October 4, 2005
Hamilton nails it in the Wall Street Journal
“To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.” (The italics are mine.)
Harriet Miers is not just the close confidante of the president in her capacity as his staff secretary and then as White House counsel. She also was George W. Bush’s personal lawyer. Apart from nominating his brother or former business partner, it is hard to see how the president could have selected someone who fit Hamilton’s description any more closely. Imagine the reaction of Republicans if President Clinton had nominated Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills, who had ably represented him during his impeachment proceedings, to the Supreme Court. How about Bernie Nussbaum?
As the quote from Hamilton suggests, the core purpose of Senate confirmation of presidential nominees is to screen out the appointment of “cronies,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “a close friend especially of long standing.” Cronyism is bad not only because it leads to less qualified judges, but also because we want a judiciary with independence from the executive branch. A longtime friend of the president who has served as his close personal and political adviser and confidante, no matter how fine a lawyer, can hardly be expected to be sufficiently independent—especially during the remaining term of her former boss.
… Times like these demand a justice with a firm grasp on constitutional text, history and principles. Someone who can resist the severe pressure brought by Congress, by the executive branch, by state and local governments, and also by fellow justices to exceed the Constitution’s limits on government power. Does anything in her record suggest that Harriet Miers will be that sort of justice? We do not need to wait for Senate hearings to answer this question. What hearings will tell us, however, is whether the Senate, too, will succumb, in Hamilton’s words, to “a spirit of favoritism.”
Thanks to Avedon for the pointer.
TrackBack URL for this entry: