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Archive for Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Miers must prove she’s ‘the best’ for job

October 12, 2005

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President Bush called Harriet Miers "the best person I could find" when he nominated her for the U.S. Supreme Court.

You think so? Looks like he's got a lot of convincing to do.

"Public reaction to Miers lukewarm" was the headline from one national opinion poll taken as Miers, with her tight, Texas smile and little-known resume, started to make the rounds on Capitol Hill.

Even readers of the Wall Street Journal registered a negative reaction when asked whether she was qualified - 42 percent saying yes and 58 percent saying unh-unh.

Seems to me that the public has a right to wonder whether this woman is qualified for one of the best lifetime jobs on the planet.

What do we want in a justice, anyway? The Constitution says little about the Supreme Court and nothing about who should serve on it, but that they be of "good Behaviour" and are compensated for their work.

So it is up to each generation to craft its own expectations of the men, and now women, who have the final say over an enormously complex judicial system that reaches into every area of American life.

Miers' lack of judicial experience - the humorist Andy Borowitz has suggested that the president give her a copy of "Judging for Dummies" - strikes us as odd today because for the last three decades the court has been packed with those who've worn black robes before. The last time a justice without prior judicial experience joined the bench was William Rehnquist, and that was in 1972.

But history is replete with men who never were judges, including the likes of Felix Frankfurter, Owen Josephus Roberts and Louis Brandeis.

There could be something refreshing about a new justice who hasn't trod the cloistered path from one court to the next, who has - as Miers' resume indicates - sat on a city council, litigated cases, run a major law firm. And who doesn't have an Ivy League degree.

Her years spent serving George W. Bush's political and legal needs could even have given Miers a useful understanding of the political and legislative process. Like it or not, the court effectively makes laws, either by overturning legislation it deems unconstitutional or by inventing its own concepts of rights.

This would be a stronger argument if Miers had a distinguished congressional career, not a two-year stint on the Dallas City Council, but the real qualifications for this job aren't found in the candidate's resume. Character is what counts.

And here Miers' blank slate is troubling. As smart as she undoubtedly is, we have no evidence that she's grappled with constitutional issues, or had much impact in the public square. Fixing up the Texas lottery system is, well, nice, but what does that bring to a court facing some of the toughest issues imaginable?

Above all, a Supreme Court justice ought to be fair and wise, with an ability to listen hard to others' arguments, the intellect to parse difficult cases, and the personal independence and integrity to make the right call.

Miers was a trailblazer for women in Texas law, and that must have taken courage and chutzpah. But she has also spent the last five years serving a president who prizes loyalty above capability, and so it's fair to wonder whether she will be able to act as a jurist with a purely independent character.

The partisan actors in Washington are trying to figure out how Miers will rule on this issue or that. Me, I'm more interested in the character and capability of the person being elevated. I don't want a Supreme Court made up of people with only high I.Q.'s. But neither should just anyone be appointed. This court is meant to represent the very best of American wisdom and ingenuity - people whose opinions we read decades later and say, with reverence, WOW!

The president says Miers is the best. Now they will both have to prove it.

Jane R. Eisner is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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