Harriet Miers and the ‘Pigpen’ Press

My favorite supporting character in the legendary strip, “Peanuts,” is Pigpen. His unique trait is raising a cloud of dirt everywhere, even on a clean, dry sidewalk. Pigpen came to mind when I saw the White House Press Corps’ question President Bush Wednesday on his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

First, the status of the nomination. Monday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid held a nearly unprecedented press conference with Harriet Miers, just hours after her nomination. Reid said that she was an “exceptional” candidate, and “the sort of person who should be nominated.” In short, the leader of the opposition all but endorsed the nominee.

What’s the consequence of that? Slam dunk. A home run in the bottom of the ninth. Game, set and match.

When the general of the other side stands down, the battle is over. To be sure, leading Senators is like herding cats. Seldom will members of either caucus follow their leaders unanimously. Continued opposition is to be expected from Senators Kennedy, Schumer and Durbin.

But with Senator Reid withdrawing from the fray, Harriet Miers will be comfortably approved by Judiciary Committee, and confirmed with at least 70 votes in the Senate. Everyone who can walk and chew gum knows that this is true, as of the Reid statements on Tuesday afternoon.

So, how did many reporters react in the President’s press conference the next day? They became political Pigpens, raising clouds of dirt on a dry sidewalk. Questions about the Miers nomination dominated the conference. Here are three representative ones:

“Q: ....Many conservative women lawyers have expressed their extreme distress that you chose as a woman nominee for the court someone whose credentials did not come close, in their view, to the credentials of John Roberts. They feel as though it's, kind of, old-fashioned affirmative action, women don't have the same credentials.”

“Q: You said several times now, sir, that you don't want a justice who will be different 20 years from now than she is today. Given that standard, I wonder in hindsight whether you think the appointment of Justice David Souter then was a mistake.”

“Q: Some conservatives have said that you did not pick someone like Scalia and Thomas because you shied away from a battle with the Democrats. Is there any truth to that? And are you worried about charges of cronyism?”Source: trasnscript of Bush press conferenceThese and similar questions introduced all of the themes which Democrat Senator outliers began to raise Monday in a speech by Senator Schumer (perhaps prepared in advance). Those themes have continued to date. But after Senator Reid’s comments on Tuesday, they are irrelevant to the outcome.

The press had made much of the opposition of the likes of Eugene Delgadio and Pat Buchanan. I know both these gentlemen who are off the reservation on the hard right. Their remaining supporters, combined, are insufficient to sway the vote of a single Republican Senator. It’s just Pigpen journalism. The first question above is an insult to all women lawyers, all women judges, and the two women who have served as Justices. It is Pigpen journalism. The third question assumes Harriet Miers is not like Justices Scalia and Thomas. Yet as the President patiently explained, repeatedly, on Tuesday, he knows Miss Miers well and worked with her on legal issues for ten years. He knows she will “follow the law” and not “legislate from the bench.” Pigpen, again.

The “Souter” and “cronyism” claims are inversely related. The first President Bush nominated Justice Souter, who turned out the opposite of what he expected, on recommendations by Chief of Staff Sununu and former Senator Warren Rudman. Those recommendations were dead wrong. But this President Bush is not relying on recommendations.

Anyone with an ounce of managerial experience who’s worked with someone for ten years, WILL know their basic philosophy. Miss Mier’s philosophy is that judges should respect and enforce the law, not rewrite it from the bench. And that is the philosophy of Scalia and Thomas. Again, Pigpen.

Last is the cronyism charge, based on the fact that the President has known the nominee a long time. “Crony” is a charged word, one step shy of being a henchman of a burglar. Would one entrust ones money to a crony of Ken Lay of Enron? Of course not. But what about a crony of Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway? That way leads to wealth and success. Again, Pigpen journalism.

Harriet Miers will be comfortably confirmed. She’ll serve with distinction for a generation. And the false sniping of the press will prove meaningless.

About the Author: John Armor is a First Amendment attorney and author who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu