Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Walter Shapiro Headshot

Miers: What People Say Behind Her Back

Posted: Updated:

George W. Bush is more concerned with heart than any cardiologist. As predictable as the weekly Tom DeLay indictment, there was Bush at his Tuesday press conference stressing his deep knowledge of the Heart of Harriet Miers. (Sounds like the name of an old-time radio soap opera).

Reflecting this hearty mood, the president threw in eight separate references to the "character" of his Supreme Court nominee from down the hall. (Maybe I'm a wimp, but a 10:30 press conference on a Jewish holiday was a little too early for me to contemplate drinking games built around Bush's word choices).

Liberals worried about the fires of Miers judicial philosophy should have felt a particular frisson of fear when Bush emphasized the unswerving nature of her convictions: "Twenty years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she [has] today."

For the uninitiated, these are right-wing code words signaling that Miers will not go native once she is on the bench. The president was reflecting an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal that reminded conservatives that non-ideological GOP-appointed justices like David Souter and Anthony Kennedy "always drift to the left once they go on the Court."

So is Miers a piece of driftwood or is she made out of such firm right-wing stock that she would sooner sink than swim with Souter? To try to answer that knotty question, I devoured six different morning-after newspaper profiles of Miers.

My favorite bit came in her home-town Dallas Morning News which obligingly reprinted Miers' answers from a 1991 biographical sketch. Asked to finish the potentially provocative sentence, "Behind my back, people say..," Miers responded, "They can't figure me out." If Miers was a woman of mystery back in the days when she was merely a corporate lawyer, does anyone really think that a gaggle of speechifying senators will unmask her true essence during her confirmation hearings?

The Washington Post solved the mystery of Miers' modest wealth for a big-time corporate lawyer (her White House financial disclosure form declared assets of under $600,000), which I puzzled over in my posting yesterday. Miers laudably has run through much of her law-firm savings to provide home care for her ailing nonagenarian mother who recently moved into a nursing home.

According to the New York Times, the nominee and her brother held a "deep discussion on the meaning of life" earlier this year as they contemplated withdrawing life support from their mother before her condition improved. But in an exasperating failure to ask (or get the answer to) the obvious followup question to the brother, the Times does not reveal where Miers came down on this where-does-life-end conundrum, which is certain to come before the Supreme Court in some future Terry Schiavo-type case.

The profiles also suggest that Miers' personal views tilt towards the anti-abortion end of the spectrum. The man in her life, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, brought her to several anti-abortion dinners and introduced Miers to the evangelical Valley View Christian Church led by a staunchly right-to-life pastor. (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram wins a gold star for getting Hecht to admit that the couple had discussed marriage "but it never happened"). But -- and this is an important caveat -- no one has emerged who claims to have an inkling of Miers' legal opinion on the validity of Roe v. Wade.

The most troubling aspect about Miers' stealthy record is her apparent bias in favor of unchecked presidential power on national-security grounds. As White House counsel, according to the Post, Miers has advised Bush on "the role of torture in the fight against terrorism." (Somehow I doubt that her recommendation to the president was a Nancy Reagan-esque, "Just say no"). And The Hill, a Washington newspaper covering Congress, reports that Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman has been phoning conservative leaders to chillingly portray Miers as a justice who "will not interfere with the administration's management of the war on terrorism."

A major danger of cronyism in Supreme Court appointments is that the new justice will be constrained in judging her cronies. But liberals risk a grave political error if they go after Bush's cronyism in the Miers' nomination by sneering at her credentials.

University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey R. Stone provided an inadvertent parody of this kind of self-defeating legal elitism in his posting on this site. Despite 30 years teaching constitutional law, he sniffed, "I'd never even heard of her." Working himself into a faculty-lounge frenzy, Stone went on to complain that Miers is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, "which is not even among the top fifty law schools in the nation."

The problem with this kind of argument is that it is so easily ridiculed. Is it too much to expect a constitutional scholar to deign to learn the name of the White House counsel, a woman who also is in charge of judicial selection? As for Miers' law-school pedigree, she faced dire financial problems as a 19-year-old when her father was felled by a stroke and she almost dropped out of college. Obviously, Miers would have aimed higher with her law-school education at this moment of family crisis if only someone like Stone had warned her that the stigma of SMU might permanently bar her from the Supreme Court.

Thirty six hours after her nomination, I will confess to feeling mired in Miers. What makes her nomination so politically intriguing is that neither left nor right, neither ideologues nor believers in a judicial meritocracy, are comfortable with the president's selection. As Miers rightly observed back in 1991, before she gravitated into a permanent orbit around planet Bush, "They can't figure me out."