed, and then knowing that she’ll vote exactly the way conservatives want her to. His biggest risk, then, is that the few conservatives that are in on the secret will accidentally leak the plan and let the whole country know that Harriet Miers is firmly on the hardcore conservative side. His second-biggest risk is that Miers will surprise him once confirmed.

Frankly, neither option fills me with confidence!

When it comes down to it, I think that Miers is probably a “stealth candidate,” a committed conservative who is masquerading as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. She’ll be hard-pressed during the confirmation hearings as both sides do their best to untangle the knot. And in the end, she’ll be confirmed.

I think you’re overly pessimistic on Roe v. Wade, by the way. Assuming I’m right and Miers votes with the majority to overturn that decision, I think that you would see, nearly overnight, the vast majority of all 50 states pass state laws legalizing abortion. And this time, there would be no mysterious cabal of black-robed justices against which to inveigh in fundraising literature! The pro-life organizations would have to fight fifty battles in fifty states, and against duly-elected legislatures. In addition, I think several states would quickly put the issue to vote in elections, and that the elections would almost certainly maintain legalized abortion. My hope is that we might see more sensible laws than we have now, because right now pro-choice extremists are carrying the day. But overall I suspect that the elimination of Roe v Wade would essentially ensure abortion as “settled law” in most states.

From: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left
To: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that no one — Democrats and Republicans both — knows what Miers would do once on the court. While this is true of many Supreme Court appointees, Harriet Miers is certainly an extreme case.

While we both agree that Miers may well be a stealth candidate, I can’t help thinking that this nominee was a poor political calculation by a White House wracked by scandal and vulnerable to charges of incompetence (see: the war, the Gulf region) and, significantly,

George W. Bush has been likened to a “riverboat gambler” for his bold and sometimes brash approach to politics and governing. From neoconservative ideology in the Middle East to supply side economics on the home front, Bush has never been one to back down from a challenge. With the case of Harriet Miers, I believe that Bush badly miscalculated what he saw as a safe bet: an attorney who was the first woman to head the Texas bar association and who had almost no paper trail for Democrats to pick through.

The challenge from the right on the Miers nomination blindsided the Bush administration, perhaps when it least expected it. I’m reminded of a scene from Goodfellas, one of my favorite movies. Henry Hill, a mobster with both the police and his fellow wise guys out to get him, explains to the audience that your friends — the people who have loved and taken care of you your whole life — seem to come after you when you’re at your weakest and in need of the most help.

So, back to the original question: do I think Harriet Miers should be confirmed to the Supreme Court? I can’t say with any certainty, just like everyone else! I hope that the Senate confirmation hearings are meaningful. I expect the nominee to get grilled from both sides on her experience and credentials, and she should be. I think the burden is on Miers to prove why she should get awarded this lifetime appointment.

And if she can’t prove it, I think all Senators have an obligation to vote against her. For Democrats, that might mean facing a Scalia clone on the next go round, but there are really no risk-free options anyway.

By the way, you bring up an interesting point about Roe, Phillip. I certainly see your point, but I think you might be overly optimistic, particularly when considering the makeup of state legislatures in some culturally conservative states. Personally, I wouldn’t want to take the risk of Roe v. Wade getting overturned!

From: Phillip Winn @ Center-Right
To: Eric Berlin @ Center-Left

If reports in this morning’s New York Times and Washington Times hold up, then clearly you are right: President Bush made a serious political mistake in nominating Harriet Miers.

I’m not at all sure that she isn’t the right person for the job. I’m still half-convinced that the only reason these Republicans are pushing so hard against her is to draw Democrats into accepting her nomination without serious question. Or perhaps these are the Republicans who haven’t yet had (or can’t be trusted with) a secret briefing with the White House on Miers as a stealth candidate.

It is interesting that you think the burden should be on Miers. Would the same be true of a relatively-inexperienced Democratic nominee, I wonder? Life has a funny way of demonstrating double standards, and I suspect that statement might someday come back to haunt you!

Miers has a law degree from SMU. Here in Dallas, SMU is well-respected, though clearly it isn’t quite Harvard Law School. She practiced law for many years, but mostly commercial litigation, so she has little experience with U.S. constitutional law. She has, however, been White House Counsel for about one year. What does this relative lack of experience mean?

