Man Without Qualities

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Well Above Average

Is there good reason to think that Harriet Miers will make a good Supreme Court justice?

Of course there is. And it's really not that difficult a syllogism if one keeps an open mind:
First, Ms. Miers has been nominated to fill the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring having garnered a nearly universal reputation of having been a pretty average justice. No luminary, but not that bad.

Second, by any reasonable standard of comparison, Ms. Miers is far more qualified and generally capable than was Ms. O'Connor at the time of her appointment.

Third, since Sandra Day O'Connor was about average, and Harriet Miers is far more qualified and accomplished than was Ms. O'Connor at the time of her appointment in 1981, there is good reason to believe that Ms. Miers will be at least well above average in her service on the Court.
Ms. Miers critics may think that they know of a better pick - and perhaps they are right. But it is clearly wrong to claim that there is not good reason to think that Harriet Miers will make a good - even well above average - justice.

And that conviction should grow the more one looks at the facts and the details of the comparison. Sandra Day O'Connor attended Stanford University for college and law school during the late 1940's and early 1950's - a time when Stanford (especially the law school) did not have the full reputation for excellence that it has acquired more recently. O'Connor served as an Arizona assistant attorney general from 1965 to 1969, was appointed to the Arizona Senate, in 1974 was elected a state trial judge, and was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979. Big deal. Can anyone argue that up to this point in her career Ms. O'Connor had performed with brilliance? No.

Then, a mere eighteen months later, President Reagan appointed her to the Court in 1981. She was a long time friend - today some would say "crony" - of Justice Rehnquist. Her name never would have come under serious consideration but for that friendship.

In comparison, Ms. Miers received both her undergraduate and law degrees from Southern Methodist University - a perfectly good school whose top students were then quite as good as those of Stanford at the time Ms. O'Connor attended that institution. So I give Ms. O'Connor and Ms. Miers roughly equal standing in the area of early education - for all that matters (which is not much).

What is by far more important than her early education is what Harriet Miers made of it. There is no real question that Ms. Miers is brilliant - and her critics suggestions to the contrary are nothing short of disgraceful. She is obviously brilliant in many ways. She was successful as Co-Managing Partner at Locke Liddell & Sapp - a major law firm - from 1998-2000. In 1992 she became president of the Texas State Bar, in 1985 she became president of the Dallas Bar Association, and she has been a long-time major player in the American Bar Association. She was a very successful trial lawyer with lots of tough, major clients and hard cases. She has been Counsel to the President for a while, and there have been no problems with her performance in that office. (It's actually hilarious to consider how few of her critics - especially those in academe and the media - could perform that job - or any of her jobs - as credibly as she did.) She was the president's Deputy Chief of Staff, and prior to that she was Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary. Her career leaves no reasonable doubt that Harriet Miers is brilliant in many matters pertaining to the law and public service. That brilliance is not of a sort that her critics fully value as a credential for the Court. That is their right. But those who challenge her level of accomplishment, intelligence or general competence are grossly wrong. And those things matter.

And they especially matter in comparing Ms. Miers to the justice she is replacing. No reasonable person could doubt that Harriet Miers has far better credentials, and displays many more signs of ability to perform on the Court, than did Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981.

Yet Sandra Day O'Connor turned out about average.

Anyone care to differ on that?

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