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October 14, 2005
More On Miers' Character, But Nothing On Her Philosophy

One of the last places one would normally look to find a defense of a George Bush nominee to the Supreme Court is the New York Times. However, Matthew Scully, the author of Dominion and former speech writer for George Bush, writes a rather caustic and sarcastic defense of Harriet Miers in today's op-ed section. At least half of Scully's defense consists of his playing offense against the critics of Miers' nomination, and the other half seems rather off-topic:

When you know Harriet Miers, it's funny to think of her as the subject of such controversy. Yet already her notoriety is such that even the most innocent of virtues can be thrown back at her as inadequate - "not even second-rate," as a National Review Online posting said, "but third-rate." She's a detail person. Diligent and dependable. Honest, kind, modest, devout and all that. A real mediocrity.

Her qualities are disappointing only in comparison, of course, to all those perfectly credentialed lions of the law we keep hearing about. Her critics couldn't run to the TV studio and expertly discourse about her. Therefore, she must be a nobody.

My friend David Frum expresses the general complaint when he asks, in his blog, when did Harriet Miers "ever take a risk on behalf of conservative principle? Can you see any indication of intellectual excellence? Did she ever do anything brave, anything that took backbone?" To translate: When all the big-thinkers were persevering year after year at policy institutes and conferences at the Mayflower Hotel, or risking all for principle in stirring op-ed essays and $20,000 lectures, where was Little Miss Southern Methodist University?

If four years observing the woman is any guide, the answer is she was probably doing something useful. But whatever she was up to, it's not good enough. Harriet Miers, says Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, is undoubtedly a well-meaning person, but he was expecting "brilliance," and her selection signaled "weakness" and "capitulation." Mr. Kristol also suggested how the Miers nomination could be withdrawn. In the tone of Michael Corleone laying out some general instructions, he said that with Ms. Miers out of the way, "the president's aides would explain that he miscalculated out of loyalty and admiration for her personal qualities," adding, "and he could quickly nominate a serious, conservative and well-qualified candidate for the court vacancy."

It goes on in this vein throughout most of his essay. The gist of Scully's argument lies within the character of Miers, which he holds in high esteem while he practices character assassination on her critics. Perhaps some of those acerbic attacks can be justified, but I hardly think that it helps his case as a character witness for a public servant (and as a former public servant himself) to describe pundits as Mafia gangsters ordering a hit when discussing the politics of the potential withdrawal of a nomination -- and it looks especially incoherent or insincere to call that pundit "well-meaning" in the same breath.

In all, though, Scully makes a good argument as that kind of character witness, once all of the bile drains from the newsprint. He obviously feels very loyal to Miers based on their work together, and thinks highly of her work. However, Scully remains vague on exactly why he thinks so highly of her. His main points appear to be that she works hard, remains humble, and pays close attention to task and detail -- traits that certainly speak well of Miers but hardly vault one to the top of the class. He includes an anecdote about her spending her own time, pro bono, to prepare the will of a terminally ill 27-year-old colleague, which again certainly speaks to character but also again doesn't explain why that qualifies her for the Supreme Court.

We understand that Miers has character, and we can appreciate that. Millions of people in this nation have the traits Scully extols, and some of them are even attorneys. (No, really.) That doesn't qualify them for the Supreme Court ahead of people who have heavy litigation experience, especially at the appellate level, or heavy judicial experience, or have spent the better part of their careers studying and publishing on judicial philosophy -- or a combination of all three. That is rather obvious to almost everyone outside of the White House these days. Perhaps Scully can tone down his normal scathing counterattack in his next outing to use his space more wisely and present a better picture of Miers and any remarkable accomplishments in those areas instead of ludicrous comparisons of commentators to fictional gangsters.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 14, 2005 5:44 AM

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