I don’t think it means much. As I mentioned before, we tend to view Supreme Court Justices as somehow different from the rest of us, but they usually aren’t. Historically, I think that there have been less-experienced nominees than Miers who served our country well, if not with distinction. From what I understand, less-experienced Justices tend to vary quite a bit from their initial views over time, which would suggest that Miers may move more to the left the longer she serves on the court. But that still leaves the big question that few people want to really come right out and ask: How will she vote on abortion?

By the way, from my perspective, my view that nearly all 50 states would pass laws protecting abortion on demand isn’t “optimistic” at all, but rather a pessimistic realism.

In The Middle is an attempt to focus more on what unites us than what divides us. Can two reasonable people from opposite ends of the political spectrum put aside partisanship and meet in the middle? We think so. A topic is picked, e-mails are exchanged, and the results are published here.

In The Middle is a Blogcritics experiment. We’re trying to talk about things civilly, and we strongly request that all commenters do the same. We seek polite comments and questions, not ideological rhetoric or personal attacks.

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In the Middle debuted last week, with Bill Bennett’s controversial remarks on abortion taking (the middle of) center stage.

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  • Eric Berlin

    Phillip, you last wrote:

    It is interesting that you think the burden should be on Miers. Would the same be true of a relatively-inexperienced Democratic nominee, I wonder? Life has a funny way of demonstrating double standards, and I suspect that statement might someday come back to haunt you!

    Absolutely I’d expect a Dem nominee to be qualified. Look at Clinton’s nominees: qualified, with long paper trails, resumes, and well established positions.

    I can sympathize with conservatives who would like to know that they’re getting what they paid for, so to speak (and literally, in some senses).

  • x Raven

    1) The thing is, conservatives and evangelicals expect Miers to rule based on her religion. They want Bush to appoint someone to rule based on religion. That already is a rather, say, selfish reason. It’s common sense that you cannot let your personal religious beliefs interfere with a decision that will affect every person living in America, because not everyone will be Christian. There are Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, etc. What use is a religious justice if she’s going to leave her religion behind in the dressing room? Ohh, but they certainly can’t expect her to bring her beliefs with her into the courtroom, can they? *insert sarcasm*

    2) WWGD? What Would George Do? That’s the basic message coming from reasons why Miers should be appointed. The way people like Bush and Orrin Hatch (etc) word their “persuasions” makes it seem as though Miers will not rule because of her own personal beliefs–She will rule because of Bush’s personal beliefs.

    3) I don’t see what conservative Republicans are worrying about. Why would a strong conservative Republican like Bush nominate a moderate? From the looks of it, Bush is trying to leave a “Great” Conservative Legacy. He nominated a conservative, religious judge alright. It’s just that no one knows he did.

    4) It would be very hard to attack Miers without someone screaming “SEXIST” at you–Oh wait, Laura Bush already did that! Many people are STILL afraid of criticizing Miers because they think they will be seen as sexist, whether their reasons have to do with sexism or not.

    5) Does anyone find it strange that very little has been heard from Miers herself? I’ve heard from Bush defending her. Karl Rove defending her. Laura Bush defending her. Several senators defending her. Lots of people criticizing her. But nothing from herself.

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Lots of people criticizing her. But nothing from herself.

    I’m relatively new to the confirmation process, but don’t we find out most of this stuff once the judiciary hearings begin?

  • Eric Berlin

    Miers announced today that she’s planning on letting her fists do the talking come fight night.

    Okay, I made that up.

    You’re right, Suss. Miers deserves a chance to prove that she’s worthy of this critical and top position in the judiciary.

    Some on the right are trying to bully her into withdrawing as it’s pretty clear that Bush won’t pull her name from consideration on his own.

  • Eric Berlin

    x Raven — I agree with your take on religion… which is why it’s a little bit unsettling that Bush and his surrogates are touting Miers’ evangelical faith. It’s a hypocritical tactic, among other things, as the Bush administration strongly admonished the press not to bring religion into consideration during the lead up to the Roberts confirmation hearings.

  • Phillip Winn

    x Raven (#2), some comments:

    1. You paint with an awfully broad brush there. Many religious people — even evangelicals — aren’t conservative and many conservatives aren’t evangelical. The same argument can also easily be turned around: are we really going to exclude someone based on their church membership? Everyone has personal religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are ostensibly a lack of belief.

