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October 5, 2005
There is a fierce debate going on in the right-wing blogosphere over George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. It's intellectually interesting, but I'm afraid I don't have much to add. Here's an interesting chart, of the stands various commentators have taken on the nomination. The chief argument of Miers backers seems to be that we can trust George W. Bush to choose someone in line with their views. The chief argument against seems to be that the failure to nominate an appeals court judge or lawyer with more of a paper trail means that there will be no teachable moment in which conservatives can make the case for principled conservative jurisprudence and beat the liberal Democrats in the process.
I'm in the position of the old politician who said, "Some of my friends are for the nomination and some of my friends are against the nomination, and I'm always with my friends." I would have preferred another nominee: either Chief Judge Michael Luttig of the Fourth Circuit or Miguel Estrada, whose nomination to the D.C. Circuit was withdrawn in the face of a Democratic filibuster. But I don't think the conservative objections to Miers are going to have any effect on Republican senators. Some are pointedly reserving judgment, but it seems inconceivable to me that any significant number of Republican senators will oppose the nomination. If so, whatever the Democrats do, Miers will be confirmed. Caveat: Unless she makes some mistake in the hearings. But she played a role in the nomination of John G. Roberts and in his preparation for his hearings. She surely knows what to say and not to say. The most likely outcome is that she will be confirmed with about the same number of votes as Roberts. Then we'll see what kind of justice she will be.
Some on the right fear that she will be seduced by the blandishments of social Washington and will be a victim of the "Greenhouse effect"Judge Larry Silberman's term for judges who seek the approval of the New York Times's veteran Supreme Court reporter, Linda Greenhouse. I doubt that. People in the Bush White House don't mix much with social Washington and don't seem to care any more than Jesse Helms did about the opinion of the New York Times. By all accounts that is true of Harriet Miers. You saw a lot of Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy on the Washington social circuit. I don't think you would see much of a Justice Harriet Miers.
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October 4, 2005
In the New Republic blog, Harvard Law Prof. Bill Stuntz argues that Bush makes appointments much as Harry Truman did. Bush appointed the superstar John Roberts and (in Stuntz's view) the mediocre Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court; Truman appointed superstars George Marshall and Dean Acheson and mediocrities like John Snyder, J. Howard McGrath, and all four of his Supreme Court appointees. He argues that Bush, like Truman, tends to be decisive and is willing if not eager to ignore expert opinion. Both in his view share a "governing style of a president who makes decisions easily but not always well, a president who has seen steep highs and deep lows, a president who trusts his intuitions even when he shouldn't."
An interesting point. I see it a bit differently. I think all four of Truman's Supreme Court appointments show a desire to reward those who were nice to him when he was an obscure first-term senator and was presumed to be a hack controlled by the corrupt Pendergast machine of Kansas City. This was evidently Franklin Roosevelt's view, since he supported Gov. Lloyd Stark over Truman in the 1940 Senate primary (Thomas Pendergast had been successfully prosecuted by Roosevelt's Justice Department). Truman narrowly won, with the endorsement of St. Louis boss Bob Hannegan and heavy support from black voters. The story is colorfully told in historian Robert Ferrell's Truman & Pendergast.
Truman paid his political debts. Two of his Supreme Court appointees served with him in the Senate in his first term: Republican Harold Burton (appointed in 1945 when there was only one other Republican on the court ) and Democrat Sherman Minton (appointed in 1949 after two justices in their 50s dropped dead over the summer). I'll bet they were two of the few senators who treated Truman with respect during his first term. His appointee as chief justice in 1946 was Fred Vinson, who served in the House during Truman's first Senate term and was appointed Treasury secretary when Truman cleaned out Roosevelt's Cabinet; Vinson was a regular at Truman's poker parties. The fourth appointment, in 1949, was of Tom Clark, whom Truman had earlier made attorney general. He was known as a friendly man who presumably did not patronize Truman.
Truman didn't forget black voters either. He established a Civil Rights Commission that came in with strong recommendations well ahead of their political time, and he desegregated the armed services. My sense from reading Truman biographies is that he didn't like blacks very much, but he felt strongly that they should be treated fairly. When Walter White of the NAACP told Truman that a South Carolina policeman had attacked and blinded a black veteran recently discharged from the Army, in biographer Robert Donovan's account, "Truman rose and said, 'My God. I had no idea it was as terrible as that. We've got to do something.' . . . Before the meeting he and [his assistant David] Niles had discussed the possibility of establishing a commission to study mob violence and civil rights, an idea that had been in the air since the race riots of 1943. Niles proposed it at the meeting. White said that Congress might not approve. Under pressure to take the initiative on civil rights regardless of Congress, Truman said he would create the body by executive order."
Sometimes the governing style of making decisions easily and trusting your intuitions produces good results, as Bill Stuntz readily concedes.
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October 4, 2005
George W. Bush was uncharacteristically feisty and self-confident in his press conference today. The buzz is that he held it to get conservatives to support his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. But he did a couple of other things worth mentioning. He showed that he was on top of the issue of avian flu. And he provided a context in which to consider what most of the mainstream media presents as unending violence in Iraq.
Well, what is happening in Iraq is the following: More and more Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy. And that's important to achieve our goal. And the goal is for a stable, democratic Iraq that is an ally in the war on terror.
Right now there are over 80 army battalions fighting alongside coalition troops. Over 30 Iraqi I say, army battalions Iraqi army battalions. There are over 30 Iraqi battalions in the lead. And that is substantial progress from the way the world was a year ago.
Success in Iraq is really important for our future. And to succeed in Iraq, we have a dual-track strategy. On the one hand, there's a political strategy, a constitutional process, and then elections in December. And the other one is the security strategy that you described.
American troops are have got two missions. One is to track down the Zarqawis and his affiliates and bring them to justice. We had success doing that, as you might recall, with the fellow in Baghdad. And the second mission is to train Iraqis, and we've got several ways we're doing that. One is, obviously, kind of your basic training route. The other is to embed our troops with Iraqi forces to teach them not only how to fight, but how to have a proper command and control structure.
Remember a Rose Garden press conference a while back I think it was a Rose Garden press conference where you might have asked me this very type of questions. I said one of the concerns we have is the capacity of the Iraqis to develop command and control. In other words, it's one thing to have people able to march; it's another thing to have the capacity to send them into battle in an organized way. One of the things that our folks measure is whether or not that's taking place. And the answer is, there is progress. There's obviously more work to be done, more units to be stood up, but we've got, as I said, over 30 battalions in the lead, and that's positive progress.
One task of a wartime president is to help the public understand where we are in the war and how we plan to get from where we are to success. I don't think Bush has done a particularly good job of this in the last several months. Today he did much better. The mainstream media will always tend to cover Iraq as a quagmireunending violence to no good purpose. Bush needs to use the bully pulpit more to get his point of view across.
For more on the course of the war, check out Bill Roggio's blog The Fourth Rail on Operation River Gate.