WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had held his nose and loyally backed Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, last week quickly advocated a new candidate for President Bush to consider: Federal Appellate Judge Karen Williams of Orangeburg, S.C. It was not merely that Williams is Graham's fellow South Carolinian. She is precisely the kind of nominee George W. Bush needs to recover from the Miers fiasco. The question is whether the president fully understands that.
Williams, now 54 years old, was named to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. She is clearly a strong conservative but well thought of by non-conservatives such as Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of South Carolina's leading African-American politicians. It would be hard for Democrats to justify a Senate filibuster against Williams by invoking the "extraordinary circumstances" standard under the "Gang of 14" judicial confirmation compromise.
The question is whether the president will take this reasonable approach toward a high court vacancy that is considered vital to his core constituency. Considering the fact that he could have embarked on such a course in the first place and avoided the further loss of public confidence caused by the Miers nomination, nobody can be absolutely sure he will not again blunder. That could mean another Miers-like stealth nominee or, at the opposite extreme, an antagonistic nominee who incites the left.
"What in the world was the president thinking?" was the widely exclaimed question among Bush supporters when they learned he had nominated his White House counsel to a Supreme Court vacancy that could change the outcome of important social questions by shifting the court's balance to the right. It is a question still asked a month later without a satisfactory answer.
Bush's blunder on Miers reflects his genuine disdain for Washington and the national government, still intense after nearly five years in office. That is basically why he reaches back to longtime friends and associates (cronies, say his critics) whom he trusts. Having been told that the conservative Republican base would not accept his friend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the court, Bush tried to sneak through Gonzales's successor as White House counsel.
That Miers would pass muster inside the White House suggests how limited a group Bush consults. Cronyism is endemic with this president, and there is nobody close at hand to advise him otherwise.