    2. So a Supreme Court Justice will be beholden to an ex-President on every decision, really? That is personally insulting to every Justice that has ever served, all of whom were appointed by Presidents of one party or another.

    3. Bush’s father nominated a candidate he promised his base was a conservative — who then went on record to be counted among the liberal justices as often as not. I’m sure the conservative base is thinking “once bitten, twice shy.”

    4. Laura Bush was asked a question by an independent media source, and answered it. The label was introduced by the media source, not the first lady. How should she have answered it, in your opinion? The same argument, of course, is common in politics, and again, the opposite reasoning works as well: does any woman or non-white person get a free pass? If we ask questions of someone other than a white male, is that automatically racism or sexism? Or could it be that in fact some people do act out of racist or sexist animus?

    5. Miers has not yet had her Senate hearing, at which point you should expect to hear a lot more from her. Nominees tend not to speak publicly before their hearings, and Miers is no exception.

  • Phillip Winn

    EB (#1), I just know a lot of conservatives who engaged in irrational partisanship against Clinton over issues like “nation building” that have since come back to bite them. That one hurts both sides — why is unilateral war good in Bosnia but not in Iraq, or vice versa?

    Be careful — as the abortion issue heats up still more in future years, future nominees are more likely than ever to be outsiders, regardless of party . :-)

  • Lisa McKay

    The same argument can also easily be turned around: are we really going to exclude someone based on their church membership? Everyone has personal religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are ostensibly a lack of belief.

    I agree with that in principle, Phillip, and certainly I know quite a number of liberals who are deeply religious. But I would argue that we (the generic, societal ‘we’) routinely exclude non-believers from public office. Even in local elections, candidates are very quick to point out their church affiliations. I find it hard to believe that a professed atheist could successfully run for President. I realize that a lot of politicians probably just pay lip service, but I think most people consider it an important part of a candidate’s resume.

  • Eric Berlin

    I wouldn’t call Bosnia unilateral — that was under the auspices of NATO, wasn’t it?

    I feel safe in saying that Supreme Court nominees should be qualified. It doesn’t matter to me about being an outsider. For example, a brilliant ex-politician with heavy experience in constitutional issues, bipartisan respect, etc. would make for a fine choice… as would an academic with similar accomplishments.

    That said, a major point, again is that no one knows how qualified Miers is or isn’t. I’m perfectly willing to have her go through a tough, fair confirmation process.

  • Phillip Winn

    Indeed, it seems that we (speaking broadly) want our candidates to be religious enough to attend a Christian church twice a year, but no more than that.

    Even then, there’s more to it than that. Carter’s religion was and is devout, and yet he didn’t get the same sort of criticism for it that Bush does for his. Clinton’s religion was barely mentioned, while Reagan’s often was, though from me perspective, each man’s religion was roughly of equal importance to him.

    You’re right, though: I don’t think an avowed athiest would win the Presidency in the USA for quite a while to come.

  • Phillip Winn

    EB, yes, this question will hopefully be a lot easier to answer at the end of the confirmation hearings. :-)

  • Eric Berlin

    Lisa — this week’s The West Wing did a brilliant job of exploring religion and national elections. Alan Alda, playing the moderate Republican candidate (The West Wing‘s America is clearly more liberal the real one!) is forced to deal with religious organizations who want to see anti-abortion judges appointed. It was great television, riveting stuff.

  • Les Slater

    > That said, a major point, again is that no one knows how qualified Miers is or isn’t. I’m perfectly willing to have her go through a tough, fair confirmation process.

    I’m sure she’s plenty qualified.

  • Eric Berlin

    Well, that clears everything up then, thanks Les!

    But seriously… many on the right (which is the important thing, with a Republican president and 55 Senators of GOP affiliation) need to be convinced of this, along with feeling out her “judicial philosophy,” as Bush is fond of saying.

  • DJRadiohead

    Another job well done, boys. Allow me to wade in with a few thoughts.

    Should Miers be confirmed? Based on what we know today… yes, and I’ll tell you why.

    She might not be the most qualified candidate set forth by a president but I don’t think it can be said she is the least qualified. No precedent is being set here for her being unqualified.

