Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I've done a bit of reading the past couple of hours about the President's new pick for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, the current White House Counsel, and the President's former personal attorney. I feel like my opinions about political issues are often naive, and of course there are lots of people who've done a lot more smart thinking about these things than I have. But this seems like a terrible civics lesson the President has been teaching the country lately. We grow up believing that the Supreme Court is this tremendous institution, and the justices who serve on the Court are somehow special. That they're the best this country has to offer. Regardless of which side of the political aisle they come from, there's a hope and an expectation that they're brilliant legal minds, supremely accomplished people, distinguished, exceptional jurists. Maybe part of that image was eroded by the Clarence Thomas hearings. Which I remember, even though I guess I was like 12 at the time, as being pretty absurd. Not that being a Supreme Court justice should necessarily be a reward for being a brilliant legal scholar, but, yeah, in a way, sort of, maybe, a little. The Roberts pick seemed to reinforce that. His credentials are pretty impeccable. He's clearly someone who's at the highest level of his profession, who's spent years intellectually engaged with the law and the issues he'll have to deal with on the court.

And now the President's personal lawyer is nominated? She ran the Texas Lottery Commission, which sounds a lot like the Arabian Horse Show, or whatever it is that Michael Brown ran. Was Michael Brown's demonstrated incompetence not enough to prove that maybe, just maybe, the President's friends are not the best people to be in top positions in this country? See, actually, it's interesting to me that while it bothers me that the President keeps putting his friends into positions they're not qualified for, it bothers me more that the President doesn't have brilliantly qualified friends. I mean, disregarding this particular President, just speaking generally, shouldn't we expect that someone who has risen to the highest position of the power in the country has spent his life surrounding himself with smart and talented people? Shouldn't we expect that if anyone should be able to identify and cultivate a network of smart and competent people, it's the person this country is saying is the most competent we have to lead it? Again, just generally, not thinking about any President in particular -- these are the people we're saying are the best we have; I would think the company they keep ought to be pretty neat too.

Reagan and Clinton both bore out the idea that anyone can grow up to be President. Whatever anyone's opinion about either of them is, they didn't grow up in families where this kind of thing was expected, but they somehow rose to the top. I grew up thinking this was one of the things that made this country special. That no matter where you start, you can rise to the top on your own merits. And now we have a President who -- again, regardless of anyone's political beliefs, I hope -- if his father hadn't been President, it's awfully hard to envision the scenario where he becomes President. And to compound it, he fills his administration with his trusted advisors, loyal to him, but with questionable qualifications. There's an article on Slate from last week about how Karen Hughes is a bizarre choice to be trying to make Muslim women like us, and that there surely must be qualified women with more understanding of and experience with the Arab culture to be undersecretary of state for whatever it is she is. And now, nothing against Harriet Miers, but everything I'm reading says that she's a fine lawyer, and there are a hundred other lawyers equally fine, and at least a few dozen more people who are actual intellectual superstars, actual examples of the best this country has, and they're being passed over for the President's personal lawyer. On the Supreme Court.

Happening to be friends with the President shouldn't be what gets someone appointed to the Supreme Court. Or head of FEMA. Or undersecretary of state. Or anything. I thought we knocked this out a hundred years ago with Civil Service Reform. I guess we didn't. It would be nice to think we live in a country where the cream can actually rise to the top, and it doesn't completely depend on who you know. I guess that's naive. Thanks, Mr. President.

Unless I'm wrong. Unless this is part of a greater strategy, to waste the Democrats' energy on a nominee he knows will never get confirmed, and then once she's voted down, he nominates a "real" choice, and the Democrats' political capital has already been spent and the real choice gets in, and the President thinks that this is the only plan by which that ends up happening. In which case, better than the alternative, but in itself a sad commentary on the partisan nature of the process... but still, better than the alternative, a sad commentary about what it takes to rise in this country.

I'm sure there's a great counter-argument to everything I've said. I'll post it if you send it to me.