News & Politics

After Miers: Bush Needs to Reunite His Base

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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.”

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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