After Miers: Bush Needs to Reunite His Base

A list of strategic picks for Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, D.C.President Bush's abandonment of Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court, just as his Republican supporters in Congress were coming to her defense against the Christian right, can only deepen the divide in Congress and among the staunch supporters of the Reagan revolution. Even such conservative icons as Robert Bork and Rush Limbaugh implored the president to drop Miers.

Already the older Reagan stalwarts have constituted a rising chorus of complaint against Bush over the war. In a speech yesterday at the Bill Clinton School of Public Policy in Little Rock, John Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri and an Episcopal priest, said, "I think that the Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right," he said in an interview after his talks. "I don't think that this is a permanent condition but I think this has happened, and that it's divisive for the country."

James Dobson, the popular right-wing evangelical pastor sought to staunch the attacks against Miers, saying Karl Rove had assured him she was okay on Christian values. Here is what he said in his October 11 radio broadcast:

“Karl Rove had shared with me her judicial philosophy, which was consistent with the promises that President Bush had made when he was campaigning. Now he told the voters last year that he would select people to be on the court who would interpret the law rather than create it and judges who would not make social policy from the bench. Most of all, the president promised to appoint people who would uphold the Constitution and not use their powers to advance their own political agenda. Now, Mr. Rove assured me in that telephone conversation that Harriet Miers fit that description and that the president knew her well enough to say so with complete confidence.”

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    But yesterday, the tide of criticism against Miers continued to rise, with warnings that young Bush could follow his father into oblivion. Father Bush earned Republican ire by raising taxes. "She's 60-years-old and has never written anything important," Phyllis Schlafly, head of the Eagle Forum, said of Miers in a recent speech at Harvard. "I don't buy this idea of just trusting the president. Millions of people voted for Bush solely because they believed he would change the direction of the court away from judicial activism. They feel betrayed.”


    So who's up next? Bush has to pick someone. It's likely back to basics: he can ingratiate himself across the conservative divide by naming an established right-wing jurist to the Supreme Court. Some already have backed out, but with a little arm-twisting, who knows?

    In the early summer, a list of possible candidates for the court included:

    JAMES HARVIE WILKINSON III: By all odds the most prominent of the possible picks, the 60-year-old Wilkinson was appointed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, by President Reagan in 1984 and served as chief judge from 1996 to 2003. Born in New York, he clerked for Justice Lewis Powell and worked in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division. The Fourth Circuit is a conservative dungeon, answering most especially to the needs of the Pentagon. Supporters have long argued that Wilkinson is no rubber-stamp ideologue, buut rather a pragmatic conservative.
    MICHAEL MCCONNELL: A 10th Circuit judge in Denver, McConnell is known as a conservative legal scholar. He clerked under famed liberal D.C. Appeals Court judge J. Skelly Wright and then for William Brennan. Under Reagan, McConnell served in the Office of the Solicitor General and has taught at, among other places, the University of Chicago. He is vehemently against the Roe v. Wade decision, claiming that it confers a "private right" to use lethal violence to " 'solve' personal problems." Roe is "a gross misinterpretation of the Constitution," according to McConnell, and "an embarrassment to those who take constitutional law seriously on doctors who perform them.
    J. MICHAEL LUTTIG: A Texas native who worked in the Justice Department during the first Bush administration, Luttig was named to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991. Like Wilkinson, Luttig graduated from the University of Virginia law school and takes the same deferential view toward authority. Luttig's name is widely known because of a personal tragedy: The judge's father was shot dead in a carjacking, and the son helped track down the killers.

    Others:

    EDITH JONES: A judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, she is perhaps best known for a decision claiming that the federal government could not restrict distribution of Louisiana's "Choose Life" license plates. She was appointed by Reagan.
    SAMUEL ALITO JR.: A judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, out of Philadelphia, who is sometimes referred to as "Scalito" because of his copycat thinking. He is known for a decision limiting hate speech restrictions.

    And in the distance:

    THEODORE OLSON: Other than Gonzales, the leading judge candidate among political appointees is Olson, who argued Bush's election case before the Supreme Court in 2000 and was rewarded with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson, whose wife, Barbara, was on the plane that rammed the Pentagon on 9-11, is a veteran lawyer for presidents. He worked for Reagan, representing him on the Iran-Contra scandal, and is a well-known figure in the conservative political community, having headed the D.C. chapter of the Federalist Society. A former partner of Kenneth Starr's, Olson assisted in Paula Jones's legal case against Bill Clinton, represented Whitewater figure David Hale in hearings before the Congress.
    LARRY THOMPSON: Bush's former deputy attorney general and the Bush administration's highest-ranking black law-enforcement official until he quit in 2003, Thompson joined the Brookings Institution as senior fellow and later became general counsel at Pepsi.
     
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