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.
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