Cook On Concord: Bush’s new court nominee is no stealth candidate
Harriet Miers, the stealth candidate who read well on paper but fizzled in follow-up — whether through her own missteps or mismanagement by the President Bush’s team in presenting her — withdrew her candidacy for the Supreme Court and went back to being White House counsel in late October. President Bush lost no time in naming a new and startlingly different choice in Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito. Here are some of the comparisons: • Miers had never been a judge; Alito has been a judge for 15 years. • Miers did not go to an Ivy League law school or college; Alito went to Princeton and Yale, where he performed at the top of his class. • Miers was feared to be a stealth moderate (whatever that means); Alito is presumed to be a firm conservative. • Right-wing Republican senators did not like Miers; they love Alito. • Democratic senators spoke guardedly optimistic phrases about Miers as a choice; they are ready to fight Alito vigorously. The process to come promises to be expensive, extensive, nasty and brutal. There is no shortage of published work for people to tear apart, although it is presumed that Alito’s decision in the Casey case, which involved spousal notification prior to abortion under a Pennsylvania statute found to be unconstitutional later by the U.S. Supreme Court, will become as familiar to those who follow these matters as is Roe v. Wade — especially Alito’s circuit court opinion, which would have upheld that notification requirement. Much will be made of the fact that Sandra Day O’Connor was in the majority overturning the statute. So, is Alito “qualified”? Obviously, this depends on what that term means. He has been a circuit court judge for 15 years. He served in the solicitor general’s office and was a U.S. attorney. He has a great academic background and distinguished academic record. On the other hand, he would be one of nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and, at age 55, very well could serve on that court for 25 years. So, as always, “qualification” is in the eye of the beholder. What is clear is that the president has picked a very bright, experienced and serious candidate for the highest court, and senators will have to decide on what basis they support or oppose such nominations and discuss those reasons clearly if they are to reject a person with these credentials.