The first shot across the Miers bow
One can only assume that Bush nominated Harriet Miers as a sort of super-stealth nominee, stealthier even than the brighter-than-a-legal-button Roberts, who wowed the committee with his artful dodging of substantive views on his outlook on matters Constitutional. By doing so the president assumed that things would go pretty much the same way. His base would go along with whatever nominee he chose, and the democrats, after fuming and fussing and digging around in the record, would come up empty and have to at least let the nomination go to a full up or down vote. Furthermore, Miers had been personally suggested to the White House by none other than soft-spoken funeral director Harry Reid, who, in a voice more in sorrow than in anger, reportedly whispered in the president's ear that here was a nominee who was least objectionable to the democrats. Home run, bases loaded, do not pass go, collect your $200 and proceed directly home, game, set, match.
But somewhere along the line the game plan went awry. Conservatives yelled foul, democrats were struck dumb (temporarily), and the president ended up in a nasty squabble with his own conservative and previously very supportive base. Rather than seek clarification or accomodation, the president chose to dig in his heels and to attack Miers' critics as elitists and out of touch snobs and sexists who didn't understand the little people. Harriet Miers, counsel to the president, had somehow miraculously morphed into "Everywoman" -- and not just "Everywoman" -- but a pioneer -- breaking through the glass ceiling with her Meals on Wheels Wagon, knocking down the barriers of maledom like so many tenpins sent tumbling with her impressive bowling technique, and a sure hand with everything from the Double RR Bar Association to the deft handling of the Texas State Lottery Commission. Why, to even question her was tantamount to being un-American! (And she was an Evangelical Christian -- although whether or not that was a qualifier for the high court varied from day to day.)
The problem is -- what happens now? The White House appears entrenched and ready to withstand the siege of conservative opposition and outrage. Conservatives are not giving in and the insurrection continues unabated. Democrats so far have remained content to remain on the sidelines, watching with amusement as Republicans go after each other.
But perhaps no more. The sleeping Democrats seem to have awakened. They are starting to ask questions. And they have discovered that in their midst was not the Harriet Miers they had been reassured about. The Harriet Miers who was probably the best they could hope for, a moderate, possibly even swing vote in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor, was suddenly the same Harriet Miers who had supported a Constitutional Amendment banning all abortions except those to save the life of the mother -- a position even most conservatives would find extreme in the extreme. I had never even heard of such an amendment ever being suggested. Conservatives' objections to Roe v. Wade have always been procedural and Constitutional, and not primarily with the subject of the ruling. It is safe to say that conservatives have always believed that the right to abortion is not a matter that should be decided by fiat from the Supreme Court, but is a matter that rightly belongs to the State Legislatures to resolve, according to the wishes of the electorate.
Suddenly Democrats realized they have a fight on their hands and they are going to have to work hard to defeat this candidate on that issue alone, since they have made it the sine qua non of their requirement for the high bench.
I have thought all along that the Democrats' tactics regarding this nomination might proceed as follows. They would initially hold their fire, allowing the conservatives to wage the first battles. They would hold off until the hearings and here they would spring their trap. As the president's counsel, and as his personal lawyer of many years, Harriet Miers has been involved in every issue concerning the president that Democrats are salivating to know more about. For instance, and to name just two -- Miers is intimately involved with President Bush's controversial National Guard Service. In her role as the head of the Lottery Commission there are a number of questionable dealings involving Ben Barnes, who was given a lucrative lobbying contract with GTech, the company which was handed the no-bid Lottery contract. Is it wise for the White House to nominate someone who would give the media and Democrats a blank check to dig back into that whole mess again? In addition, as White House Counsel, Miers has been associated with many decisions having to do with the war on terror. Note that Lindsay Graham is quoted in this article as demanding to know more about the treatment of prisoners at Gitmo. Note also that senators are demanding to know exactly which questions Miers might have to recuse herself on if she were to reach the high bench. Why the White House thought it would be a good idea to nominate a woman who has intimate knowledge of all his controversial personal and policy decisions over the years and hand the opposition the ammunition with which to demand further information regarding issues that the president would be wise to avoid, is beyond imagining. Unless someone didn't think this through. These hearings have the potential to hand the Democrats a platform from which they can launch a thousand investigations of the president, demanding briefing papers, confidential documents and opening up more cans of worm than a cat-lady opens tuna cans. And failing to get the answers they will demand, they may very well stage a filibuster, the very scenario the White House was hoping to avoid by nominating Miers in the first place.
And that's just the Democrats. Republican senators have been less than impressed with Miers in their meetings with her. Specter has been her biggest supporter up till now, defending her and characterizing the opposition to her nomination as a "lynching". But that appears to be changing following Miers' recent meeting with Specter, in which, according to Specter, she expressed agreement with Griswold and another case pivotal to the decision of Roe v. Wade. After Specter emerged and stated what Miers had told him, she hastened to correct his impression, stating that she had not said what he heard her to say. While initially doing the gentlemanly thing and issuing a statement which basically declined to contradict Miers' new position, Specter now appears to be insisting that he has never had trouble understanding what people told him on previous occasions. Furthermore, according to this article, although Miers had been touted as an experienced corporate lawyer who handled many high-profile cases, Specter is demanding to have access to more than the "skimpy" few cases that were forthcoming with the questionaire submitted by Miers.
All in all, it looks like alarm bells are clanging all over Capitol Hill, and from all sides of the aisle. Hang on to your court benches and fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a very bumpy ride.
Will it happen this way? We can only watch and wait and see.
Bloomberg.com: Top Worldwide
The Senate Judiciary Committee asked U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers to give more substantive and complete answers in writing to questions about her professional background and service as White House counsel.
The panel's chairman, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, voiced dismay that Miers submitted ``insufficient'' responses to the panel's questionnaire, which was made public yesterday. Specter and the panel's top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, sent Miers a three-page letter with detailed instructions for answering nine questions by Oct. 26. The committee's confirmation hearings will begin Nov. 7.
``The comments I have heard range from incomplete to insulting,'' Leahy told reporters. ``Certainly it was inadequate, and it did not give us enough to prepare for a hearing. We will have to have more.''