October 06, 2005

Et tu, Ilsa: It's hard to oppose the Miers nomination when she's even getting dissed by the Brownshirts:
Harriet Miers went to Southern Methodist University Law School, which is not ranked at all by the serious law school reports and ranked No. 52 by US News and World Report. Her greatest legal accomplishment is being the first woman commissioner of the Texas Lottery.

I know conservatives have been trained to hate people who went to elite universities, and generally that's a good rule of thumb. But not when it comes to the Supreme Court. First, Bush has no right to say "Trust me." He was elected to represent the American people, not to be dictator for eight years.

Among the coalitions that elected Bush are people who have been laboring in the trenches for a quarter-century to change the legal order in America. While Bush was still boozing it up in the early '80s, Ed Meese, Antonin Scalia, Robert Bork and all
the founders of the Federalist Society began creating a farm team of massive legal talent on the right. To casually spurn the people who have been taking slings and arrows all these years and instead reward the former commissioner of the Texas Lottery with a Supreme Court appointment is like pinning a medal of honor on some flunky paper-pusher with a desk job at the Pentagon — or on John Kerry — while ignoring your infantrymen doing the fighting and dying.

Second, even if you take seriously William F. Buckley's line about preferring to be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston telephone book than by the Harvard faculty, the Supreme Court is not supposed to govern us. Being a Supreme Court justice ought to be a mind-numbingly tedious job suitable only for super-nerds trained in legal reasoning like John Roberts. Being on the Supreme Court isn't like winning a "Best Employee of the Month" award. It's a real job.
Of all the reasons that may exist to oppose Harriet Miers, the fact that she graduated from a non-prestigious law school thirty years ago is perhaps the weakest, and the one least likely to garner sympathy from the public. If anything, lawyers who reach the top of their profession, as Ms. Miers surely has, after attending such a school is all the more reason to judge her credentials positively. The Supreme Court is not a law review, thank god. It should have a diverse representation of members, representing the broad sweep of America, limited only by achievement and knowledge of law.

Notwithstanding her positions on the constitutionality of abortion or of civil rights for homosexuals, she has accomplished a great deal in her legal career, a career not limited to running the Texas State Lottery, as Ann of a Thousand Lays so condescendingly mentions. She broke the barrier against her sex at a major law firm in Texas, ran the Bar Association in Dallas, then later in the whole state of Texas, and served on the Dallas City Council, before becoming White House Counsel. It may not be unfair to label her a "crony" of the President, but Byron White was no less a "crony" of JFK when he got tabbed, and his credentials were every bit as similar as Miers'. If Bush's other crony appointments were akin to Harriet Miers, the issue probably wouldn't come up, just as it didn't with President Kennedy. Even if I choose to oppose her nomination, her accomplishments entitle her to my respect.

UPDATE: Greetings and salutations to the people joining us from Reason. Some interesting critiques in the comments section over there, but one I'd like to address concerns a number of posters who took exception with my comparison of the qualifications of Harriet Miers and Byron White. One person noted, somewhat ironically, that White, unlike Miers, was a Rhodes Scholar, the top graduate in his class at Yale Law School, and clerked for the Supreme Court. That indeed is an impressive track record, and I might also add that he finished second in balloting for the Heisman Trophy and played a bit for the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers.

What any of that has to do with his qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court two decades later escapes me, except showing that Whizzer White did very well in school. So did Harriet Miers; although her law school grades haven't been released, as far as I know, we do know that she clerked for a U.S. District Court judge after graduating, and was the first woman to be hired as an associate by one of the more prestigious firms in her state. Remembering that she doesn't come from one of the prominent families in the Lone Star State, those credentials suggest that someone back then thought she exhibited talent. SMU wasn't Yale Law School, obviously, but it should be noted that during the period Byron White matriculated there, and on through to Ms. Miers' final year of law school (1969), Yale was a mens-only college. It took an Act of Parliament in 1977 to open the selection criteria for the Rhodes Scholarship to include women. Being a Rhodes Scholar or finishing first at Yale simply wasn't going to be in the cards for her.

When JFK nominated his WWII buddy (White had been an investigator for the Navy looking into the future President's PT-boat mishap), his legal career was remarkeably similar to Harriet Miers. Both had spent most of their time in private practice in Flyover Country before hooking up with a future President. Both worked in the White House for the new President (White as an Assistant-AG; Miers in a number of positions, including White House counsel) before being nominated to the Supreme Court. Neither had exhibited much professional inclination to constitutional law before being nominated. I stand by my comparison.

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