The Miers nomination

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The always interesting Stuart Taylor in the November Atlantic provides some interesting thoughts on the Supreme Court. Today's justices, Taylor argues, while smart and dedicated, have had little experience in the ordinary practice of law. Harriet Miers, who practiced commercial and corporate law in Dallas for many years, would supply some of that. But Taylor, while admitting that, opposes her nomination. He points to her "legendary loyalty" to Bush. His closing argument:

The Senate should reject any Supreme Court nominee – especially one close to the president – who has not proven herself to have extraordinary ability and independence of judgment unskewed by loyalty.

The woman who once called Bush the most brilliant man she had ever met has not met this burden of proof during her first 60 years. Unless she can do so in the next few weeks, she should be treated with respect, praised for her character and accomplishments, and voted down.

I'm not trying to suggest that Taylor is being inconsistent here; rather, I find his arguments very much worth considering. But it's possible, as Houston lawyer Bill Dyer, blogging as Beldar (Texas accent, please), to take a more positive view of Miers's record as a legal practitioner. For more spirited defenses of Miers, see BeldarBlog generally.

This raises the question: If we want more practicing lawyers on the Supreme Court, how do we judge their abilities? There are thousands of first-rate practicing lawyers, almost all of whom none of us has ever heard of. How can we know who's really good? At one point Beldar defends the pedestrian quality of Miers's writing as president of the Texas Bar Association by saying that those are intended to be pedestrian and that as a Supreme Court justice she might write more eloquently. That sound dubious, but there may be something to it. Justice Robert Jackson in my opinion was the most beautiful writer in the history of the Supreme Court. But his memoir of Franklin Roosevelt, discovered recently in his papers and published, is, while an interesting book, written in pedestrian prose: not the treat I'd expected.