Bush: "I picked the best person I could find"

Echoing his father's comments about Clarence Thomas, the president says that his Supreme Court nominee is "plenty bright" and the most qualified person for the job.

Published October 4, 2005 3:26PM (EDT)

When George H.W. Bush made the claim that Clarence Thomas was "the best qualified person" for a place on the Supreme Court, it was a goof. As Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson wrote in "Strange Justice," Bush was supposed to have said that Thomas was "the best man" for the job, a "broad commendation that covered Thomas' whole remarkable life." Bush's stumble exposed both the president and his nominee to derision: One could argue that Thomas' upbringing made him the "best man" to replace Thurgood Marshall; one couldn't argue that Thomas -- who had been on the bench only two years and had practiced law only sporadically -- was the "best qualified person" for the job.

So what about Harriet Miers?

When George W. Bush sat down to select a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor, he could have chosen from any number of conservatives -- both in the judiciary and out of it -- with long and distinguished careers in constitutional law. Instead, he chose a business lawyer from Texas who has never served as judge and who may not have grappled seriously with a constitutional issue since she graduated from law school at Southern Methodist University 35 years ago.

Is she the "most qualified" person for the job? It was the first question Bush was asked at his Rose Garden press conference this morning, and his answer was unequivocal: "Yes," the president said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have put her on." More than once, Bush said: "I picked the best person I could find."

What makes Miers so uniquely qualified to serve on the Supreme Court? Bush offered this explanation: He's known her a long time and trusts her; her résumé is dotted with "first woman to " accomplishments; she helped him select John G. Roberts; he is confident that she won't change as a judge; and he liked the idea of nominating someone who hadn't served as a judge before.

What about critics who say that Miers' credentials don't come close to those of John Roberts'? "I would ask them to watch the hearings of Harriet Miers," Bush said. "I think they will become as impressed with her as I have become. She is plenty bright. She, uh, as I mentioned earlier, was a pioneer in Texas."

Bush said again and again that he trusts Miers, that he has seen how capable she is over the years and that he's confident that she'll perform well as a Supreme Court justice. But when questions got specific, the president punted. Did he ask Miers about her views on abortion? Bush said he didn't have a "litmus test." Yes, but did he ask Miers about her views on abortion? Bush said that he couldn't recall any such conversation. Did he gain insights about Miers' views on abortion in some other way? Bush said he didn't have a "litmus test."

In order to show Americans the intellectual strength he sees in Miers, will Bush turn over to the Senate documents she wrote for him at the White House without asserting executive privilege instead? "This was part of the Roberts debate," Bush said. "People talked about 'executive privilege' and 'documents.'" Then he suggested that he wouldn't, in fact, turn over such documents. Later, he acknowledged that senators might not have much to read about Miers at first, but that they'll have plenty to read later. "Hopefully, she'll get confirmed," he said, "and then they'll be able to read her opinions."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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