Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Losing Miers' Religion

October 18, 2005

Miers is turning into a one-trick pony for the right, and that trick is the death of Roe v. Wade. There’s little question that she’s staunchly anti-abortion; when she was the head of the Texas State Bar, she spearheaded an effort attempting to get the American Bar Association to reconsider its stance in favor of the right to choose. Though not calling for the outright reversal of the policy, she vigorously petitioned the ABA to submit the matter to a vote of its membership. She also bought a $150 ticket to an anti-abortion benefit dinner in 1989. Does that establish her as a right wing zealot? No, but Leonard Leo, White House adviser on Supreme Court nominations, drew attention to the campaign and fundraiser as reasons conservatives should trust the President’s judgment in selecting his nominee. Karl Rove has even pointed out that she’s from a very conservative church in which the overwhelming majority is pro-life.

In fact, this is a pretty obvious case of the Neo-Conservatives trying to have their cake and eat it too. For weeks, the Bush regime ranted and raved about how a nominee’s religious faith should be completely excluded from the public debate on his or her merits. They spent most of the lead up to the Senate vote defending John Roberts’ Catholicism as irrelevant to his qualifications (which were admittedly impeccable) and portraying those who had the temerity to suggest he might rule on issues of justice with a dogmatically skewed conscience as prejudiced blowhards seeking only to destroy a nominee picked by a political enemy. Now, however, the White House assures the religious right that Miers will make the right decisions because she’s an evangelical Christian, born-again and raised in the Texas heartland. I’d call it a stunning display of self-contradiction if I hadn’t already gotten used to the doublethink spewing forth regularly from the Neo-Cons’ propaganda machine.

But let us not forget that Bush said in June of 2002 that he would select only judges who “understand that our rights were derived from god,” directly stating his intention to violate the Article VI prohibition against religious tests for public office. Even under the originalist interpretation of jurisprudents like Scalia, this is blatantly unconstitutional—unless you want to go so far as to make the claim that the founding fathers meant there couldn’t be any test restricting one from office on the basis of which denomination of Christian one was. And frankly, that’s probably true; remember, the Constitution was ratified in a time when “civilization” and “Christendom” were synonymous.

What worries me is that Miers’ religion, as the hot button topic for this particular candidate, will overshadow the substantially more important and infinitely more relevant issues of her views on Congress’ ability to levy environmental protection laws under the Commerce Clause, the extent of local governments’ power to redistribute private property to big business under the Takings Clause, and just how far we can stretch the Equal Protection Clause when it comes to handling U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.

It’s also suspicious as hell (but very politic) when James Dobson, influential religious leader to the Bible Belt right, has a private meeting with Karl Rove to discuss her merits and won’t talk about it later other than to say he likes her on the basis of, as he said on his radio show, “what I know—that maybe I shouldn’t know.” In fact, there’s talk amongst Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, peeved at Rove’s decision to go to the press instead of the politicians, of actually summoning Dobson before the panel to disclose what he knows. Of course, when controversy exploded around his cryptic remarks, Dobson immediately began disclaiming the mystery, contending that he was merely told she was a conservative, evangelical strict constructionist. This is like saying he was reassured that she only has one head. Why not put that on the table in the first place, Jimmy?

No one can object to softball statements like Bush’s vanilla rhetoric that “[p]art of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion.” When it’s preceded with the statement “People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers,” however, I begin to get a little leery. As someone who was raised in a stoutly Southern Baptist home, I can read the signals as clearly as any evangelical, and I tell you that Bush is promising an anti-abortion Justice. Senator Leahy said of the constant harping, “We don’t confirm Justices of the Supreme Court with a wink and a nod. A litmus test is no less a litmus test by using whispers and signals.” Even organizations on the Christian right are beginning to get peeved. Concerned Women for America, a group advocating the application of “biblical principles” to public policy, called Bush’s continuous harping on Miers’ religion to garner support “patronizing and hypocritical.”

I’m still not convinced we’ve been given anything other than a fall guy (if you’ll pardon the misapplication of a sexed colloquialism). Roberts was controversial but qualified, religious but well-reasoned, and friendly to the administration without being an out-and-out toady. Miers has his failings without his strengths, and the administration knows it. From a regime that has been so deft at manipulating the opinions of the public and controlling the rank-and-file of its own party, this sort of bumbling treatment seems more and more like a nomination intended to fail. The question is what’s next?

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