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October 22, 2005

Against Brad DeLong's "For Harriet Miers"

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

The esteemed Brad DeLong comes out in favor of confirming Harriet Miers, but makes, in my view, two critical errors [emphasis mine]:

She is a hard working, intelligent, savvy lawyer with a strange fixation on George W. Bush. She has had the experience of making her way as a career woman in late-twentieth century America, which cannot help but have given her a considerable education in what's what and where's where. Back her up with good, moderate clerks and she will do fine.

The first error is to believe that the "strange fixation on George W. Bush" is not a problem. There is historical precedent for a President appointing crony Justices who then undue deference to the executive branch. Most famously, Fred Vinson penned the dissent in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v Sawyer, claiming Truman had the right to seize steel mills during the Cold War. As the various cases question the executive's right to arbitrarily detain US and foreign citizens contrary to both the Constitution and Geneva Conventions, having another justice who is deferential to executive power, especially right-reactionary uses of executive power, strikes me as a Bad Thing.

The second is to think that Miers will get "good, moderate clerks". After Justice Kennedy's apostasy in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, where he voted to uphold Roe while also permitting Pennsylvania's various abortion restrictions, members of Federalist Society essentially begin pre-screening Kennedy's clerkship applicants (this is documented in the "inside Bush v. Gore" article in the October 2004 issue of Vanity Fair, which I don't have handy for the appropriate quote). It's true that O'Connor hired moderate (and even liberal) clerks, but the Federalist Society gave up on her long ago, and she seems to enjoy having spirited debate among her subordinates even if she disagreed with them. We have no evidence one way or another that Miers will be able to staff her office with "good, moderate clerks", or if the Federalist Society cranks will vet those who wish to work for her. This, too, strikes me as a Bad Thing, though out of all the potential Bush nominees, Miers may be the one most likely to seek out moderate clerks.

The Miers nomination is a true knuckleball in the dirt; it's really not clear what liberals and centrists should do, since in the space of possible outcomes under the current executive she may be the best we can hope for on many issues. I'm with Ezra. Now that DeLay is out of the mix, and Karl Rove isn't there to push the all-rightwing-pander-all-the-time political strategy, let's extract as much political damage as we can, ditch the stillborn Miers nomination and draft Ed Prado.

October 22, 2005 in The Supreme Court | Permalink

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Comments

The second assertion of DeLong's that you discuss reminds me of the common refrain used to justify another, different kind, of nominee to a position he had little qualifications for: the 2000 Republican Presidental candidate.

No experience in foreign policy? No problem- he'll have good, competent, advisors.

That seems to have worked out really well. Oh, wait...

Posted by: TJ | Oct 22, 2005 4:40:34 PM

If Miers withdraws or is voted down(God willing), I doubt Bush will nominate anyone close to a moderate. I will hope that he learned something from Miers nomination. I would hope he would nominate Owens, Brown or Luttig.

I think if you are a lib you would have to hope Miers is confirmed because I think she is the Left's best hope on issues like racial preferences, gay marriage and abortion.

I hope she is voted down or withdraws and Bush nominates a proven conservative.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Oct 22, 2005 5:03:35 PM

I think DeLong's optimism is unwarranted here, but hasn't Miers said she's not a member (or a fan, for that matter) of the Federalist Society? They wouldn't be vetting potential clerks unless the Justice in question wanted them to, right? I'm pretty clueless on how clerks are chosen, and how the Federalist society comes to play a role. Help me out here.

Posted by: djw | Oct 22, 2005 5:07:11 PM

I don't expect to get much progress on gay marriage at the national level in the next five years. Eventually cohort replacement dictates it will happen, but not for a while.

I have no evidence one way or another on abortion, but that's a 6-3 majority right now anyway, so at worst she makes it 5-4.

One can make the case that Miers may be the best hope to retain affirmative action.

My real concern is that Miers is going to be completely subservient to business interests, on environmental regulation, workers' safety, and any other number of regulatory issues. That's my real problem.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Oct 22, 2005 5:08:16 PM

it's really not clear what liberals and centrists should do, since in the space of possible outcomes under the current executive she may be the best we can hope for on many issues.

This is nonsense. It's perfectly clear what any liberal/centrist witha brain should do: oppose her, because she is not properly qualified. Letting her in on some kind "best we can do" calculus is proof that a) we have no standards at all, and b) we're as cynical as conservatives about the political process and how business gets done in DC.

