Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I Are a Judge?

How important is it for a Supreme Court justice to know the law?

Don't laugh. This actually is an issue with Harriet Miers.

Think of it this way -- if you were interviewing for a job as, say, a mathematician, you'd probably want to know the difference between a sine ratio and the Pythagorian Theorem. If you were trying for a position as a chemist, it might be to your advantage to know the difference between a solution and a molecule.

So eyebrows went skyward all over the legal profession, reports David Savage of the Los Angeles Times, when Harriet Miers responded to a Senate questionnaire by misusing or misconstruing the term "proportional representation" as it may or may not apply to the Voting Rights Act. Savage writes:
At one point, Miers described her service on the Dallas City Council in 1989. When the city was sued on allegations that it violated the Voting Rights Act, she said, "the council had to be sure to comply with the proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause."

But the Supreme Court repeatedly has said the Constitution's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws" does not mean that city councils or state legislatures must have the same proportion of blacks, Latinos and Asians as the voting population.

"That's a terrible answer. There is no proportional representation requirement under the equal protection clause," said New York University law professor Burt Neuborne, a voting rights expert. "If a first-year law student wrote that and submitted it in class, I would send it back and say it was unacceptable."

Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, also an expert on voting rights, said she was surprised the White House did not check Miers' questionnaire before sending it to the Senate.

"Are they trying to set her up? Any halfway competent junior lawyer could have checked the questionnaire and said it cannot go out like that. I find it shocking," she said. (Read the entire article.)
Now, you may argue that it matters more that Miers has real-world experience and this is what qualifies her to be a judge. In fact, this is what the White House is suggesting. But Miers' apparent lack of, shall we say, knowledge, has already revealed itself to a number of senators. Writing earlier this week in the L.A. Times, Maura Reynolds and Janet Hook had this quote:
"She doesn't have the gravitas in terms of the constitutional issues," said another senator who has been critical of Miers. The nominee, the senator said, would not answer questions about whether she would recuse herself if issues involving her work with Bush came before the high court.

"Generally when you hold these interviews, people want to show you what they know," the senator said. "She did not respond. Nothing came back." (Read the entire article.)
The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a Republican, has said that Miers needs a "crash course in constitutional law."

Yes, you might think that the ability to know the law inside and out is essential for a Supreme Court justice -- especially constitutional law, since, well, you're ruling on whether laws are constitutional. Even baseball in all its flubbery wouldn't hire an umpire who doesn't know the rules of the game. And remember -- George W. Bush used to own the Texas Rangers.


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