Miers: A "top lawyer" or just an "influential" one?

The president trumpets Miers' rankings, but are they just a reflection of her ties to him?

Published October 4, 2005 7:06PM (EDT)

When George W. Bush was asked today about the credentials of his Supreme Court nominee, he did his best to deflect concerns that Harriet Miers' highest qualification may be her loyalty to the president himself. "She's plenty bright," Bush insisted. Then he said that Miers was "consistently rated as one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States -- not just one year, but consistently rated that way -- and as one of the top 100 lawyers."

But there's a circular sort of logic in Bush's claim about Miers' rankings. When Bush referred to the "top 50" and "top 100" rankings, he seemed to have in mind the National Law Journal's occasional listings of the nation's "most influential" lawyers. Miers appears to have made the magazine's 100 most influential lawyers list in 1997 and 2000 and its 50 most influential women lawyers list in 1998.

Now, one might suggest that there's a difference between a "top lawyer" -- which in our mind suggests someone unusually brilliant and well schooled in the law -- and a "most influential" lawyer: Larry Tribe or John Roberts might make the cut for the first list; Jack Abramoff would sit comfortably on the second.

But let's accept for the moment that "top lawyer" is a fair sort of shorthand for "most influential lawyer." And then let's ask, why did the National Law Journal consider Miers to be so "influential"? If the NLJ items posted at the pro-Miers site JusticeMiers.com are any indication, it wasn't because she had a keen legal mind or some other qualification for the Supreme Court. It was, in large part, because she was so well connected, even then, to somebody named George W. Bush.

Naming her to its 50 most influential women lawyers list in 1998, the NLJ said that Miers "is a big wheel in the big state of Texas, where she is chair of the Texas Lottery Commission and the personal attorney of Gov. George W. Bush." Along with her private and pro bono work, the NLJ listing noted that Miers was "general counsel to Gov. Bushs transition team when he first became governor."

When the NLJ named Miers to its 100 most influential lawyers list in 2000, it began by saying she was Bush's personal attorney, that she had served as general counsel for Bush's gubernatorial transition team, that she "handled background research, looking for possible red flags, during [the] early days of [Bush's] 2000 presidential campaign," and that Texas newspapers have suggested that she might be named attorney general or get some other "key administration post" if Bush were elected president. It noted her work as a paid and pro bono lawyer -- as well as the fact that she had served on the Lottery Commission, a job she was given by George W. Bush.

The president insisted today that Miers was "the best person I could find" for the Supreme Court. But if he wants to put forward evidence that Miers is qualified for the job he wants her to have, he's going to have to look a little farther than the NLJ rankings.

By Tim Grieve

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

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