The conventional wisdom in Washington has been that George W. Bush's second Supreme Court nomination would be vastly more controversial than the first, causing huge hissy fits, titanic temper-tantrums and endless caterwauling. The conventional wisdom gets partial credit. There has indeed been much gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth over the nomination of Harriet Miers, but it has been almost exclusively on the political right.
Yes, yes, the usual liberal activist groups issued their press releases condemning the president's pick, but that system was on autopilot already. In fact, I hear Ralph Neas of People for the American Way is creating a holographic version of himself which will condemn "extremist judges" millennia from now, when the earth is ruled by super-intelligent bees.
The authentic dismay has been on the right. Many conservatives believed this was the opportunity for a slam dunk. John Roberts was an inspired choice. His credentials are impeccable, his abilities beyond dispute. If Bush appointed a Michael McConnell or a Michael Luttig - brilliant judges on the 10th and Fourth Circuits, respectively - he could have not only moved the court to the right but moved the entire legal culture through the sheer intellectual force of the justices.
Harriet Miers credentials are, shall we say, modest. By consensus, she's a distinguished attorney and highly capable presidential aide. She was a major player in Texas legal circles, serving as the first female head of the State Bar of Texas. President Bush's introduction on Monday smacked of resume padding. She was on the Dallas City Council and tried cases before judges. And, President Bush noted, as head of the Texas Lottery Commission Miers "insisted on a system that was fair and honest." That's a bit like saying that, as head of the water authority, she insisted tap water be fit for human consumption; it's the right position but hardly a profile in courage.
Among conservatives there are several competing - and sometimes overlapping - theories as to why Bush settled on Miers.
-He had no choice. He's weakened by Katrina, Iraq and the polls, and he can't afford Armageddon in the Senate. A stealthy, female nominee who was all but pre-approved by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is the prudent step at this time. In other words, she's confirmable, and at the end of the day the one indispensable qualification for any nominee is that they can actually make it to the bench.