I don't know why liberals are having this senior moment - this is really not hard. I'd like to drag this out too, and let her twist in the wind, but at the end of the day, the standard for the Court should remain high. And Miers does not meet it. As George Will said today, anyone who had qualms about John Roberts, former clerk to Rehnquist as Chief Justice, should be already in the "no on Miers" camp.

Miers is awful. For liberals to even contemplate supporting her is embarrassing. Wake up, people. Please.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 22, 2005 5:23:31 PM

There's two kinds of awful, weboy -- the unqualified kind and the doctrinaire-conservative kind. I'm more willing to take my chances with the unqualified kind, especially when she's 60 years old.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Oct 22, 2005 5:29:16 PM

I would say there's many kinds of awful - and one of them is acceptance of incompetence because the alternative looks worse. If being a Democrat is supporting the notion that hack cronies are an acceptable alternative to anything, we have seriously lost our way.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 22, 2005 5:34:21 PM

djw: I almost hate to link to it, but here is the Drudge scoop on the issue. Miers basically argues that since she is an at-large member and represents a big city with lots of people of different political persuasions, she doesn't think it's appropriate to be a member of "politically charged" groups.

One could read this as a point in her favor, that she thinks politics is a dirty business that distracts from policymaking and you should simply try to avoid it wherever possible. In that case, it still looks like Balkin is right, that Miers is moderate basically a pro-business (but not pro-free-market) judge who might be a touch more social conservative than you and I might like. Nonetheless, the pressure to hire Federalist Society members is pretty strong, so strong that she would have to actively seek out clerks of a different ideological inclination.

Weboy: neil hits on my second concern, which is that if the Miers nomination is withdrawn we'll get some perfectly well qualified 42 year old Young Turk who doesn't listen to anyone but Scalia.

Again, I have no desire to support Miers; there ought to be a political price for lowering the standards of who can sit on the Supreme Court. And hey, I don't know about you, but the last four years have given me plenty of reason to be cynical about the political process in DC.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Oct 22, 2005 5:48:30 PM

Who would you rather have on the court? Miers? Or Scalia?

That's all I'm sayin'...

Posted by: Brad DeLong | Oct 22, 2005 7:00:00 PM

um, Scalia? Is that a hard call?

Posted by: weboy | Oct 22, 2005 8:09:42 PM

Nicholas - I know these are hard times, and I know cynicism is a natural response; but no, not good enough. It's not that there ought to be a "political price for lowering the standards", it's that there should be standards. Again, I don't think this is hard, and I thought, silly me, this was something of a no-brainer. First question: do they meet the standard for the Court? If yes, then are they acceptable? It seems to me that if the first answer is "no" we don't go to question 2. And I think we can look at a number of candidates who might pass question 1 (Janice Rodgers Brown for example, although she fails my question 1 standard, anyway), and still be able to say no.

Look, I get that there could be worse nominee(s) down the road, but let's not let the lousy be the enemy of the bad.... or something like that. One thing at a time. Is Miers acceptable? Seriously, stop and contemplate this. Is Miers acceptable? Not, is she the best of a bad lot, but is she, in herself, an acceptable pick for the Court?

We should not be the nervous ones here - apparently, faced with a slew of better, possibly even harder-edged candidates, Bush picked Miers. Why? Fear, apparently, that others were unconfirmable, or soft on his base's issues. Let them squirm. And let's call Miers what she is: totally unacceptable.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 22, 2005 8:19:43 PM

Why does Justice Kennedy choose to have the Federalist Society decide who clerks for him? In what way does that make sense?

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Oct 23, 2005 2:03:03 PM

1) The "Federalist Society" doesn't decide who clerks for Kennedy. That is ludicrous. Certain former clerks -- such as Miguel Estrada and Alex Kozinski -- pre-screen the applications for Kennedy. They might happen to be members of the Federalist Society, but the "Federalist Society" itself has absolutely no role.

2) What's more, the only reason that Kennedy has former clerks pre-screen the applications is that HE ASKED THEM TO. Otherwise, they would never even conceivably have access to the process in the first place. People apply for Supreme Court clerkships directly, by mailing (or faxing these days) applications directly to the Justices. The Supreme Court Justice him- or herself has total control over what happens from there.

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