Hypocrisy and The Miers Case

By Mark Shields
Sunday, October 30, 2005

One reason I like people who run for political office is that, unlike most of us who go to great lengths to avoid even the slightest snub, candidates willingly risk very public rejection.

When you choose to run for office, you know that anyone you ever sat next to in high school homeroom or double-dated with or carpooled with will know whether you won or (more likely) lost.

Harriet Miers, after withdrawing as a nominee to be a Supreme Court justice, knows as well as Al Gore or John Kerry or Bob Dole how publicly painful and painfully public rejection can be.

As John R. Tunis once wrote, "Losing is the great American sin." But Miers, who is undoubtedly a hurting victim in this whole melodrama and deserving of compassion and kindness, is not the loser. No, the losers are those mostly conservative posturers and pretenders who now stand exposed as political hypocrites.

Who said repeatedly some variation of "every judicial nominee and the American people and the president deserve a fair up-or-down vote?" If you answered virtually every Republican senator, especially Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Bill Frist of Tennessee, you would be more than right.

In addition to that "up-or-down vote," every judicial nominee, according to those same honorable folks, was entitled to a fair committee hearing. Every judicial nominee, it turns out, except Miers. She didn't even get the hearing, let alone "the fair up-or-down vote" she deserved.

One clause in Article VI of the Constitution states, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." So, when some quarrelsome Senate Democrats kept asking if and how John Roberts' Catholicism might influence his opinions, the Bush White House turned away such impertinence with a prepared statement: "Judge Roberts has said in previous testimony that personal beliefs or views have no role whatsoever when it comes to decisions judges make." In other words, butt out!

But by October, the no-questions-about-a-nominee's-religious-faith rule had been conveniently repealed so that President Bush, facing "people [who] ask me why I picked Harriet Miers," could answer, "Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion," while Karl Rove, the man whom Bush calls "Boy Genius," would personally reassure James Dobson, a powerful leader of the religious right, that Miers was "an evangelical Christian" and a member of "a very conservative church which is almost universally pro-life." Religious faith had become a reference and a credential for high office.

"If we're going to give advice and consent, we've got to have a full picture," Brownback said. "We were not asking for documents regarding attorney-client privilege -- or privileged communications," he told CNN. "We were saying, 'Show us some documents of policy issues discussion' so we could get some framework of her policy views."

The Senate is not a rubber stamp, Brownback announced. But Republicans, including Brownback, had scorned and rejected Senate Democrats' requests for similar work from Roberts's time in the White House.

Of course, all conservatives and most Republicans are fiercely opposed to all quotas -- whether based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity. But Miers, as you may have noticed, was nominated to the seat long held by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Maybe it's just a coincidence that neither is a man. But Bush kept emphasizing Miers' achievements with a strong gender twist, as the first woman to be president of the Texas bar and the first woman to be managing partner of a big Texas law firm. Not that this was intended to be the woman's seat on the court, because conservatives abhor quotas.

Miers does not need to apologize to anyone. She told no lies. The big losers are those on the political right -- both her supporters and her opponents -- whose contradictions and moral relativism were enough to give hypocrisy a bad name.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company