The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
U.S. District Court Judge Ed Kinkeade joked last week that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers talks so slowly that the Senate should add an extra day to her hearings. "She gives my name four syllables-E-ye-e-d," said Mr. Kinkeade, who has known Ms. Miers for over 25 years. But there is nothing slow about the rush to judgment from both left and right following the president's surprise nomination of Ms. Miers, a relatively unknown judicial quantity.
Before and after President Bush on Oct. 3 nominated Ms. Miers to the high court, WORLD interviewed numerous Texans who have worked closely with her. Almost all see Ms. Miers as an excellent choice and emphasize what they say is her extraordinary integrity and her self-effacing nature.
They see her as an evangelical who is meek-in the biblical sense of humble strength. For 25 years she has been a member of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, a conservative evangelical church and not one of the city's fashionable ones. Never married, she has devoted herself to work, her extended family, and her church, serving on the missions committee for 10 years, teaching children in Sunday school, making coffee, and bringing donuts.
At the same time, she's practiced corporate law in a major Texas firm. Mr. Kinkeade calls her "a superstar here in Dallas before George Bush ever entered the picture." He believes that some critics are attacking her because "she's not from the East or West coasts-didn't go to an Ivy League law school. They don't like that."
That's part of the reason, but there's more to it. Neoconservative William Kristol wrote that he was "DISAPPOINTED, depressed and demoralized." Paleoconservative Pat Buchanan wrote that the nomination was "deeply disheartening." Conservatives of the many in-between stripes who wanted another Justice Antonin Scalia, ready to rumble with rhetorical brilliance against the legal theorists of the left, expressed dismay for two principled reasons.
One major concern is that Ms. Miers has not shown a clear judicial philosophy, and that under the media and social pressures of Washington life she will shift leftward. Political analyst Larry Sabato estimates that a quarter of the Supreme Court justices appointed in the last half-century have "evolved" from conservative to moderate or liberal. Explanations for why that happens include "the Greenhouse effect"-a yearning for positive coverage by scribes such as Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times-or the desire to be termed a judicial giant by liberal historians.
A second major concern is that she doesn't fit the profile of the brilliant legal theorist that many seek in a justice. Even one of her administration backers, to whom WORLD gave off-the-record status because any public criticism of Ms. Miers would derail his career, said that "her qualities are not necessarily those that make a great constitutional law professor or a great author." He then added, "They do give her gifts that are needed on the court."
What gifts are those?
Friends who know Ms. Miers testify to her smarts but emphasize an internal compass that includes a needle pointed toward Christ. Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht says she has a philosophy that grows out of evangelical exegesis and carries over into legal issues: "She's an originalist-that's the way she takes the Bible," and that's her approach to the Constitution as well: "Originalist-it means what it says."
Justice is blind and so is friendship at times, so it's worth pointing out that Mr. Hecht, 55, has also never married; he has known Ms. Miers for 30 years and says they are "very close friends. We dated some. The relationship has been close: Platonic. . . . We go to dinner, I go to Washington for special things" with Ms. Miers, such as White House parties at Christmas, Fourth of July, and the president's birthday.
But Mr. Hecht is also an honest man and a pro-life advocate who strongly fought for parental notification laws when his court colleagues were scuttling them. Moreover, he was instrumental in teaching her about Christ: She "had a Catholic upbringing, had not been close to the church, it was off again, on again, then she came to a point in her life when she wanted to change that. . . . She made an abrupt change in 1979 or '80. She was very hard-working and successful, she wanted new meaning, substance in her life."
Mr. Hecht says that at the time of abrupt change he and she had long discussions, until one evening she called him to her office and said she was ready to make a commitment. They prayed and talked, and soon after that she was baptized at Valley View, where Mr. Hecht has been an elder.
Ron Key, for 33 years the church's pastor, concurs with that history. He says that when he and Ms. Miers met in 1980, "I don't know how strong her faith was at that time. She came to a place where she totally committed her life to Jesus. She had gone to church before, but when she came to our church it became more serious to her. . . . Our church is strong for life. . . . We believe in the biblical approach to marriage." He says Ms. Miers has been dedicated to that church for many years, tithing to it, working for it, and absorbing its teachings.
