Assessing the Miers High Court Nomination
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Coming up, 10 years later, what's the impact of the O.J. Simpson verdict?
First, the big story of today. President Bush has named a woman to the Supreme Court of the United States. She's Harriet Miers, the 60-year-old White House counsel. If confirmed by the Senate, she would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Senate confirmation is not automatic, of course. Among those senators speaking on the nomination so far today, New York Democrat Charles Schumer called it `a day of some hope.'
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): There's hope that Harriet Miers is a mainstream nominee. A very preliminary review shows nothing in her record that would indicate she wouldn't be, but very little in her record that indicates she would be as well. We just don't know very much.
CHADWICK: Joining us now is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving.
Ron, what are you hearing from Capitol Hill so far today? What else are you hearing? Is this going to be a popular pick?
RON ELVING reporting:
You know, first thought that came to my mind, Alex, was the word `cool.' There's some mostly measured praise for her, and there are some questions, but there's not much passion either pro or con. Now Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas says it's good to get a Texan on the Supreme Court because the court has none right now. And you do have quite a few Republicans saying the president's made a good choice. But the words--I mean, Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, said, `She's honest and hardworking.' And a couple of the Democratic leaders in the Senate said nice things about her along the lines of `It's good to see somebody who has a little different perspective, somebody who might not have quite the same eyes as we're used to having on the Supreme Court.' So none of this really has any of the Sturm und Drang that were expecting with this particular pick.
CHADWICK: Well, there's a little bit coming form social conservatives. We heard from David Frum a little while ago. What do you think the right is going to have to say on this?
ELVING: Some of the senators that you may be describing--like, let's take Sam Brownback from Kansas--were expressing some restlessness during the John Roberts hearings, saying, `We want a conservative on the court who owns our agenda, who absolutely comes out and announces his position on, say, Roe vs. Wade or on gay rights or on school prayer, for example.' And they don't seem to be getting it in this nominee. And the best you can say from some of the interest groups--take, for example, the conservative Third Branch Conference or the Concerned Women for America--is--and this is the phrase they're using in their statements: `We're going to give her the benefit of the doubt for now because we trust President Bush.' But they're not enthusiastic about her.
CHADWICK: I noted earlier I saw on the Web already she gave money to Al Gore back in 1988. That must be...
ELVING: And also to Lloyd Bentsen, who was a Democratic senator from Texas in the '80s. And of course that just means that she was a politically connected lawyer in Dallas in the 1980s, and it's not terribly surprising. On the other hand, it does suggest that she's not an ideologue.
CHADWICK: OK. She is perhaps best known in Washington for her fanatic devotion to her boss, George Bush. Is that--how much is that, do you think, a traditional qualification for the high court?
ELVING: We don't usually see this kind of relationship between the president and the nominee, but it's certainly not unprecedented. LBJ in 1965 appointed a man who had been kind of his personal political lawyer and fixer in Abe Fortas, who went on the court in '65. The president later tried to make him chief justice, unsuccessfully. And this president appears to think he's given the court already a major intellectual leader in Chief Justice John Roberts, and that frees him to appoint someone he knows and likes, and someone who brings more of the perspective of the average American, or at least certainly the average American lawyer who's run a big law firm in Dallas.
CHADWICK: You know, Ron, I do wonder about one thing. In the last six weeks--certainly the last month--have been a lot of questions about cronyism and the White House, and here is a very personal appointment.
ELVING: Indeed. And the president obviously feels he needs someone on the court who's close to him, whose views reflect his own. He spoke this morning about knowing her heart. And he knows he's going to take a hit for this. He knows what everyone has said about Michael Brown with respect to FEMA and some of the people who have been appointed elsewhere in the government--the Immigration and Naturalization Service--who have connections of one kind or another to people already high in the administration. It's something that in this administration has counted loyalty and personal history sometimes above all else.
CHADWICK: But doesn't the administration want to change the subject of conversation now away from cronyism?
ELVING: Yes, and to some degree it will change anyway because we'll have a new character and a new story line, but this issue of cronyism might be the one thing that is her Achilles' heel at this moment.
CHADWICK: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. His political column Watching Washington runs every Monday on our Web site, npr.org.
Ron, thank you again.
ELVING: Thank you, Alex.
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More in a moment on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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