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THE TROUBLE WITH HARRIET

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By Michelle Malkin  •  October 20, 2005 08:39 AM

I have stayed away from the depressing and divisive subject of Harriet Miers for a few days. It was a healthy little respite. But things have taken yet another grim, embarrassing turn–and it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine that this nomination will make it to the scheduled Nov. 7 Senate hearing date.

First, if you haven’t already read it, check out Miers’ 57-page questionnaire (in PDF via NRO), which she submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The blogosphere has brutally dissected Miers’ answers, non-answers, and unintelligible gibberish. See, for example, Steve Bainbridge, Prawfsblawg, Victor Fleischer, James Lindgren, Patterico, and Bench Memos.

Now, Sens. Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy have rendered their verdict: They want a do-over. Words like “underwhelming,” “inadequate,” and “insulting” are streaming out of Washington. And it’s not just from the lips and keyboards of elitist/sexist pundits. Via WaPo:

Barely concealing their irritation during a 35-minute news conference at the Capitol, Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) called the lobbying on Miers’s behalf “chaotic,” and said the answers she provided Monday to a lengthy questionnaire were inadequate. “The comments I have heard range from incomplete to insulting,” Leahy said.

They sent Miers a three-page letter asking for more detailed responses in several areas, and Specter said he has asked the Bush administration for more documents concerning her work as White House counsel. Specter said Miers must provide “amplification on many, many of the items” included in the first questionnaire.

Miers quickly replied, writing that she would comply with the new request. She also wrote that “as a result of an administrative oversight,” her Texas law license was suspended for 26 days in 1989 because of unpaid dues. On Monday, Miers disclosed that her D.C. law license was briefly suspended last year because of unpaid annual dues.

Announcing plans to start the hearing Nov. 7 despite Democrats’ request for more time, Specter told reporters: “This is going to be an unusual hearing where I think all 18 senators are going to have probing questions.” The panel has 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.

This also jumped out at me and exacerbated my already queasy stomach:

At yesterday’s news conference, Specter appeared to be annoyed with Miers on several points. He said his staff gave him a “big binder” of legal cases she had handled in private practice, but “she gave us a skimpy little group” of material describing those cases in response to the questionnaire’s request for details of her most important cases. “No reason we should know more about her cases than she does,” he said.

Specter said he remained perplexed by a disagreement Monday stemming from his meeting with Miers in his office, after which their accounts differed on what the nominee had said about Supreme Court rulings that preceded Roe.

In dealing with 11 Supreme Court nominees, Specter said, “I’ve never walked out of a room and had a disagreement as to what was said.” He smiled politely as Leahy said, “I’ve never known him to make a mistake on what he heard.”

Meanwhile, several constitutional law scholars said they were surprised and puzzled by Miers’s response to the committee’s request for information on cases she has handled dealing with constitutional issues. In describing one matter on the Dallas City Council, Miers referred to “the proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause” as it relates to the Voting Rights Act.“There is no proportional representation requirement in the Equal Protection Clause,” said Cass R. Sunstein, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago. He and several other scholars said it appeared that Miers was confusing proportional representation — which typically deals with ethnic groups having members on elected bodies — with the one-man, one-vote Supreme Court ruling that requires, for example, legislative districts to have equal populations.

Go back to Miers’ questionnaire and pay special attention to Question 22 on p. 49 to grasp Sunstein’s point:

While I was an at-large member of the Dallas City Council, I dealt with issues that involved constitutional questions. For instance, when addressing a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the council had to be sure to comply with the proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause.

As a non-elite, non-lawyer, non-Beltway pundit might put it: “What the…?!?” If this bizarre gaffe is supposed to demonstrate Miers’ sharp legal mind and painstaking attention to detail, God help us all.

President Bush promised Senators that they’d fall in love with Harriet once they got to know her. But the Los Angeles Times reports that Republicans have been damning her with faint praise after emerging from meetings:

“I might have liked a different type nominee myself, but that’s the president’s choice,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said after his meeting with Miers.

The lackluster beginning of her campaign to be confirmed raises the stakes for Miers, and the president, when she appears before the Judiciary Committee. Senators of both parties say her nomination will succeed or fail based on how well she performs.

Senators and aides have been reluctant to provide details of their meetings with Miers because they do not want to antagonize the White House. But some described her as surprisingly reticent and, in a word used by more than one of them, “underwhelming.”

Even those who were impressed said that she offered up little of herself in conversation. “In these meetings she has been very guarded,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

One senator found her much too quiet. The lawmaker had such a hard time hearing Miers that aides had to tell people outside the meeting room to quiet down.

“She doesn’t have the gravitas in terms of the constitutional issues,” said another senator who has been critical of Miers. The nominee, the senator said, would not answer questions about whether she would recuse herself if issues involving her work with Bush came before the high court.

“Generally when you hold these interviews, people want to show you what they know,” the senator said. “She did not respond. Nothing came back.”

These accounts do not bode well for Miers’ scheduled testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks. Her supporters might argue that expectations are so low that she will have an easy time appeasing committee members after she has boned up on constitutional law. But John Roberts’ stellar, authoritative performance–speaking without notes and jousting vigorously with the panel for four days–set a high standard. Does anyone believe from testimonials like this and this and this that Miers can meet that standard?

On top of all this, add reporting by John Fund and Bob Novak that raises questions about Miers’ messy dealings while on the Texas Lottery Commission.

What does it spell? T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

***
Update: Believe it or not, I think this NYTimes editorial is reasonable.

John Hawkins has a Miers news/opinion round-up and more here.

And if you still can laugh about this mess, check out Harriet Miers’ blog, Scrappleface, and All Things Beautiful.

More Scrappleface.

Jeff Goldstein brings on more funny.

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