Did Miers "slip through"?

The Wall Street Journal says that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers wasn't vetted enough.

Published October 13, 2005 8:08PM (EDT)

Salon editorial fellow J.J. Helland looks at recent criticism of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.

The nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court has taken an interesting turn. Apparently there has been more behind-the-scenes conflict regarding the Miers' candidacy than we originally knew -- so much so, in fact, that the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a last-minute attempt to block the selection of the president's close friend.

Why all the drama? According to John Fund, writing in the editorial section of the Wall Street Journal, the problems with the Miers nomination are the result of the wholly inadequate vetting process the White House used to select her.

Fund writes that Miers shouldn't have even made it as far as she did and that the selection process "was so botched and riddled with conflicts of interest that it demands at a minimum an internal White House investigation to ensure it won't happen again  Not only did the vetting fail to anticipate skepticism about her lack of experience in constitutional law or the firestorm of criticism from conservatives, but it left the White House scrambling to provide reporters with even the most basic information about the closed-mouthed nominee. Almost every news story seemed to catch the White House off guard and unprepared."

The article notes that many big-time Texas GOP donors have met recently to discuss running ads urging Miers to withdraw from the confirmation process. The GOP donors "include both male and female friends of hers who don't think the confirmation process will be good for her or the country  They're not sexists, they're realists."

So how did Miers "slip through," as the title of Fund's article suggests? Part of it has to do with the fact that the decision to tap her for the court was rooted in the White House consensus that a woman should be nominated to replace departing Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Miers apparently also played a role in selecting Judge John Roberts for the bench, and was praised for her work -- the "wildly positive" reaction to Roberts put her on the fast track to where she is now.

Fund writes, "It is unlikely that the vetting fully explored issues surrounding Ms. Miers that are sure to figure in her confirmation hearings, such as her work as Mr. Bush's personal lawyer. Another issue will involve Ms. Miers's tenure as head of the Texas Lottery Commission, where lottery director Nora Linares was fired in a scandal involving influence-peddling and lottery contracts. In a curious move, the White House announced this week that regarding the Linares matter, 'Harriet Miers has never commented and will not now on what was a personnel matter.' That is unlikely to remain a tenable position."

But how could the vetting process have been so bad? Fund explains that part of it may be that the White House felt emboldened after getting lucky with the vetting of Dick Cheney as Bush's running mate -- who, despite questions about Halliburton and a voting record that included opposition to sanctions against South Africa, survived the vetting.

In the end, Bush thought the Cheney pick worked out so well, the seeds for the Miers decision were sown in that impulsive process," conservative pundit Robert Novak told Fund.

By J.J. Helland

J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York.

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