Monday, October 10, 2005

Harriet Who?

Latest Newspaper Column

Remember a few weeks ago, when I wrote a column saying that the Senate should go ahead and confirm Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, because “we could do worse”?

We just did.

Harriet Miers has never been a judge. She’s never argued a case before the Supreme Court. She’s had exactly two published articles, both of them in the trade publication “Texas Lawyer.” Her major claim to fame is that she’s worked directly for George Dubbya Bush since 1992 (except for a brief stint when then-Gov. Bush appointed her to the Texas Lottery Commission). She’s served as Bush’s staff secretary, as deputy chief of staff for policy (where her duties included promoting and defending Bush talking points on the “Ask the White House” Web site), and as White House counsel. Bush also says she’s a good friend of his. He “knows her soul,” he says. Ohhh-kay.

If some quotes are to be believed, however, Miers’ relationship with Bush the Younger goes beyond friendship into something approaching hero worship. She’s reportedly told people that Dubbya was “the most brilliant man she’d ever met.” Man, that lady really needs to get out more.

So what’s wrong with putting a friend of the president on the nation’s highest court? Shouldn’t the executive branch and the judiciary have a warm, buddy-buddy relationship?

Hell, no. There’s a little thing called “separation of powers.” It serves a greater principle called “checks and balances.” Our entire Constitution is based on this principle. At some time, any one of the three branches of government has the power to bring one or even two of the others to a screeching halt when they try to go too far. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton wrote about just this sort of thing when, in the Federalist Papers, he described the reasons for having the Senate confirm or reject presidential nominations:

“It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the president, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from state prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. ... He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same state to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.”

In other words, part of the reason we have the Senate do the confirmation is to avoid having the president, any president, pack the court with his home-state buddies.

Obviously, when Hamilton wrote about the president being “ashamed” to bring forth an obvious crony for the nation’s highest court, he never imagined anyone as utterly shameless in his political hackery as Dubbya. But then again, who could?

There’s also the fact that, right now, there’s a criminal investigation going on over who it was in the White House that “outed” CIA agent Valerie Plame as an act of political revenge after former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame’s husband, stated publicly that the White House’s story about Saddam buying uranium from Niger was a crock.

After the story ran, someone, or possibly a couple of someones, in the White House let it out to New York Times columnist Bob Novak that Plame was a CIA WMD specialist. This is a crime if the person whose name is revealed is a “covert agent.” (Certainly the CIA thought she was, since it was they who made the referral to the U.S. attorney’s office.)

The question of “who dunnit” has reached all the way to the president’s chief of staff, Karl Rove, as well as the VP’s chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby. If a federal criminal case is filed against White House staffers, some issues, such as issues regarding executive privilege, will almost certainly end up in front of the Supremes. It is totally inappropriate for anyone who’s worked as long in the White House as Miers, including serving as the White House lawyer, to hear any part of that case.

There’s also this: House Speaker Tom DeLay was recently indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges. DeLay also has recently faced numerous complaints in the House of ethics violations. So DeLay set himself up a legal defense fund. Unfortunately, that fund got DeLay in further trouble for accepting illegal contributions from lobbyists and law firms registered as lobbyists. Among those illegal contributions was $2,500 from Locke Liddell & Sapp, the Texas law firm formerly headed by — Harriet Miers. So what happens if DeLay’s case goes to the Supremes?

Judicial inexperience is worrisome, but it’s not an insurmountable problem. Cronyism, conflicts of interest, and ties to corrupt officials should be. Plus, we already have a Congress where so-called “legislators” on both sides of the aisle are far too ready to skip out on their role as a co-equal branch of government and rubber-stamp any madness of bumbling King George.

We don’t need another “obsequious instrument of his pleasure” on the Supreme Court.