Monday, October 31, 2005

The Miers Nomination: Mere Prologue

   I have hinted in the past that Harriet Miers' abortive nomination to the Supreme Court was a ruse, that it was never intended to achieve confirmation.

   This morning's selection of Samuel Alito seems to confirm this suspicion.

   I grew suspicious of the Miers nomination within the first few days of its announcement, first registering my thoughts in a comment to a post over at Classical Values. Several things about the nomination just did not make sense:

  • The nomination was announced at 8 a.m. Eastern Time, relinquishing the initiative to introduce her to the Americans who would not awake on the west coast for several hours. (Although, the same is happening this morning with the Alito nomination.)

  • No one knew who Harriet Miers was, largely because she was woefully underqualified. The president passed up a list of potential nominees -- perhaps two dozen deep -- to make this selection.

  • Conservatives were not about to stand for anyone who might look like a "stealth nominee," after having been burned by Justices Kennedy and (more often) Souter.

  • The questionnaire she submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee was called "incomplete," at best. What is more, the questionnaire was unsigned, but authenticated by the White House.

  • Initial reaction from conservatives was vitriolic.

  • She was a terrible writer, lacking clarity of thought and language.

   For all of this, Harriet Miers was the "most qualifed person" for the job. Harriet Miers, whose ABA recommendation probably would have come back as "not qualified."

   And now, we have before us Samuel Alito. A former prosecutor. A federal judge for 15 years. Someone who is eminently qualified for consideration to the Court, having appeared on many shortlists over the last year. Someone who is probably "in the mold of Scalia and Thomas," as the president promised on the campaign trail. And also someone for whom confirmation may depend upon an energized conservative base.

   Alito was the dissenting judge in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against his position.

   This is about abortion, it always has been, and now the president has nominated a judge with a fifteen-year long paper trail, whose most famous opinion is the one that will raise the most controversy.

   This is the battle that the nation has been expecting, and it's been in the preparation phase since the start of October. Given Alito's qualifications, and judicial history, the Democrats will face pressure from both sides as to whether to vote to confirm. Their progressive consituents will vehemently oppose his nomination, while their conservative (and some moderates) constituents will ask what more they could want. Given the number of Democratic senators from red states up for re-election next year, navigation may be tricky.

   And it's this uncomfortable place that the President wanted to create for Democratic senators who might remain on the fence.

UPDATE (6:51 p.m.): One of my favorite left-of-center bloggers has a similar theory, but sees the Miers withdrawal/Alito nomination as a calculated distraction from the indictments of Scooter Libby handed down last week. I considered this, but I find it less likely because the Libby indictments (and trial) are likely to outlive this confirmation process. The focus will be back on that criminal case before long; in fact, I bet it outplays the confirmation again by the end of the week.


Blogger Kevin said...

Forgive me, I still don't understand the need for the ruse. Why not just make Alito immediately after moving Roberts over to replace Rehnquist? Is it possible that the whole Miers fiasco was just another in a long string of Bush miscalculations?

9:42 AM  
Anonymous KS said...

I'm more inclined to believe Rove mastermined the whole Miers fiasco as a smoke screen designed to deflect attention away from the Fitzgerald announcement. Several blogs have alluded to this and it makes sense. Miers withdraws her nomination just days before Fitzgerald makes his announcement and now we immediately have a new nomination - a nominee who will more than likely stay in the news on a daily basis.

Libby is just one symptom of this ethically challenged administration and THAT should be the focus of media attention.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Bostonian Exile said...

Both good points.

It's possible that the Miers fiasco was a miscalculation, but not likely given the amount of preparation that went into these vacancies on the Court. Of course, it could still be a miscalculation in the end if Alito's confirmation fails for one reason or another.

Also, as I noted in the update, I did consider the possibility of this as a smokescreen of sorts. But, I don't think that this story has the shelf life to divert attention away from the Plamegate investigation. Further indictments, and Libby's trial, would probably come after Alito's eventual confirmation.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Bostonian Exile said...

Also, that tactic (assuming it was intentional) had the effect of galvanizing the conservative base in preparation for the confirmation fight. The choice of Alito was going to prompt profound opposition from the left in either case; Bush needs as much enduring conservative support on this one as possible to succeed here, or with any non-Roberts conservative nominee

7:05 PM  
Anonymous The Impolitic said...

Exactly why my theory works. It's a brilliant move. The polls are tanking. They're losing their base over the war and spending and they needed to redirect the argument.

The timing of the announcements are the smokescreen for the indictments, but the greater scheme was to "empower the base." They now feel like they've "won" something. So they'll support Alito all the more vigourously and perhaps his other policies as well.

You may recall, there was distinct amount of grumbling about a lot of issues, that suddenly became focused on this, perhaps faux, intercine warfare over Miers.

Even though I don't believe in them, I'll be interested in seeing what kind of bump he gets out of this in the polls.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Midwestern Progressive said...

Interesting juxtaposition - today Clarence Page calls out the "conspiracy theorists" and says:

"No, I think the real answer is quite obvious, simple and straightforward. I think Bush actually believed his warm-and-fuzzy campaign promises to be 'a uniter, not a divider.' He told himself so, no matter how much his supporters, surrogates and subordinates trashed the reputations of anyone who disagreed with him.

"With that in mind, I think Bush picked Miers first because Alito--and his similarly seasoned conservative deep-thinkers with their long paper trails--offers too much of what Bush does not want."

Not that you're a conspiracy theorist, mind you!

10:05 AM  
Blogger Midwestern Progressive said...

I meant to include a link to Page's column.


10:12 AM  

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