Mired by Miers

The recent nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court shows that experience isn’t everything. President George W. Bush nominated Miers, a member of his inner circle, to the top of the judicial branch even though she is considered by many to be dangerously unqualified.


Miers, 60, worked as President Bush’s personal attorney when he was governor of Texas and now she serves as executive counsel to the president in the White House. But Miers has no judicial experience.


Nominating or appointing close associates is nothing new for this administration (or any administration, for that matter). Unfortunately, the crisis in Louisiana shows that some of the president’s other appointments and nominations (Michael Brown to FEMA, for one) were ill-advised and ineffective.


On the surface, Miers looks like a nominee that has potential to placate Democrats. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the leading Democrat in the Senate, is one Democrat who approves of Miers’ nomination.


Miers does not have an Ivy League education, and she doesn’t appear to be an ideologue, although her religious ties to a devout Methodist breakaway group are causing the left to cringe.


She also appeals to Bush’s female conservative base. First lady Laura Bush told the media that she was pushing her husband for another female justice after Sandra Day O’Connor announced her resignation in July. When President Bush announced the nomination of John Roberts, American women breathed a sigh of resignation. Appointing a woman to the high court satisfies some of the moderates and the liberals, even if Miers’ convictions are unknown.


Why should a Supreme Court nomination matter so much, anyway?


The Supreme Court is the top tier of the judicial branch, and is the only sector of the branch that can make policy decisions. There are nine justices on the court, all appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The only cases seen by the court are appeals that have worked their way up the federal court ladder, so to speak. These appeals often create policy and interpret the meaning of the Constitution.


The Supreme Court started its new session on Oct. 3 with Roberts at the helm. Since Miers’ beliefs are closely guarded, it is hard to determine where she’ll stand on certain issues. There are several controversial cases that could make it a banner year for Republicans if the Senate approves a conservative nominee.


This year’s Supreme Court hearings reach close to home: our state’s Death With Dignity law is on the docket. The ability for doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to the terminally ill is one of the many things that make Oregon unique. The outcome of this decision is one of the many reasons why the Supreme Court appointments are so important.


If the Senate confirms Miers she won’t be the first Supreme Court justice without experience as a judge. In fact, the late William Rehnquist had no judicial experience before Nixon tapped him to serve on the high court. A Supreme Court justice is one of the few federal positions where judicial experience is not needed.


Several previously inexperienced Supreme Court justices, such as John Marshall and Louis Brandeis, are regarded as great justices. They followed the Constitution over the party agenda and wrote some of the best opinions in the Supreme Court’s history. However, Miers’ experience as one of Bush’s cronies doesn’t demonstrate that type of dedication to objectivity.


Miers’ Supreme Court nomination could redeem Bush’s credibility. However, choosing Miers to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor could be a repeat of the situation with Michael Brown and FEMA. Miers’ extracurricular activities show her as a pro-lifer who will follow the dictations of the Republican Party. More importantly, her credentials as the chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission and as a litigation attorney don’t make up for her lack of experience.


Instead of trying to further its own agenda, the Bush administration needs to regard the future of all citizens by nominating a justice who is qualified and objective. The qualified candidate exists beyond Bush’s inner circle.