    She has committed no acts and expressed no view that makes her unfit for the Supreme Court based on what I have seen and read of the public record.

    I guess where I am coming from here is in the absence of a legitimate reason to reject her nomination, presidents get to choose the justices. Is she the best America has to offer? Perhaps not but that has not been the standard by which previous candidates were judged, either.

  • Eric Berlin

    DJR — First, thanks!

    Second: Under the conditions you’ve set, a rock would be “qualified” to sit on the Court. That’s a bit extreme, but don’t you think a candidate should bring more to the table than the confidence of the President?

    The Senate is charged with “advice and consent,” which is an important check on presidential power… even when the same party controls both.

    I maintain that it is incumbent upon Miers to prove why she’s qualified. She’s obviously bright, talented, and has accomplished much, particularly as a female lawyer breaking barriers in the south.

    But the Supreme Court should be an entirely new standard. Her complete lack of public statements / writings and lack of judicial experience is what really sets apart this candidate.

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Is public opinion really that important when weighing in on a Supreme Court candidate?

  • Eric Berlin

    Here’s what’s important about public opinion in this case:

    President Bush’s (and Congress’) polls are in the tank. Add on top of that the fact that conservative groups and intellectual are going crazy right about now. With a very murky political landscape looming for midterm elections in 2006, Republican Senators are asking many of the questions we’re asking right here.

  • DJRadiohead

    EB, I don’t disagree with you entirely in what you are saying but allow me to try and clarify my thoughts just a little bit better.

    I don’t think the Senate should just rubber stamp Miers’ nomination. What I was saying, though, is that she is not unqualified in an unprecedented sort of way. She is less qualified than some who have served but as qualified as others – maybe moreso than others (we have had non-lawyers on the court).

    If she is not unqualified (and I am basing this on what we know to be true today and I contend it can’t really be argued that she is unqualified) then what is the problem?

    The Senate will hold hearings. At the end of them if we know only what we know today or nothing has contradicted what we know today I think she should be confirmed.

    I am not at all sure she will rule the way I want but I don’t know that we are entitled to know that a justice will rule the way we want beforehand. Our society seems to always want to ‘write the story’ before the news has happened.

  • Eric Berlin

    DJR, I hear you, but again, based on your criteria, you’re saying that if other unqualified nominees were passed through, then so it should be the same for Miers.

    I’m not asking for any sort of incredible standard here — just a high one. This is the Supreme Court we’re talking here.

    And I should also emphasize that because so little about Miers is known, part of the nominating process should include the Senate committee and the American public learning a lot more about her beliefs. Between her lack of judicial experience, lack of familiarity with constitutional law, and the confidential nature of her White House years, I fear we’re going to learn precious little.

    And if that’s the case, that’s not enough if I had a vote.

  • Alethinos

    A week ago or so, (10/5)for one of the first times I agreed with George Will – putting Miers up for a seat on the SC is wrong – on a number of levels. One thing that Will hinted at is that she is nothing more than a political animal.

    I’ll say what I’ve said before here: she’s a blank slate. Other than being Curious George’s friend and the fact that she said he’s the brightest man she’d ever met (either an example of her wit or LACK of brilliance on her part) we do know this…

    Shortly after she began to rise to power in a Texas, a throughly Baptist State, she suddenly had a revelation and left the Catholic Church and joined an evangelical one.

    I don’t trust anyone who so easily abandons the Faith they’ve been reared in for political exediency.

    “But Alethinos, she had a real epiphany!”

    Really… Can we get a phone record or some such showing the call from Heaven?


  • Eric Berlin

    Alethinos — Personally, I don’t care about her religion, her faith, etc. It’s none of my business, really, until she and/or her surrogates bring it in as a factor.

  • Lee Richards

    U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 3: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
    So why is President ‘Strict Constructionist’ Bush making such an issue of Miers’ religion in an effort to convince conservatives? Does this administration indeed HAVE a religious qualification for office, in violation of the Constitution?

  • Eric Berlin

    Between religion and gender (Laura Bush’s assertion that sexism is behind some of the anti-Miers sentiment), you can certainly make the argument that Team Bush is grasping at straws in trying to bolster Miers’ chances in the Senate.

