I eagerly await the announcement of President Bush's real nominee to the Supreme Court. If the president meant Harriet Miers seriously, I have to assume Bush wants to go back to Crawford and let Dick Cheney run the country.
Unfortunately for Bush, he could nominate his Scottish terrier Barney, and some conservatives would rush to defend him, claiming to be in possession of secret information convincing them that the pooch is a true conservative and listing Barney's many virtues – loyalty, courage, never jumps on the furniture ...
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.
One website defending Bush's choice of a graduate from an undistinguished law school complains that Miers' critics "are playing the Democrats' game," claiming that the "GOP is not the party which idolizes Ivy League acceptability as the criterion of intellectual and mental fitness." (In the sort of error that results from trying to sound "Ivy League" rather than being clear, that sentence uses the grammatically incorrect "which" instead of "that." Websites defending the academically mediocre would be a lot more convincing without all the grammatical errors.)
Actually, all the intellectual firepower in the law is coming from conservatives right now – and thanks for noticing! Liberals got stuck trying to explain Roe vs. Wade and are still at work 30 years later trying to come up with a good argument.
But the main point is: Au contraire! It is conservatives defending Miers' mediocre resume who are playing the Democrats' game. Contrary to recent practice, the job of being a Supreme Court justice is not to be a philosopher-king. Only someone who buys into the liberals' view of Supreme Court justices as philosopher-kings could hold legal training irrelevant to a job on the Supreme Court.
To be sure, if we were looking for philosopher-kings, an SMU law grad would probably be preferable to a graduate from an elite law school. But if we're looking for lawyers with giant brains to memorize obscure legal cases and to compose clearly reasoned opinions about ERISA pre-emption, the doctrine of equivalents in patent law, limitation of liability in admiralty, and supplemental jurisdiction under Section 1367 – I think we want the nerd from an elite law school. Bush may as well appoint his chauffeur head of NASA as put Miers on the Supreme Court.
Third and finally, some jobs are so dirty, you can only send in someone who has the finely honed hatred of liberals acquired at elite universities to do them. The devil is an abstraction for normal, decent Americans living in the red states. By contrast, at the top universities, you come face to face with the devil every day, and you learn all his little tropes and tricks.
Conservatives from elite schools have already been subjected to liberal blandishments and haven't blinked. These are right-wingers who have fought off the best and the brightest the blue states have to offer. The New York Times isn't going to mau-mau them – as it does intellectual lightweights like Jim Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee – by dangling fawning profiles before them. They aren't waiting for a pat on the head from Nina Totenberg or Linda Greenhouse. To paraphrase Archie Bunker, when you find a conservative from an elite law school, you've really got something.
However nice, helpful, prompt and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn't qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on "The West Wing," let alone to be a real one. Both Republicans and Democrats should be alarmed that Bush seems to believe his power to appoint judges is absolute. This is what "advice and consent" means.