Naughty Harry: Lawyering Without a License

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

October 19, 2005

I was just coming to grips with the idea that a Supreme Court nominee doesn't need to have any experience for the job.

Now it turns out that a Supreme Court nominee doesn't even need to always be a lawyer in good standing.

Harriet Miers shared a little secret about herself on her application to be an associate justice: "Earlier this year, I received notice that my dues for the District of Columbia bar were delinquent and as a result, my ability to practice law in D.C. had been suspended."

Did that little dog on the birthday card she sent W. eat her dues?

Ms. Miers, then the White House counsel, remedied the situation after she got the letter. But weren't the Bush spinners making a case for her by reporting that she was really great at managing the paper flow when she was the president's staff secretary?

Now we discover that she could be such a scatterbrain about paperwork that a little tiny thing like being able to legally practice law slipped her mind while she was serving as the lawyer for the leader of the free world?

There was another odd, unfocused episode with the Republican senator Arlen Specter this week. He said that he and Ms. Miers had talked privately on Monday and that she had expressed support for two Supreme Court rulings that established a right to privacy and are viewed as the foundation for Roe v. Wade.

Before Ms. Miers could even forget her bar dues again, the White House said that Senator Specter was mistaken, and Ms. Miers called to tell him so. Mr. Specter was willing to say he'd misunderstood, and will surely want to clear all this up in the hearings.

But maybe he'll wind up sticking by his earlier statement: "She needs a crash course in constitutional law."

The White House gambits to soothe the wrath of the right and flesh out the views of Ms. Miers, in lieu of an actual judicial record, are creating more confusion. In order to sell her, officials had to expose her by sending her anti-abortion positions from 1989 to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She's on record as favoring one of the most restrictive positions on abortion: "actively" supporting a constitutional amendment to make abortion illegal except when the mother is actually about to die (never mind if her health might be severely impaired or she's a victim of rape or incest).

When she was running for City Council in Dallas, Ms. Miers answered yes to all the questions from Texans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, elaborating on only one: whether she would vote to keep anyone who supported abortion rights out of city jobs dealing with health issues. After saying yes, she added "to the extent pro-life views are relevant."

"The answers clearly reflect that Harriet Miers is opposed to Roe v. Wade," Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said. "This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard."

With Karl Rove on grand jury watch and Dick Cheney snugly tucked into his underground bunker, W. and Andy Card are in control, and the West Wing ineptitude is comic.

First the White House tried to make Ms. Miers seem more conservative by peddling her pedigree as a member of an ultraconservative evangelical church to its right-wing base. When injecting religion into the hearings backfired, officials started backpedaling and saying she shouldn't be asked about her faith, even though the president himself had said that her faith was a big part of her appeal.

Then when her draconian views on abortion came out, the White House immediately tried to assuage the left. The White House flack Scott McClellan turned on his fog machine, saying, "The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political officeholder."

Mr. McClellan's answers about the questionnaire were opaque, but were meant to leave the impression that a Justice Miers might view abortion differently than the candidate Miers.

That's very interesting, since the president cited her constancy as one of her chief attractions, implying, to quell conservative worries, that she would not be another David Souter.

"I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today," W. said.

Some Democrats who have interviewed her recently have failed to see in her the intellectual rigor that W. saw and find her résumé so thin that it would not even earn a "Heavy Hitter" profile in The American Lawyer magazine. Answering the Senate Judiciary Committee's questionnaire, she said that in her two years on the City Council she dealt with such weighty constitutional issues as ... zoning.