President Bush, Paradigm-Changer

If I were king of the forest, I’d probably nominate to the Supremes another Justice Scalia, ready to rumble with rhetorical brilliance against the legal theorists of the left. As a journalist, I like a good fight and tend to be a splitter rather than a lumper. I’ve also seen the Bush administration mess up on some things I care deeply about, and have said so publicly. So why haven’t I joined the furious attacks on Harriet Miers’ capabilities?

Maybe it’s the judicial implications of her evangelical faith, unseen on the court in recent decades. Friends who know Miers well testify to her internal compass that includes a needle pointed toward Christ. Again, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht told me she has a philosophy that grows out of evangelical exegesis and carries over into legal issues: "She’s an originalist — that’s the way she takes the Bible," and that’s her approach to the Constitution as well. "Originalist — it means what it says."

This goes far beyond the question of "identity politics" (let’s give a spot to an evangelical). The question about any new Supreme is whether the person’s compass needle will turn to Washington’s heavy metal once a lifetime court position is in hand and constraints are off. A track record is no guarantee, especially if a nominee is a social butterfly who will be swayed not only by Washington dinner-table conversation, but by the good reviews a justice can get from top law journals and, down-the-road, liberal historians.

Friends and colleagues say Miers is not likely to pay much heed to how Ivy League law professors could praise her if she only "evolves" by becoming liberal. Miers has never run in those circles, and as one White House associate put it, "she’s almost uniquely unaffected by Potomac fever." That’s because, her friends say, she’s centered on Christ.

Her friends point to her Christ-like service as a member for 25 years of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, a conservative evangelical church, and not one of the city’s fashionable ones. Never married, she has devoted herself to work, her extended family and her church, serving on the missions committee for 10 years, teaching children in Sunday school, making coffee and bringing doughnuts.

My Worldmagblog mention of coffee and doughnuts has already brought gibes from some fellow columnists, but there’s much greater evidence of a servant’s heart, which might not be bad on a court known for its prima donnas. Rob Mowrey, an attorney who knows Miers well, talks about how in the 1990s, with an aged mom suffering from dementia, "Harriet moved her mother not only into her own house, but into her bedroom, because her mother would wake up in the night and be distraught if she wasn’t right there."

That’s impressive — her own room. (And let’s hold the jokes about dementia in the Supreme chambers.) What’s crucial is that a self-effacing nature bodes well for the upholding of an originalist position wherein justices are servants of the text, rather than masters of it. Columnist Michelle Malkin argues well that "a good heart does not a great Supreme Court justice make." No, but it might make a person remain an originalist.

Heart: In so many ways, this appointment is classic Bush. Nearly six years ago, when asked in an early debate among Republican presidential candidates to name his favorite philosopher, W. famously said, "Christ, because he changed my heart." The pooh-poohing of his answer then (favorite philosopher — the question was about mind, not heart) anticipated the current debate among conservatives: suffering servant? Why not intellectual leader?

It’s George W. Bush’s analysis that "heart" is crucial, since a good mind by itself also does not a great justice make. We may end up having been bamboozled by this nominee, in which case the Republican Party will pay a heavy price. But give Bush credit for going beyond the assumption that the person who would be the best constitutional law professor makes the best nominee. He has not only nominated a justice, but implicitly called for a paradigm shift in conservative thinking.