We ask the wrong questions about Harriet Miers

Nobody seems to like Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, and for mostly the wrong reasons.

Initially, prominent Republicans worried that Miers was not conservative enough, that there was too much mystery surrounding her personal beliefs on issues — namely abortion — that might appear before the court.

Conservative activist James Dobson assured partisans that Miers is a staunch, pro-life, Evangelical Christian, which appeased the right and unsettled the left. Still, she “has never been a judge and so has left no ‘paper trail’ of opinions to dissect,” The New York Times wrote on Wednesday.

Aren’t we all missing the point? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with what a nominee’s “paper trail” might tell about her interpretation of the law than what it might tell about her “opinions”? Never mind that we don’t really know what she thinks about constitutional law, or how much she thinks about it at all. Miers’ opponents are worried because they don’t know how she feels about abortion.

Initially, Democrats focused more intently on her actual judicial merits. Miers, President Bush’s chief legal adviser since 2004 and his friend for years, is a weak candidate. These were early, legitimate criticisms against the nomination.

Since Monday’s release of documents written by Miers between 1995 and 2000, though, commentary has become petty, focusing on notes written to then-Gov. Bush in which she describes him and Laura as “cool” parents and tells him that “Texas is blessed” to have “the best governor ever!” Sure, it’s easy to make fun of a woman for being cheesy and fawning. It’s impossible not to wonder what possessed the White House to make these memos and birthday cards, of all things, public. But now this has become the preferred argument against Miers.

Critics of Miers on the liberal side have fallen in love with this woman’s use of exclamation points. They’ve put her nonexistent record and lightweight judicial intellectualism on the back burner in order to go after her on superficial grounds.

As usual, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times is leading the way in the embarrassing compulsion to mock conservatives by repeating stupid things that they say. Rather than posing a coherent political argument, Dowd just uses her powerful voice to repeat Miers’ silliest quotes and then make up sillier ones that are supposed to take the place of actual commentary (“I’ve half a mind to come down there myself and chase that witch, Cindy Sheehan, off your property with an injunction!! Yours, with you in Christ, Harriet,” Dowd wrote Wednesday).

It would be a lot more convincing — and damning — to first acknowledge that Miers is smart and driven and then make a case against her appointment. I hope she isn’t confirmed, and I’ll be surprised if she is. But I don’t credit the wisdom of lawmakers with the unlikelihood of a Miers confirmation; I credit their partisanship.

I think we all got lucky with John Roberts — though, of course, time will tell — because he does seem to view his role as enforcing laws, not rewriting them. His infamous French fry decision — in which, in 2000, he ruled that it had been lawful for police to arrest a 12-year-old for eating a French fry in a subway station — is extreme, but it shows an unwavering fidelity to law enforcement over personal belief. I doubt that Roberts, who has two small children and is a practicing Catholic, would personally rejoice in the opportunity to arrest a young girl for possessing food.

The 22 Democratic senators who voted to affirm the Roberts nomination — and probably some who did not — must have recognized this. Surely some of the Republicans who affirmed Roberts saw him as a good conservative judge — just what Bush promised — and voted on that, but many probably appreciated his nonpartisan conservatism, his strict interpretation of law and precedent.

With Miers, we have no such analysis to make. Never mind that her lack of a “paper trail” prevents our knowing where she personally stands on social issues; it prevents our analyzing her approach to the law.

Perhaps Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary, said it best: “It seems like the media want to focus on things other than her qualifications.”

The media sure do revel more in Miers’ fawning letters to Bush. We dwell on the mysteries of her personal ideologies and belief system. Yes, indeed, in lieu of mockery it would behoove us all to “focus” on her “qualifications.” Or, maybe, the lack thereof.



Helen Vera is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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