WASHINGTON — To the excitement of all Washington, the hullabaloo over President George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet E. (and you can be sure the Senate Judiciary Committee will get to the bottom of this mysterious “E.” in due course) Miers builds, picking up wails and execrations daily. What makes the excitement so irresistible is that conservatives have now joined with liberals in fuming over the President’s judicial nominee. Well, as the philosopher Samuel Goldwyn was wont to say, “include me out.”
This hullabaloo is but another piece of evidence in support of my long held view that the greatest unsung force in history is boredom. Yes, the rise and fall of nations, the comings and goings of eminences and fads, can be attributed to the seven deadly sins, to mere chance, or to a potentate dallying too long over lunch. But more often than the historians would have us know mere boredom has been the yeast for great events. At some point in every president’s life, especially as his presidency ages, he finds himself in a sticky wicket because the politically engaged have become bored.
I do not mean to say that there are not potential high court nominees more qualified than Miers. Moreover, for two decades the conservative movement has developed a community of fine legal minds ready and able to do as well against the haranguers of the Senate Judiciary Committee as the suddenly exalted John Roberts. One need look no farther than the Federalist Society. Yet the intensity of this row has grown out of all proportion to the President’s oversights. Consider this from an overheated “news story” in the New York Times: “Everybody is hoping that something will happen on Miers, either that the president would withdraw her or she would realize she is not up to it and pull out while she has some dignity intact,’ a lawyer to a Republican committee member said.” Most likely this will never happen, and most likely only a handful of shortsighted Republicans would want it to happen.
The criteria for a Supreme Court nominee have historically been: (A) proven facility with the law and (B) personal integrity. That is the argument most conservatives have made ever since liberals politicized the selection process starting with Judge Robert Bork. Surely Miers has shown facility with the law and if she lacks integrity it will be revealed very soon. We have all argued that a justice’s personal beliefs are not relevant. All a justice does is apply the law — as written by legislators — to each case under consideration. Judge Roberts returned to this truth repeatedly during his torture before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If Miers is capable, she will hold to this fundamental truth and be confirmed.
Were the Republicans to overthrow the principles they solemnly defended during the Roberts hearing and sink Miers’ nomination, the consequence would be anarchy in subsequent Senate hearings and a messy victory for partisan Democrats. The Republicans have claimed the principle that barring maleficent revelations a president should be granted his nominee for the federal judiciary. If they were to join the Democrats in contradicting their own sensible principle and thwarting the President, the partisan Democrats would be justified in voting down any future conservative nominee. That would mean raising to the Supreme Court only nominees of their choice or, as I say, anarchy.
On the face of it none of this will happen. The conservatives have every right to be disappointed that a seasoned conservative of superlative intellect was not nominated by the President. But they are not going to throw the nominating process into chaos or rather into the control of primitive partisans such as Senator Patrick Leahy.
Washington’s yearning for excitement is what actuates this hullabaloo. It also actuates the press’s incessant coverage of it. This town is easily bored and boredom often sets in motion some of history’s most frivolous events. Think back. Was it not general boredom that accounted for the election of Bill Clinton over the perfectly normal President George H. W. Bush?