Conservatives on Miers Pick: An 'Unforced Error'
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
David Frum was a White House speechwriter during President Bush's first term. He's a columnist now for the conservative political journal National Review. And on its Web site today, you can find him already calling Ms. Miers' nomination, quote, "an unforced error."
David Frum, what do you mean by that?
Mr. DAVID FRUM (National Review): I mean that the president is in an amazingly strong position to appoint the Supreme Court justice that American conservatives, American Republicans, have been waiting a long time for. He appointed an excellent judge, John Roberts, to succeed Justice Rehnquist. That preserved the old balance on the court. The O'Connor seat was the seat that would tip the balance on the Supreme Court and change the direction of the court. There are benches full of outstanding conservative jurists as qualified, as brilliant, as personally charming, as sure to pass the Senate, as John Roberts, and the president didn't pick any of them. He picked somebody who's really an unknown quantity, a loyal counselor to him, but someone whom he knows nothing about as a jurist. She may turn--Harriet Miers may turn out to be the greatest conservative judge since Antonin Scalia, but there's no reason to think so, and there are others who it would have been reasonable to think so whom the president could have picked.
CHADWICK: You note that this is a moment the conservative legal movement has been waiting for, for two decades.
Mr. FRUM: Yeah.
CHADWICK: I mean, you seem severely disappointed.
Mr. FRUM: I think because one of the things that we know about moments is they don't recur. There are other vacancies that will, I'm sure, occur in the future. Justice Stevens is, I think, 85 or 86 years old. I don't remember off the top of my head but he will, one presumes, retire fairly soon. But, you know, it could be after this president leaves office. It could be after the 2006 elections, and the Republicans may not have as many seats after those elections as they do now. Here is the moment where the president could make an enormous difference. It's in his hands. And we don't know what he's done. I don't believe he knows what he's done because however well you know somebody as a person, you don't know them as a judge.
CHADWICK: You say in your column, `She has not demonstrated steely resolve.' She's not going to be able to stand up to what you call `the pressure to drift to the left' on the court.
Mr. FRUM: Right. I don't say that she has--what I say is that we don't know that of her. I mean, she might be steely as steel, but we don't have any reason to think so. Many of your listeners may not see the world the way conservative legalists do, but here's the way we see it. The legal profession is one of those areas in American life where the conservative world has not made as much of an impact as it has in other areas of politics. In the elite part of the law, conservatives are really in the minority, and there are a lot of pressures, both negative pressures, bad press, and positive pressures, flattery, invitations to conferences and lectures, that have had the effect of taking judges like Justice O'Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Souter and shifting them.
It doesn't happen the other way. Judges do not become more conservative when they get on the court. They become more liberal. To resist that, you need tremendous intellectual self-confidence and a lot of personal steel. Maybe Harriet Miers has those qualities, but we know for certain that Michael Luttig has them. We know for certain that Sam Alito has them. We know for certain that Michael McConnell has them. Why not go with the people we know about for certain?
CHADWICK: Are you saying that if Ms. Miers were to follow the career line of Sandra Day O'Connor, you would be disappointed?
Mr. FRUM: I think the people who elected this president will be disappointed. They voted for change of the courts. When the president was campaigning, especially in the areas where he was strongest, it was the lines about judges that got him his strongest applause.
CHADWICK: Do you think that conservative senators should vote against Harriet Miers?
Mr. FRUM: I think it is not imaginable to me that any Republican senator will vote against her. And I think she will overwhelmingly pass the Senate. And I don't think you'll hear a lot of outspoken outrage from the conservative world, although I may be wrong on that point. But what there will be will be great disappointment at an opportunity missed.
CHADWICK: David Frum writes for National Review Online.
David Frum, thank you.
Mr. FRUM: Thank you very much.
CHADWICK: You can read a profile of Harriet Miers and see a roundup of reaction to her Supreme Court nomination at our Web site, npr.org.
I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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