George's Friend Harriet: What Supreme Court Politcs of the 21st Century Have Come To

Oh, well; that’s what it has come to. It has come to Harriet Miers.

Are we excited about Miss Miers’ nomination, announced Monday by President Bush, to the U.S. Supreme Court? We are about as excited as we would be by the announcement that Bush likes red neckties or brushes with Pepsodent. Yippee. I suppose.

Harriet Miers, the "who’s-that?" nominee, is the face of Supreme Court politics in the 21st century. She might turn out better than conservatives suppose, as Earl Warren turned out infinitely worse than Dwight Eisenhower, who appointed him chief justice, ever supposed.

The key to the Miers thing seems to be that conservatives and liberals alike may hope she turns into their ideal, or something akin to it, of the confirmable Supreme Court justice.

"Confirmable" is what it’s all about. If the rare legal gifts of George W. Bush’s White House counsel don’t precisely glow in the dark, she seems just secret and mysterious enough not to alarm the Senate Judiciary Committee or, rather, the committee’s Democrats, who have mastered the art of portraying conservative Republicans as evil, horrible Constitution-hating threats to your liberties and mine.

It has come to Harriet Miers — because Senate Democrats have proved united enough, and mean enough, to knock a provable conservative in the head: not counting John Roberts, who just happened to be smarter than his inquisitors.

To look at Miss Miers’ track record is to see the record of someone who has — um — been on the track for sure. Look at all the jobs she has held, starting with president of the Texas State Bar and continuing through her present stint as lawyer to the president.

I first met the lady 26 years or so ago when she was an up-and-coming — as they used to say back then — "lady lawyer" in Dallas: a sort of pet of a male legal establishment eager to adopt a more spacious view of its community role. The establishment said, aha, here’s a woman we can get behind. It began bowing and scraping to her. She turned up everywhere, generally with a title. I do not call this necessarily a bad thing. I remark that it is a noteworthy thing.

I have occasionally observed the lady at work, never with much sense of philosophical titillation. I know nothing philosophically indecent about her. I know nothing philosophically — you know — grabby about her. I suppose she has thoughts and ideas. Anyone must. What her basic conceptions of liberty and government power may be — I just couldn’t say.

Some conservatives are enraged at the gift to her of a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest legislative body. (Which it is: judicial plus legislative.) I doubt conservative rage, to the extent it spreads, will determine the fate of this nomination.

The president has chosen Harriet Miers because 1) he had to have, or thought he had to have, a woman nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor; such a woman as 2) could endure and pass Democratic scrutiny.

An Edith Jones of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals — staunch conservative as she is — would have lured the pro-Roe v. Wade, anti-Bush wolves from their dens to rip her apart. Harriet Miers? The wolves may snarl and howl, but as juicy meals go, a recordless, viewpointless lady lawyer from Dallas seems unlikely — or must seem so to the president — to invite ferocious attack.

The Democrats, watching a Bush friend advance to the high court, will certainly cry cronyism. Various conservatives will cry phony-ism. Where, they will want to know, is the Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas the president promised to appoint when he had the chance? Harriet Miers as Scalia? It could be. It just doesn’t look, shall we say, highly probable.

But on that account, the Democrats may issue her a pass, hoping she might prove as amenable to the Democratic agenda — affirmative action, gay rights, abortion rights — as Sandra Day O’Connor occasionally proved. That’s what it’s seemingly all about in a divided nation: who, on a given day, can win.