Editorial for Monday — October 10, 2005

• What becomes a justice most? It depends …


What becomes a justice most? It depends …

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday, Oct.

Some of the most distinguished Supreme Court justices in history never had worn judicial robes before serving on the high court. Conversely, some of the least memorable justices had long experience on the bench.

This is why the nation should not rush to judge President George W. Bush’s selection of his friend and attorney Harriet Miers. We should give the Senate the chance to carefully examine her legal background, her accomplishments, her beliefs and her temperament before deciding whether she is fit to take Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat on the court.

As many others have pointed out, Mr. Bush easily could have found a nominee who, on paper, is more qualified than Ms. Miers.

No list of the top legal minds in the country would have included Ms. Miers. No top ten list of women in line for the court included Ms. Miers until the White House said the president was considering her.

The nomination may be imperiled by her absence of judicial experience and any sign that she has spent time thinking about the Constitution.

Her views on a range of constitutional issues — executive power, checks and balances, abortion, civil rights and civil liberties — have yet to emerge — and should. But the nation should keep an open mind. All justices need not be judges with well-developed constitutional philosophies and degrees from Harvard.

The most famous and influential justice of them all, Chief Justice John Marshall, had not been a judge before going on the court. Nor were Chief Justices Earl Warren or William H. Rehnquist before they joined the court, yet each became a highly successful justice. Justice Hugo Black was a graduate of the University of Alabama law school and had been a police court judge. Robert Jackson, one of the great justices of the 20th century, didn’t even graduate from law school.

By contrast, Felix Frankfurter, a brilliant Harvard law professor, ranks well behind Justices Black and Jackson on most people’s list of great justices. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger had been an appeals court judge, but he had a weak intellect and petulant personality.

Ms. Miers’ many achievements say much about her grit. She was the first woman to run a big Dallas law firm and the first woman to head the Dallas and Texas bars. She served a stint on the Dallas City Council and scrubbed the sleaze off the Texas Lottery Commission as its head. She has more knowledge of corporate law than most justices do now. And she has decades of real world experience as a lawyer — taking depositions, picking juries, trying cases.

Mr. Bush said he had chosen the best person he could find for the court. That says more about him than it does about her. But we’re willing to give Ms. Miers the chance at her confirmation hearings to demonstrate that she has the knowledge, temperament, experience and constitutional outlook that would qualify her to sit on the high court.

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