Having followed the reaction to President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on and off throughout the day, I have a few more thoughts.
First, the charge of “cronyism” that we are hearing in many quarters is unfair. The fact that Bush knows Miers personally and trusts her isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing. If his father had known David Souter personally, I very much doubt that he would have put him on the Court. Appointing someone you know to a position of trust isn’t “cronyism.” In general, it’s a good idea. It’s only “cronyism” if you appoint someone unqualified for reasons of payoff or patronage.
Which brings me to point two. While we have expressed our disappointment over the Miers nomination, I think some of the criticism of her qualifications has also been unfair. What distinguishes Miers from many, probably most Supreme Court nominees is that she has spent the large majority of her career in private practice. There is no shame in this. On the contrary, I would guess that a large majority of the best lawyers in the United States are in private practice. Not only would many of them make excellent Justices, there is a lot to be said for having lawyers with practical experience representing clients both in and out of the courtroom on the Court. I don’t know how good a lawyer Miers is, but it is silly to imply that because she has been in private practice, for the most part, rather than in government service or on the bench, she isn’t well qualified for the Court.
Finally, I think it is entirely possible that, as Vice-President Cheney has been saying, ten years from now we will conclude that Miers is a solid, conservative Supreme Court Justice. But I think that ignores an important reality: it is significant that Bush appoint someone who turns out to be a conservative, but it is also important (albeit less so) that he be perceived as doing so.
Bush is at a very significant point in his second term. Things have not been going great for him on a number of fronts. The one real triumph he has had so far this term was his selection of John Roberts as Chief Justice. Bush needs to keep the party’s conservative base aggressively in his corner. He also needs to show that, notwithstanding his mostly-superficial second term problems, he can get what he wants from the Senate when the chips are down. He had the opportunity to do that with another top-notch nomination, and he had great candidates available. Instead, it is widely perceived that he punted.
The base is in no mood for a stealth candidate who donated to Democrats throughout the Reagan administration. For Bush, vindication ten years from now will come too late.
PAUL adds: I’m certainly not in that mood. And I think it’s cronyism in the bad sense when the president reaches down to the second tier to pick a friend even if she is qualified. I do concede that it’s better that Bush picked one of his cronies than one of John Kerry’s.
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