The Daily 750

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Hold the Pickle: Harriet Miers' Nomination

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Radical Centrist always enjoys a meeting of the Left and Right, as with the controversy over Harriet Miers’ nomination to the SCOTUS. I oppose Harriet Miers' nomination and can add nothing to the debate. If you’re curious, you can find me standing over there with those folks who abhor cronyism and value competence in Presidential appointments. One hopes that by the time a person can launch a respectable run for President of the United States, the candidate is friendly with a good many very smart people who have the competence and will to carry out their ideas and who will follow their President to Washington. But no one has enough friends to cover all the bases. It’s fine for, say, a movie director to work with his pals, but I can’t imagine a situation in which the movie fails and it affects me. When government fails, I can be in a pickle.

Oregon’s AFL-CIO president of the past six years is resigning to look for work with national unions. (Doesn’t he know it’s easier to find a job when you have a job? And if he were really any good, wouldn’t he already have been courted by a national organization? But nevermind.) He says, “The more you probe for answers at the local level, the more it leads to questions at the national and global level.” True enough, and the same thing can be said in reverse: The more you probe for answers at the national and global level, the more it leads to questions at the local level, where we all get our beginnings and most have their end.

The judges and the district attorney of our county have been lobbying for several years for the state to provide funding for a third Circuit Court judge. Names were immediately floated as candidates in the May 2006 election, including the husband of one of the sitting judges. The man is a good civil lawyer and generally the brightest head at the city council table, where he serves as a councilperson. But unless his wife is going to resign, I hope he will not consider running. How could it possibly be good for one county of 30,000 people to have two of their three judges literally in bed together?

In communities of any size it’s likely that a judge’s friends in the defense bar are representing the criminal defendants, simply because many more judges are appointed from private practice than from the prosecutor’s office. In smaller communities those attorneys often represent clients who are neighbors of the judge, or children and friends of neighbors.

My objection to the councilor's potential candidacy isn't based on a stereotype of a husband and wife who aren't independent thinkers. A few years ago I wanted to moderate a panel and town hall on public safety issues for our public radio station. The station manager wouldn’t allow it because I am the wife of an elected public safety official. The station manager at the time was a very independent woman who completely understands that a woman can love, like and respect her partner without sharing all of her partner’s philosophical ideas, even on big issues. Still, she was concerned about the perception of my ojbectivity within the community at large – and as the manager of a community radio station she had her point, even if I was the most qualified person she knew for the job.

We invest much more trust in and expect quite a bit more from our judges (or at least we should). They’re human too, after all. What to do when your neighbor’s 20-year-old son, who babysat for your kids before he went off to college, gets drunk one night during Christmas break and severely injures another motorist in an automobile accident? Oh yeah, and the neighbor is the long-time, honored mayor. Stand ground and refuse to give the son some sort of break and you live with the wrath of your neighbor and his many friends whom you run into daily – at the grocery store, at the movie theater, at the high school football game. You may have to stop going to your two favorite restaurants (in a town with maybe five good ones) because they’re individually owned by the mayor’s friends. Too much pressure.

Supreme Court cases begin right down the street at your local courthouse. Not all states allow for the election of judges, but if yours does it’s worthwhile finding out who stands for what (otherwise, vet your governor who will do the appointing) and to elect competent, independent minds. Judges come in all persuasions at all levels, from SCOTUS to traffic court, and the society we live in is in great part designed by the philosophies they hold and the guts they have to stand by them.

It’s tempting to say that small towns have bigger problems with cronyism, but the nomination of Harriet Miers and the appointment of Michael Brown as FEMA director prove that so obviously untrue. Maybe it’s more a problem of small minds.

PS: About yesterday’s essay, two readers wrote that they didn’t know who Warren Tare was but he sounded interesting. Another thought I meant "wear and tear." The entire essay was, then, a “failed experiment”, as my friend the newspaper editor kindly said. Warren Tare is meant to be a play on the phrase “war on terror,” pronounced the way Bush tends to say it. I'll have to do some work on it, maybe change the spelling of the name a bit. I'm determined to bring Warren to life. Among other things, he's the entertainment at our next party: We'll play a version of "To Tell the Truth" with him as the guest.