Another Unknown for the High Court

On short notice Monday, the White House e-mailed reporters to stand by at 8:01:30 a.m. — the message was quite explicit about the 30 seconds — for a presidential announcement.

President Bush introduced Harriet Miers as his nominee to the swing seat on the Supreme Court and then rushed off to that same court for the swearing-in of the new chief justice, John Roberts, whose Senate confirmation proved unexpectedly smooth.

Miers may be a different matter because she has a curious resume for the Supreme Court. For a start, she has never been a judge. Nothing in the law requires a high-court justice to have been a judge _ or even a lawyer, for that matter _ but the custom generally has been to search for candidates on the bench. This means she has no record of decisions _ a “paper trail” _ that would shed light on her reasoning.

For another, Miers, a Bush loyalist who was once his personal attorney, has held White House staff jobs for the last five years. She is currently White House counsel, a post that is as much about political troubleshooting as lawyering.

For five years before that, she was chair of the Texas Lottery Commission, a novel credential for the court, and in private practice.

The White House makes much of the fact that she was the first woman to head a major Texas law firm and to head the Dallas city and Texas state bar associations _ all very commendable, but seeming to have little bearing on her fitness for the high court.

Miers’ best recommendation may be that key Democrats seemed to have signed off on her nomination. Certainly the fix seemed to be in when Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who voted against the eminently qualified Roberts, said he looked forward to having “a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer.”

Aside from the usual Democratic suspects, opposition to Miers may well come from Republican conservatives angry and dismayed that Bush did not choose a nominee who meets their litmus tests on social issues. One group angrily denounced Miers as “a political crony with no conservative credentials” and her nomination a “betrayal.”

Generally with Supreme Court appointments, the onus is on opponents to make the case as to why a nominee should not be confirmed. In this case, it would seem, the burden is on the White House to prove that Harriet Miers is indeed fully qualified to sit on the highest court in the land. Convince us.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,