What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Monday, October 10, 2005

I guess if I was pressed to offer an opinion on the selection of Harriet Miers for a seat on the Supreme Court, I would have to say it’s probably not the best choice - that there are probably hundreds of lawyers and judges who are far more qualified than she for that exalted position. And of course that knowing the President personally and him knowing all about her heart and soul (what is he now, a cardio-psychiatrist?) are hardly qualifications for her to sit on the high court. And the scariest reason of all for being concerned about her being confirmed is his assurance that she’ll never change. The Harriet you see in 2005 will be the same Harriet in 2025 and beyond. So says the President - this despite the fact that up to now, she hasn’t hesitated to change the way she thinks about important issues - otherwise she might still be a Catholic and working to elect Democrats from Texas. He’d better be wrong. Anyone who’s judicial philosophy is that inflexible - who can say that no matter what events unfold and what kinds of cases come before the court for the next 20 or 30 years it will remain unchanged, has no business being a judge of any kind.

But my opinion is caught between a rock and a hard place because it puts me on the same page with people that I disagree with on just about everything. Charles Krauthammer thinks she’s a terrible choice - that Mr. Bush missed a wonderful opportunity to turn back the clock and appoint someone rooted in the nineteenth century - or earlier. That automatically makes me want to support her. If he thinks she’s a bad choice, maybe she’ll make a wonderful justice. But then we’ve got the apparent secret assurances given to conservative religious leaders that she’s someone who won’t let them down. Meaning she’ll vote to overturn Roe v Wade if the right kind of case comes along? Meaning that you can be sure that gays will never get the nod of approval from the Supremes for anything?

We don’t know and that may be the problem with this nomination. And if she stonewalls during her Senate hearings as she is expected to do - and if no paperwork is forthcoming that reveals anything about her thinking on matters that may come before the court - we may never know until she has an opportunity to rule on a controversial issue.

I have to make one observation about where she got her law degree. A law professor from the University of Chicago wrote a negative op-ed piece about her legal qualifications shortly after her nomination was announced and among other criticisms, decried the fact that she had graduated from Southern Methodist University Law School. This was no Harvard or Yale wrote this professor. This wasn’t even one of the top 50 law schools in the country. This brought a response from some lawyers who suggested that where someone earned their law degree wasn’t important. That the law was the law wherever it was being taught. That it didn’t change from Harvard to Southern Methodist. It was what graduates did in their legal career that mattered - not where they graduated from.

To which I have to say - really?? The school makes no difference? If that’s the case, you have to wonder why so many kids try so hard to get accepted at certain colleges and universities. After all, Einstein’s theory of relativity is expressed the same way at Podunk U as it is at Yale and Shakespeare’s plays aren’t published as an abridged version for students at Jerkwater Junior College. And as for law school, if the law is the law wherever it is being taught, what’s wrong with getting a law degree by way of a correspondence course? As long as you’re able to memorize everything you need to know to pass the Bar Exam, why should where or how you got your legal education matter?

The answer of course is that who teaches you and how they do it makes a huge difference in the breadth of your education - of your understanding of the law and what kind of lawyer you may become. All law professors and instructors might teach from the same text books. All may teach the same dry details of federal and state and international law. But how they teach - how they are able to make the dullest subject come alive for their students, is the reason why future lawyers strive to get to Harvard or Yale or Stanford and won’t settle for Southern Methodist.

Of course in Ms Meiers’ case it doesn’t matter. The President knows what’s in her heart and that has to be far more important than anything she ever learned about the law . At least that’s what the Senate’s Judiciary Committee is being asked to deal with. And if she can survive there, the entire Senate. To which I say good luck!!

Changing of the UK Conservative Guard

I watched Michael Howard deliver his resignation speech at the annual Conservative Party Conference last Thursday. Actually, I watched a recording on C-Span yesterday.

What struck me about it was how relatively uncomplicated and civilized the British system remains. If Howard’s party had been able to achieve a majority in Parliament during his tenure as party leader, he would have become Prime Minister. No mystery. No jockeying for position in a primary season. No wondering who would be challenging Tony Blair. There is no primary season. Leaders are picked the old fashioned way. What we used to call the smoked filled back rooms. Except that there’s little smoke nowadays and the process is a relatively open one.

Whoever emerges as the new leader of the Conservatives will do so relatively unscathed. He will not have had to endure a bitter and wearing primary fight. His potential opponents for the leadership position will not have attacked him publicly and described him as being unfit for any role in government above the level of garbage collector or dog catcher - and will thus be able to throw their full support to him during the general election without being labeled hypocritical.

With this kind of system, I would have been able to hold John McCain in higher regard than I do, because I would not have witnessed the spectacle of him being trashed in the most despicable way by the George W Bush primary campaign, only to see him fawn over Presidential candidate Bush and President Bush, seemingly at every possible opportunity.

Question time in the House of Commons will be resuming on CNN shortly. It’s something worth watching. After 229 years, we can still learn something about government from the Brits.