13 October 2005

One Justice for All

Here is my problem with Harriet Miers as a nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America: I have a litmus test for federal judical appointees, and I am not convinced she could pass it. This doesn't mean that I think she isn't of the highest intellectual caliber. On the contrary, she is a well-educated and experienced lawyer, a leader of lawyers, and a valued crony of George W. Bush. No, smart isn't the problem. I simply suspect that she has spent her life thinking about politics and lawyering - she must have done so at some level of consciousness to guard the door of her lips so well that no word has dropped one way or the other about any current "hot-button" issues that her potential opponents could use to disqualify her out of hand.

Well, what's wrong with spending a life thinking about politics and lawyering? Nothing, except that the title of her prospective new job includes the word "Justice." And that is the subject of my one question litmus test: What is Justice? You have two hours. Talk.

On the other hand, that question is far from the clever, political, lawyerly minds of the good Senators who questioned her predecessor, John Roberts. Amid all the sparring over the respect of precedent - code for, "Will you let Roe v. Wade stand regardless of your personal feelings about it?" - the subject of Justice itself never came up. I don't expect it will emerge from the fracas this time, either.

Instead, the focus will be on the nature of Ms. Mier's Evangelical - code for "Christian Fundamentalist" beliefs, now that the Bush Administration has clumsily made an issue of it in order to mollify their perceived "Religious Right" base of support (thus outing their ultimate stealth candidate), and whether those beliefs will permit her to rule on the merits of the case (on abortion, of course) rather than based primarily on what she brings to the case.

So much for how the urge to fight over abortion demeans our public discourse, especially our discourse around appointments to the US Supreme Court. It even limits the choices of candidates to those least outspoken, indeed it makes that criterion more important than all the others. Perhaps it's out of place for me to say it, but I question the wisdom of that.