Trying to divine what kind of justice Miers would be

October 10, 2005|By ELLEN GOODMAN

BOSTON -- I once had a neighbor in Maine who operated a divining rod with a fine hand. If you were looking for water, he was the go-to guy with a better record than the well-digger.

Where is Martin when you need him? Ever since the president picked his own counsel for the Supreme Court, people have been trying to divine where Harriet Miers stands.

The one thing we know for sure is that the Texan is a certified FOG, Friend of George. In this case, the acronym is all too apt. In the last days, she's been described as the president's "work wife," "pit bull," "fixer" and "a capable indentured servant of the Bush family." The word that has now attached itself to her hem is "crony." As one Republican strategist griped to Slate, the choice was, "Crony or wing nut? Crony or wing nut? OK, this time we'll go with the crony."

My own internal divining rod is twitching all over the terrain.

Twitch left: When the president introduced the woman who parks her red Mercedes in the White House lot, he listed the string of "firsts" behind her name: first female hired and first to head her big-time Dallas law firm, first female to head the Dallas and Texas bar associations. She has some shards from the glass ceiling in her briefcase. Not a bad souvenir to take to the court.

Twitch right: The day after her announcement, her long-time companion, Texas Supreme Court Judge Nathan Hecht, sought to assure conservatives. Ms. Miers belongs and tithes to an anti-abortion evangelical church, and is honestly, truly, pro-life. When the conservatives "find out what this president knows about Harriet," he said, "they are going to be happy as clams." Uh-oh.

Since there is no paper trail, the divining rod is drawn back and forth. On the one hand, Rush Limbaugh is finding it "hard to resist the pull to be depressed over this." So why not feel elated? The folks at Operation Rescue are foaming at the mouth. So the pro-choice folks should be breathing a sigh of relief. Conservatives such as William Kristol find this choice "demoralizing" and liberal demonizers such as Richard Viguerie are ranting that the president "blinked." The demonized should be smiling.

On the other twitching hand, why did Jay Sekulow, the honcho of the arch-conservative American Center for Law and Justice, call her ascension a "big opportunity"? What does James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, know that we don't know when he says, "I have reason to believe she is pro-life"?

This is how it goes these days. There is so little information about candidates that we lean on biography, vibes and the enemies of our enemies. About Ms. Miers, we have conflicting views about everything from gay rights to cooking. "She makes a wonderful sweet potato pie," says her sister-in-law. "She's a terrible cook," says Judge Hecht.

Of course, the controversy is not just about politics but qualifications. The rap on Ms. Miers is that she hasn't been a judge or a legal intellectual powerhouse.

But there is something disingenuous about the uproar over her rM-isumM-i. In this climate, would the left prefer a candidate with a well-honed judicial philosophy and rM-isumM-i like, say, Janice Rogers Brown's? Would the right be this worried if the president had chosen their favorite "wing nut"?

In any case, my guess is that the "soft bigotry of low expectations" for Ms. Miers is going to make her look like a legal genius at the hearings.

Back to the divining rod. The president insists, "I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change." That's the same president who doesn't know her well enough to be able to say what she thinks of abortion. A senior official adds ominously, "She knows his expectations."

In fact, if Ms. Miers is confirmed, she'll go from the tight community of the White House to the think tank of the Supreme Court. Change? You bet. So we arrive here, fellow dowsers, trying to imagine the transformation of crony to justice. Can Harriet Miers' loyalty to her main man transfer to loyalty to the Constitution?

This time we're really in the FOG.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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