  • DJRadiohead

    EB, you and I actually agree more than we disagree on this (so I am going to quit harping… mostly). I agree the standards should be high(er) but to reject Miers’ nomination on those grounds would be breaking with previous precedents. Maybe that is the right thing to do.

    The last bit of your response reminds me of the first thing I nearly typed was: aren’t we having this conversation a little bit early? Shouldn’t we wait for the hearings? I see nothing to disqualify her but let’s hear from her and hear what she has to say.

  • Alethinos

    Eric… I agree. My point being that I tend to not trust anyone who apparently, casually tosses aside the faith she was raised in, just at the moment she’s becoming a rising star in a state that’s just a lil bit hostile to Catholicism.

    Given that and that she really hasn’t done much in the way of judicial work, never been a judge AND really hasn’t done that much in the court room overall…

    It bothers me.


    PS Excellent post again Mr. B…

  • Eric Berlin

    Well first, this is what happens! A nomination is made and then people jabber up the wazoo about it.

    Secondly, it’s very fair game at this point as so much has happened since the nomination was made. Conservatives are up in arms, the Bush admiration (George and Laura included) have responded, there are real signs of s rift between the White House and conservatives, there are many many underlying factors contributing, including Katrina, Iraq, scandals, low poll numbers, etc. etc.

  • Eric Berlin

    Previous comment was in response to DJR.

    Alethinos — It’s very interesting, based upon your comment, that religion is now being trotted to show conservatives, Hey, she’s one of us, see — she’s religious!

  • DJRadiohead

    Good points all, EB. However:
    I’d like to propose a simple question this week that’s likely not so easy to answer from my side or yours:

    Should Harriet Miers be confirmed as Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court?
    I would submit to best answer that question we need the hearings.

    Are there interesting things to discuss as we lead up to those hearings? Absolutely. I still think regardless that too often people are in too big a hurry to write the story before the main event has played out but a lot of the things we were discussing in our exchanges early on make for interesting conversation.

    One of the things I am finding interesting in this is something you brought up in #28. Litmus tests are not uncommon in Supreme Court discussions but this is a different kind of litmus test, isn’t it. And to listen to the White House try to speak in code on the subject of religion? Fascinating.

  • Alethinos

    Eric… Yes, this is a sad and disgusting display by Bush & Co., it DOES remind me very much of the last WEST WING espisode you mentioned… The scene with Alan Alda was superb – you could FEEL him wanting to reach across the table and slap the crap out of the represenative of those “oh so concerned” church leaders.

    And now we see this putrid behavior. We don’t discuss her qualifications or lack thereof. Just how often she attended church and was it the RIGHT KIND of church…


  • DJRadiohead

    All of which is why the hearings really cannot start soon enough. If the only qualification Miers has is that she goes to church then we do have a big problem.

    It is time to get her in front of the Judiciary Committee. Let’s find out what kind of mind and heart she has. If she can tapdance her way through that minefield half as well as Roberts did then she might go a long way to proving she is at least smart enough to do the job.

  • Eric Berlin

    DJR – I very much agree. But it’s amazing that a growing chorus of conservative intellectuals (Bill Kristol, Peggy Noonan just today) are calling for Miers to withdraw.

  • DJRadiohead

    If I got 30 seconds in the room with Kristol or Noonan I would say much the same thing. Forget President Bush- Miers at this point at least deserves a chance to be heard and deserves a chance to defend herself. Then at least maybe we will be debating her merits rather her faith (and yes, I recognize it is the right putting her faith at issue right now and not the left).

  • Eric Berlin

    Noonan, at least, is looking to salvage the political standing of this administration. If Miers goes down in committee (with his own party in charge!) it will a devastating blow to an already weakened presidency.

    Bush, of course, would never “cut and run.” He’s a “stay the course” kind of guy, which is why there are not-so-subtle overtures from some to Miers to gracefully withdraw.

  • Nancy

    I don’t like her hyperbole. Granted Boy George is her #1 client, so she’s got to stroke him, but gushing that the chimp is “the most BRILLIANT man I ever met!” is, as the kids used to say, a 5-fingered gag. Too much sucking up. That is not a good sign, when someone is so slavish about brown-nosing a scumbag politician of any stripe.

  • Eric Berlin

    Nancy, while Phillip and I appreciate your comments, we’re trying to establish a more civil level of discourse in this column (and the rest of the political section).

