October 31, 2005
Bush's Judicial Test
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had held his nose and loyally
backed Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, last week quickly advocated
a new candidate for President Bush to consider: Federal Appellate
Judge Karen Williams of Orangeburg, S.C. It was not merely that
Williams is Graham's fellow South Carolinian. She is precisely the
kind of nominee George W. Bush needs to recover from the Miers fiasco.
The question is whether the president fully understands that.
now 54 years old, was named to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
in Richmond, Va., by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. She is
clearly a strong conservative but well thought of by non-conservatives
such as Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of South Carolina's leading African-American
politicians. It would be hard for Democrats to justify a Senate
filibuster against Williams by invoking the "extraordinary
circumstances" standard under the "Gang of 14"
judicial confirmation compromise.
is whether the president will take this reasonable approach toward
a high court vacancy that is considered vital to his core constituency.
Considering the fact that he could have embarked on such a course
in the first place and avoided the further loss of public confidence
caused by the Miers nomination, nobody can be absolutely sure
he will not again blunder. That could mean another Miers-like
stealth nominee or, at the opposite extreme, an antagonistic nominee
who incites the left.
in the world was the president thinking?" was the widely
exclaimed question among Bush supporters when they learned he
had nominated his White House counsel to a Supreme Court vacancy
that could change the outcome of important social questions by
shifting the court's balance to the right. It is a question still
asked a month later without a satisfactory answer.
on Miers reflects his genuine disdain for Washington and the national
government, still intense after nearly five years in office. That
is basically why he reaches back to longtime friends and associates
(cronies, say his critics) whom he trusts. Having been told that
the conservative Republican base would not accept his friend Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales on the court, Bush tried to sneak through
Gonzales's successor as White House counsel.
would pass muster inside the White House suggests how limited
a group Bush consults. Cronyism is endemic with this president,
and there is nobody close at hand to advise him otherwise.
At the same
time Miers was twisting in the wind, Bush created a parallel situation
at the Export-Import Bank that is the talk of the bureaucracy
and Capitol Hill. The three-year term as the bank's CEO for Philip
Merrill, an experienced government official and businessman, expired
Jan. 20 and was extended six months to July 20. The post has been
vacant since then because Bush's choice, April Foley, has had
difficulties getting through the clearance process and has yet
to be formally nominated.
a former Ex-Im director, but her resume shows no executive experience,
either corporate or governmental. Her last available campaign
contribution disclosure form, in 2002, lists her as "housewife."
But she was one of George W. Bush's girlfriends when they both
attended Harvard Business School.
his predilection for pulling surprises and naming old friends
with the expected and widely applauded selection of Ben Bernanke
to head the Federal Reserve. Nevertheless, nobody can be sure
where he will go on his second-chance Supreme Court pick.
senators are daring Bush to precipitate ideological warfare. After
assailing Miers as inadequate, the Democrats now blame the extreme
right for her demise and challenge the president on whether he
intends to appease conservatives. If he takes the dare, he could
name another Texas friend: newly confirmed Federal Appellate Judge
Priscilla Owen. But Democrats have warned that any judge such
as Owen who was filibustered and then confirmed under the "Gang
of 14" compromise would constitute "extraordinary circumstances."
It is hardly
imaginable that the president would provoke a new revolt on the
right with somebody who would satisfy the Democrats. Confidence
about his course is not high among Republicans, however, as he
ponders his choice with his trusted adviser Harriet Miers at his
2005 Creators Syndicate