Late night in the Oval Office, a haggard, worn President Bush, his tie loosened, his sleeves rolled up, sits staring blankly into space, clearly preoccupied. There’s a knock on the door. A woman enters.
“Good evening Mr. President, you asked to see me?”
“Ah yes, Harriet, come in. As you know, I have to make that second Supreme Court nomination soon, and it’s been very tough on me.”
“Oh, Mr. President, you must select an experienced and proven legal mind, someone who won’t legislate from the bench, someone -“
“I have decided to nominate you, Harriet.”
“Me sir? I have no judicial experience, I have been a private lawyer my whole life, I was never even attorney general.”
“Yes, I am aware, but I hear that you did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, and that’s good enough for me.”
The preceding obviously oversimplifies the thinking behind the president’s appointment of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it does raise an important question: Why did he nominate Miers? The answer, I think, is an amalgamation of two different reasons, each as dangerous as the next.
The first possible reason for nominating Miers is his close personal relationship with her. She was his private attorney and the woman responsible for covering up his drunk driving charge until late 2000. Additionally, she is on his White House staff and possibly his closest judicial advisor.
In nominating Miers, the President undoubtedly overlooked many more experienced and qualified candidates. With Miers’s complete lack of judicial experience, even Judge Judy would be more qualified. Foregoing better-qualified candidates to select a personal friend is a prime example of the cronyism that should have no place in American politics. Given the significance of this nomination, the favoritism shown makes it the most blatant instance of “fudging” in the most fudged-up presidency since Nixon.
Indeed, to find a recent example of blatant cronyism of this extent, one has to go all the way to where democracy in the developed world goes to die – Singapore. In this openly authoritarian state, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once appointed a personal friend and former family lawyer to his nation’s Supreme Court, and the U.S. State Department chided him for it. I’m still waiting for Condi Rice to denounce the appointment of Miers. It’ll come any day now.
As bad as blatant cronyism is, the other reason for nominating Miers is even more deeply troubling because its roots lie in the very fabric of American society. Why does the president have to nominate a woman to replace a woman, and why was he already seen as pushing the envelope by not nominating a woman on his first try?
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against women on the court, and I look forward to voting for a woman president very soon (hopefully named Mary Landrieu, not Hillary Clinton). But what troubles me is the tokenization of the court that prevents true diversity and would forbid Bush from nominating another woman, were there another vacancy. Why was Clarence Thomas not nominated to the court until another black man, Thurgood Marshall, retired? He could have been nominated when William Brennen retired, but apparently one is the magic number for black Supreme Court justices, just as two is for women.
Within this superficial political correctness true diversity in judgment is lost. The Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas – just as it will confirm Harriet Miers – because their rejection would be too politically explosive. Instead of this one-black-justice-and-two-female-justices system, shouldn’t we be concentrating on having true diversity of judicial philosophy on the bench? Indeed, Thomas is the anti-Marshall in all regards and would overturn some advancements Marshall helped make for civil rights. Similarly, Miers is no Sandra Day O’Connor: She will not be a swing-vote in any regard because Bush made clear he only selects people who share his own judicial ideology.
The top priority in nominating a justice should be to ensure that the candidate is qualified and would foster a balance of opinion on the court that reflects American public opinion. The president overlooked this priority either to reward his own personal yes-(wo)man or to appease growing pressure from feminist groups.
Either reason is unacceptable.
Syed is an LSA sophomore and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.