    And, really, you steal away the power of your own argument by using the language you’ve used.

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Every thread needs a troll to ignore.

    I love the To-From setup. This might be awesome if, down the road, additional bloggers and views are brought into the mix. Rationally, of course.

    For now, me likey, but “the middle” is not necessarily “moderate” in every instance.

  • Eric Berlin

    Thanks Suss, and yes there are plans in the works to include guests.

    And (also) yes, there’s no requirement to be “moderate.” Phillip and I profess to come from the “center-right” and “center-left,” respecively, but what we’re really looking to promote is intelligent, substantive, civil, (hopefully) interesting discussions about political stories of the day.

    That’s why we say at the end of each piece:

    Be passionate, think before you write, respect others, and have fun!

  • Phillip Winn

    DJ (#15) — thanks for the kind words. It is interesting to think about the Senate’s role to provide “advice and consent.” Is that a high burden or a low one? Hmmm…

    Since I suspect that Miers will take the route the last few nominees (from both parties) have taken and give us very few substantial answers in the hearings, it is an interesting question.

    Answer questions boldly and have people vote against you for political reasons? Or refuse to answer questions and force people who want to vote against you to either manufacture reasons or admit they’re voting against the President who nominated you?

    That’s about how it shapes up right now, unless they can get her to crack during the hearings.

  • Phillip Winn

    Alethinos (#21), isn’t John Roberts a Roman Catholic? That would tend to deflate your suggestion a little, no?

    Living here in Texas, I’m not so sure that religion plays as big a part in politics as you’re suggesting, but it could be. I just don’t pay attention.

  • Phillip Winn

    Suss (#37), we’re actually going to need a left-leaning guest in a couple of weeks, as EB is going to be gone all week!

    We’re definitely looking to mix things up a bit in the future, but wanted to get a few columns under our belt first.

    EB and I happen to be who we are, but one of these days he’s going to pick on the religious right and I’m going to agree, or I’ll find some liberal axiom he doesn’t hold, and then we won’t really meet “in the middle” at all!

    Thanks for the comments, all!

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    One possible subject I’d like to see is, rather than a left-to-right take on it, having two war protesters debating the best way to express their grievances to the government about their overseas actions.

    If an A-Bomb nut puts up a fuss, so be it. You’ll have that anywhere, it’s the freakin’ Internet. But it’d make for, if nothing else, positive thoughts within the reader.

  • Phillip Winn

    Given that the suggestion comes with exactly the sort of ideological rhetoric we’re trying to avoid included, I think that idea might not be the best one. :-)

  • Alethinos

    PW… I am sure that in certain circles in Texas her being Catholic wouldn’t have mattered… However, let’s see where she is now and to whom she kowtows… We are talking about a section of the Republican base that are – in most cases, inches away from being outright religious fantatics…

    John Roberts was a WHOLE other cat. First he was an appellate court judge from the federal level. Also, (importantly) there is a desire to court “conservative” Catholics – of which there is still a sizable percentage of in this country…

    Good thread Eric – keep it up!


  • Eric Berlin

    Phillip said in #39:

    Since I suspect that Miers will take the route the last few nominees (from both parties) have taken and give us very few substantial answers in the hearings, it is an interesting question.

    The dynamic is very, very different from the Roberts hearings. Short of Roberts super sucking (and he was sharp and smooth as hell both — everyone admitted it — even when dodging questions) he had the votes. The Dems only option would be to gather votes for a try at a fillibuster, which would have triggered the nuclear option… and Roberts would still have gotten the votes.

    As the opposition is now from the right, there will be intense pressure on Miers to both answer questions across the board about her qualifications (and plan on seeing some tough questions on constitional issues) but to placate the widespread fears on the right that she’ll be anything from a wildcard to a moderate once on the court.

  • DJRadiohead

    As Eric notes, Roberts did a brilliant job of not answering questions. People still came away impressed and confident in his itellectual quality. I am sure the fact Roberts had a great resume played some role in this but his performance in the hearings was praised and elevated his status.

    If Miers can convince us she has a better command of the law and english language than the president, she will go a long way toward easing some people’s minds. I don’t expect her to get very specific – she probably shouldn’t.

    Eric is right, though. She has a challenge Roberts did not. She has to not only convince people she is smart she has to convince people she is ‘their’ kind of judge.

