The White House on Miers' critics: Sexist, elitist or both?

Is it wrong to expect that a Supreme Court nominee would come from the ranks of America's most accomplished legal minds?

Published October 6, 2005 12:56PM (EDT)

Like his father before him, George W. Bush brought this one upon himself. There might have been ways for the president -- this president -- to sell his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Arguing, as he did earlier this week, that Miers was the "most qualified" candidate and the "best person I could find" clearly wasn't one of them.

Christian conservatives continue to unload on the Miers nomination, and Bush's obvious overstatement of her credentials gives them -- and anyone else inclined to oppose the nomination -- a gigantic, ideology-free target. Leaders on the right may find over the coming weeks evidence enough to satisfy them that Miers would do their bidding on the Supreme Court. And if they do, we can probably expect Democratic senators to begin to express the kind of concerns that Trent Lott and Sam Brownback are raising now.

But what neither Democrats nor Republicans will be able to gin up is evidence that Miers graduated from something other than a third-tier law school, that she learned at the feet of a federal appellate judge, that she has written seriously about constitutional issues, that she has ever judged anything or that she has ever argued a case before the Supreme Court.

So what's the White House doing now? What it always does: going on the offensive against its critics. Having failed to persuade its conservative base to look past Miers' middling credentials and trust Bush about her right-wing bona fides, the White House now seems ready to simply smear Miers' opponents as elitists and sexists. At an off-the-record session with conservative activists yesterday, White House advisor Ed Gillespie said he's smelling a "whiff of sexism and a whiff of elitism" swirling around the Miers nomination, the Washington Post reports.

The sexism charge is silly. The conservatives who are in dismay today would have been dancing in the streets if Bush had nominated Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen or Edith Jones. And if Miers turns out to be the entrenched antiabortionist she seems to be, liberals will be just as upset with her as they would have been if Bush had nominated a man who held such views.

As for elitism? Guilty as charged, your honor. Call us crazy, but we think that the nine justices of the Supreme Court ought to be selected from among the best developed legal minds in the country. For better or for worse, that means we expect our justices to have undergone the rigors of an education at a top-flight law school and then to have shown, through a lifetime of work at the highest levels of the legal profession, an extraordinary ability to deal with the difficult constitutional issues that sometimes come before the court. The latter can offset the lack of the former: There aren't enough seats for everyone at Harvard and Yale and Stanford and Chicago, and those seats haven't always been sufficiently open to women and minorities. But the fact is that Miers has neither. She didn't start her career at the highest levels of legal scholarship, and she hasn't gotten herself there yet.

By Tim Grieve

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

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