Conservative activist Manuel Miranda has described Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers as "possibly the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas" [front page, Oct. 4].

The comparison is inapt. In "Fortas: The Rise and Ruin of a Supreme Court Justice," Bruce Allen Murphy provided an unflinching account of the hubris that brought down President Lyndon B. Johnson's confidant. But he also wrote, "Perhaps no other lawyer in America was better prepared for the task by his past, and better knew the other members of the court upon his arrival."

Mr. Murphy reports that Fortas made "many appearances" before the court prior to his appointment. He had been appointed by Chief Justice Earl Warren to the committee charged with rewriting the federal rules of criminal procedure, and he was assigned, at Warren's suggestion, as counsel in the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which established a criminal defendant's constitutional right to a lawyer. He also had a close relationship with his mentor, Justice William O. Douglas.

In terms of qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court, politics aside, Abe Fortas more closely resembled Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. than Harriet Miers.



The writer is a former associate of Fortas & Koven, a law firm led by Abe Fortas until his death in 1982.


Before Harriet Miers went to the White House, she was listed in the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most powerful lawyers and one of the 50 most powerful female lawyers in the United States. She held top positions in the American Bar Association and chaired the board of editors of the ABA Journal, a publication that focuses on all aspects of the law, including the supposed lofty and "different" issues relating to constitutional law.

Members of the Texas bar elected Ms. Miers as their president, and she helped build bridges between the law profession and the community, including performing important work on access to justice for the poor.

These credentials surely put her in the top 1 percent of the million-plus lawyers in the country in terms of distinction and accomplishments.

Ms. Miers has built a law practice, managed a major law firm, handled many and varied cases in state and federal courts, served the profession at the highest level and was an elected official of one of our largest cities.

If these experiences do not qualify her for the Supreme Court, then that court has become an elitist club open to only a few with a narrow set of certain credentials. If this is true, it's a sad day for the court, our nation and the voice of reason.


Associate Dean for International

and Comparative Legal Studies

George Washington University Law School