The row over Miers

Posted: Oct 27, 2005 12:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- This takes the cake. In fact, this takes the whole bakery. Usually intellectuals organize in committees or letter-writing campaigns to liberate an incarcerated dissident or urge legislation for a noble cause. During the Cold War I recall intellectuals organizing to "Ban the Bomb" or, in one memorable instance, install intermediate-range missiles in Europe. I believe I even served on that committee. Certainly putting missiles in Europe is always a good idea.

 Yet today we have intellectuals organizing over poor Harriet Miers. In a way, I suppose, you could say they are agitating to free her. They want her nomination to the Supreme Court withdrawn. That would be a kind of liberation for her. Right now she sits over in her White House Office cringing every time the telephone rings. No news for her would be good news, but there is an abundance of news, and it is mostly bad. The latest is that a group of conservative intellectuals is organizing against her. Led by a former Bush Administration speech writer, David Frum, and a former Reagan Administration official, Linda Chavez, they want the Miers appointment withdrawn.

 In the pre-tech days Linda might be leading a group of her fellows on a march down Pennsylvania Avenue. She might be strumming a guitar and singing "Where Have All the Strict Constructionists Gone?" David might be chaining himself to the White House fence or howling to a glassy-eyed throng. Oh, perhaps things would not go that far. After all, these are conservatives. When conservatives demonstrate, things are more sedate. In fact, conservatives rarely demonstrate. Rather, they pay taxes and vote. Yet these are conservative intellectuals, and this is the era of High Tech. So these two and their colleagues have established a website,, and they are calling for Miers to do the honorable thing and withdraw. They also are raising money to pay for radio and television ads.
All of this is unprecedented, at least for conservatives. I cannot recall such opposition to a conservative presidential initiative ever. Others are weighing in. There is a second website lambasting Miers, It has the support of Phyllis Schlafly's venerable Eagle Forum, the Center for a Just Society, and something called Conservative HQ. James C. Dobson's Focus on the Family remains steadfast for Miers, but among conservatives, support is not gathering.

 Where might it all end? Miers' liberal antagonists have yet to mount their attack. One sees her at her hearings, calmly, perhaps coolly, going through the first day of questions. Then comes the second day, and a couple of conservative senators, either guided by principle or by concern for their conservative base, fire off some acidic questions. She holds up valiantly, adumbrating a rock-ribbed conservative value system. Then comes the third day. Now the liberals thunder at her for her admissions to having a rock-ribbed values system. After that I shall avert my gaze. It will be very bloody.

 Some conservative senators, most notably Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, insist they will stand by Miers, but if the liberal Democrats are as united over this nomination as they have been over less controversial nominations Miers' hopes are slim. As I wrote at the outset of this row three weeks ago, a precedent is being set for anarchy in the judicial nominating process. There is one plausible end game. But it will not end the prospect of still more anarchy ahead.

 The president has said he will not hand over documents relating to Miers' work for him to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That, he says, violates his lawyer-client relationship. He has a point. Certain obdurate senators insist that they see these documents. They have no point. Far too many confidential White House documents are being made public already. The ability of White House aides to speak freely and provocatively to their bosses is being hindered. Yet this impasse over Miers' documents might create such a stubborn stalemate that another nominee will have to be found. That might end this row and free the conservative protesters to depart from their websites and proceed in a more conservative fashion. The thought of Linda Chavez strumming a guitar in public is ridiculous.