Columns » Ernest Dumas

A friend in a high place

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All that President Bush wanted to do was to put someone on the U. S. Supreme Court who would always be his friend because he might one day need one there. He remembered when Bill Clinton desperately needed friends on the court and didn’t have them, even among his own two appointees, the only Democrats on the court.

Roe v. Wade, Griswold v. Connecticut, Meyer v. Nebraska, stare decisis — all those things matter little as long as through thick and thin you can count on someone’s personal loyalty, like you can Karl Rove’s.

But all that Bush’s appointment of his friend and attorney Harriet E. Miers has proved is that he needed loyal friends even more than he knew. National Public Radio carried a report from Dallas Monday in which his right-wing Texas supporters were denouncing Miers’ appointment. Even a close female friend of Miers said that while Bush’s lawyer was a very sweet and charming lady she was a lightweight who never did anything in her life worthy of appointment to the highest court in the land, where Roe v. Wade might be overturned. Maybe Miers could sit on a district court or a court of appeals but not the Supreme Court. Spare us such close friends.

What they and apparently Bush’s whole evangelical base want is someone you know absolutely will say to hell with precedent and throw out everything back at least to 1953.

Someone like Judge Priscilla R. Owen, the angry Texas jurist whom the Senate recently confirmed to the 5th U. S. Court of Appeals. Owen had warmed the cockles of conservatives’ hearts by stretching Texas law to keep a young girl from getting an abortion and sitting on the case of a black kid who was left a quadriplegic when a sports car struck his stepfather’s pickup and delaying a decision until the boy died. His parents had sued Ford Motor Co. over a defective seat belt and Ford was represented by a big Texas law firm close to the Bush family that had given $20,450 to Owen’s campaign.

If Bush is forced to get Harriet Miers to “voluntarily” withdraw for the good of the court, which now seems to be the likeliest course, either Owens or Janice Rogers Brown of the District of Columbia Circuit is the likeliest successor. Both have made it clear that there is no cruelty they would not visit upon a supplicant for justice if a big corporation or the almighty government is on the other side.

Conservatives should understand the president’s need for loyalty, which is underscored by the campaign against Miers by a raft of right-wing commentators who until now have cheered his every move and explained away every disaster.

Even the right-wing scribblers are making fun of the girlish exclamations Miers regularly penned in notes to Bush when he was governor of Texas and she was his attorney or appointee to the Texas Lottery Commission: “Texas is blessed!,” “You are the best!,” “You are the best Governor ever — deserving of great respect!,” “You and Laura are the greatest!” “The state is in great hands.”

Then, the cruelest cut of all, from David Frum, Bush’s former speech“In the White House that hero worshipped the president,” Frum wrote, “Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal: She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met.”

Frum had already stung the president by his disloyalty. In a generally congratulatory book about the president after he left the White House, Frum made it clear that he did not share Miers’ view of Bush’s brilliance.

In one passage, Frum called Bush “impatient and quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill-informed; more conventional in his thinking than a leader should be.”

The spectacle over Miers’ nomination — Bush’s reversals over the importance of her religious convictions, the White House weird mating dance to signal conservatives that her secret agenda is theirs, its empty search for her Supreme Court bona fides (they are coming next week is the promise this week), the attacks from the far right as well as from liberals — has other and more serious consequences than the further weakening of a politically limp president.

The Supreme Court is the biggest loser by an incalculable margin. Whatever was left of its majesty has vanished. For 200 years it was the fortress for the rule of law in a democratic society, but the charade that politics is left at the door is stripped naked finally, if anyone continued to invest in that doctrine after the conservative majority intervened in 2000 to award the presidency to the man who finished second. It will not be allowed to recover that majesty anytime soon.

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