Will her compass needle turn to Washington's heavy metal once a lifetime court position is in hand and constraints are off? No one knows for sure but it seems unlikely. Mr. Hecht says she's not a social butterfly who will be swayed by Washington dinner table conversation: "She goes to the dinners she's supposed to go to. She's not on the social circuit."
Her administration colleague says she's not going to pay much mind to the good reviews she could receive from top law journals and Ivy League law professors if she were to move leftward. Ms. Miers has never run in those circles and "of the hundreds of people I knew in the White House, she's almost uniquely unaffected by Potomac fever." That's because, her friends say, she's centered on Christ.
Her friends point to her Christ-like service. Rob Mowrey, 53, an attorney who worked with Ms. Miers at their Dallas law firm and has known her since 1979, talks about how in the 1990s, with an aged mom suffering from dementia, "Harriet moved her mother not only into her own house but into her bedroom, because her mother would wake up in the night and be distraught if she wasn't right there."
Judge Kinkeade praises Ms. Miers as "a great lawyer with perfect ethics" who's willing to sacrifice herself for others. When the Texas Lottery Commission was a corrupt mess, he says, the non-gambling Ms. Miers agreed to clean it up; the judge says, "I wouldn't have taken that job if you put a shotgun on me." He says she led the fight years ago to get Dallas lawyers to do pro bono work, and led by example by volunteering to help Exodus Ministries, a Dallas organization that helps ex-prisoners to get a life outside jail.
Journalistic skepticism sets in. Jokes about unethical lawyers aren't common by accident, and Texas lawyers tend to be a particularly tough bunch.
And even if the praise for Ms. Miers is all true, is it part of a spin cycle that distracts attention from question No. 2: Why should we think that gifts of self-sacrifice are needed on a court that has in recent years resembled a pit of vipers? Doesn't it need another conservative whose convincing writings can sway an entire generation of legal theorists?
Many conservatives are frustrated that Democrats nominate ideologues such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg who breeze to easy confirmation, but George W. Bush is pushing what they call a nice nonentity instead of one of the many brilliant jurists who have stood for conservative principle and could lead others to do the same. As columnist Michelle Malkin argues, "President Bush tells us that he knows his White House counsel Harriet Miers' heart. I have no doubt that it is a good one. But a good heart does not a great Supreme Court justice make."
That's a good debate to have. It's George W. Bush's analysis that "heart" is crucial, since a good mind by itself also does not a great justice make. And the Miers nomination is classic Bush. Nearly six years ago, when asked in an early debate among Republican presidential candidates to name his favorite philosopher, Mr. Bush famously said, "Christ, because He changed my heart."
Quin Hillyer, a blogger at confirmthem .com, exhibits the scorn of some conservatives for this "heart" emphasis: "I don't care if the Tin Woodsman (pre-wizard visit) is a judge as long as his brain can understand the importance of individual property rights."
But what's crucial is that a self-effacing nature bodes well for the upholding of an originalist position wherein justices are servants of the text rather than masters of it. This goes beyond the question of "identity politics" (yeah, let's give a spot to an evangelical with "heart"). Understanding of property rights is important, but even more important in withstanding leftward-ho tendencies is the realization that the Supremes are not Supreme.
Evangelical leaders have generally supported Ms. Miers as part of a faith-in-Bush initiative. Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, said, "We're giving the president the benefit of the doubt based on his record thus far in nominating judges." Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, "We have a president with a track record of making nominations in keeping with his own philosophy on the judiciary, that of judicial restraint." Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, American Family Association president Tim Wildmon, and Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt.
That faith is likely to be tested first in Judiciary Committee hearings, which should be more interesting than usual since Ms. Miers is not a practiced public performer. It will be tested further if Ms. Miers is confirmed and her initial rulings disappoint evangelicals and conservatives.
This seems unlikely, but the standard for assessing Supreme Court nominations is preponderance of evidence, not proof beyond the shadow of doubt. Some also apply Paul's teaching in chapter one of his first epistle to the Corinthians: "Where is the one who is wise? . . . Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise."
If President Bush and supporters of the Miers nomination are wrong, the Supreme Court won't change but the Republican Party will, as millions of conservatives see GOP rule as shameful and look elsewhere for leadership.