  • Bennett

    Great job Eric and Phil! And also all of the insightful comments on HM’s road ahead.

    I’m looking forward to the hearings, and hope that VT public radio carries them live the way they did the Roberts hearings.

  • Demetrius

    i believe she is a bad choice on my standpoint of being a Liberal. I beleive war is wrong unless ABSOLUTLEY inevitable and i believe abortion should be LEGAL due to the fact that a woman has the right to say what she wants to do with her baby because it is her baby. I think that harriet miers is against all of these things and therfore i’d rather see a monkey in office then her.

  • Phillip Winn

    D, what inside knowledge do you have that leads you to believe Miers would help to extend the war (not that the US Supreme Court has much to do with that anyway) or would work (or have the power) to end legal abortion?

    Or is the fact that she was nominated by President Bush enough? That’s partisan politics, which we try to avoid on these In the Middle posts in favor of reason and respect.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Dave Nalle

    The news did come out yesterday that she signed a document opposing Roe v. Wade in order to get some pro life endorsements when running for the Dallas City Council. How much that’s worth is open to debate, as is the concept that in that position she could have done anything about abortion in the first place.


  • Phillip Winn

    It’s probably a decent reflection of her personal views, but doesn’t necessarily indicate how she might vote given the chance.

  • Eric Berlin

    One of the main problems with Miers is that there’s so little there on record. Thus everyone — particularly nervous conservatives — are scrapping and scrambling through the very little that there is to sift through.

    It was a little surreal seeing thank you notes from Miers to Bush (You’re so awesome, “cool,” etc.) read on Chris Matthews’ weekend show.

    But I believe Miers does have a higher bar to clear than Roberts because of her lack of judicial experience and public record.

  • Mark Saleski

    guys, this is a great feature.

    we definitely need more things like this in the politics column.

  • Eric Berlin

    I’m only sad that no one has mentioned Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!

  • Nancy

    “Awesome”? “Cool”? And you were objecting to MY language?! Given the context of those adjectives, hers is disgusting.

  • Eric Berlin

    Nancy, I know it’s easy and it feels good to vent — and there’s certainly a time and place for that — but Bush-bashing in of itself will not help to advance the agenda that liberals, progressives, and center-left moderates hold dear.

    I forgot who said it, but some pundit or other recently pointed out that a major problem for liberals is that they point at Bush and mock and laugh and expect everyone else to get and join in on the joke.

    Obviously, this isn’t the case as the election results of 2004 show us.

  • DJRadiohead

    Eric, I cannot remember the thread but I was saying the same thing about what Democrats did with Bush and Republicans did with Clinton.

    Republicans were so appalled at Clinton as a person beginning in 1992 that they twice ran a campaign consisting of: “Oh c’mon, it’s CLINTON!” No ideas. No agenda. Nothing.

    Democrats so dismissed GW Bush as a ‘junior’ and a lightweight that they ran two campaigns consisting of: “This guy? Are you serious?” No agenda. No ideas. Nothing.

    And in the ‘re-election’ campaigns, both camps claimed the incumbents did bad jobs but could never convince people there was a better alternative.

    Ideas still count. The messenger and the message matter. Both parties have sat out of the Oval Office for 8 years at a time because they failed to recognize this. I hope the lesson of Clinton/Bush is that ideas DO matter to the voters.

  • Eric Berlin

    Well, I think that ’04 had many factors, but underestimating Bush and assuming that people would recognize his and his administration’s flaws and flock under the Kerry umbrella is certainly one of them.

  • DJRadiohead

    I think people can point to a lot of factors in the last four races. In my mind, neither party did a credible job of advancing an agenda and did their best to downplay “the other guy.”

    I really think John Kerry had nothing to say other than “I am not George W. Bush.” I think the only domestic agenda he had was scaling back Bush’s tax cuts. He promised to pay for a gazillion things I can’t remember with that money. That was about it. In my mind, he never gave people a reason to vote for him.

    Then look at Bob Dole. All he seemed to have to say was, “Let’s get a grown up who served in the military in the White House.” Translation: I am not Bill Clinton. Even when he tabbed Kemp – too little, too late. NO ideas. NONE. Just, “We’re not Clinton.” In my mind, he never gave people a reason to vote for him.