Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Moderate Conservative?

President Bush nominated Harriet Miers for U.S. Supreme Court justice this week. Widely considered to be a stealth nominee, little is actually know about her views. Ironically, this has many hard right-wing conservatives concerned, particularly social conservatives. They argue that Bush let them down with his choice because there are many other candidates more qualified and who have well defined radical conservative views. The problem is many of these other possibilities would have been more difficult to confirm, although ultimately with the Republicans holding the majority in the Senate (55) one could have been pushed through and decisively shifted the court to the right. Retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor was often a swing vote with many controversial cases over the years, so replacing her with a decisive right-winger would assure a political victory for the fundamentalist evangelical Christians whose sole mission is to eliminate gay marriage and abortion from the face of the earth, refusing to respect the beliefs of moderate Christians who do not believe in forcing their personal interpretations upon society as a whole.

History has shown that solid conservatives confirmed in the past to serve on the Supreme Court have had a tendency to move slightly to the left over time. The reason for this can be explained by the nature of constitutional law, which tends to be a progressive field of study treating a 200 year old constitution as a living document as opposed to a rigid and literal interpretation of the document. The current exceptions to the former are Justices Thomas and Scalia, who are decidedly strict constructionists and hold a belief in upholding the original intent regardless of the changes undergone by society or precedent set over the centuries. There is reason to believe that since Harriet Miers has no experience as a judge, and has only had the perspective of a lawyer when dealing with constitutional issues, she will inevitably be swayed in a more moderate conservative direction when issuing opinions by the experienced judges on the bench. In other words, she will be similar to Chief Justice Roberts as a judge, respecting past precedent and not likely to support overturning established progressive interpretations and precedent on controversial issues facing the high court. For obvious reasons, this has many Christian fundamentalists worried because they wish to have the court move in the direction of a true “judicial activism” on behalf of their own strict interpretation of biblical scripture, most notably on abortion and gay marriage issues.

Perhaps most fascinating element about Harriet Miers religious background that may have some members of the Christian Coalition worried, although Jerry Fallwell has expressed support, is her membership to the Valley View Christian Church, which is associated with the “restorationist” movement. Although the church is described as evangelical, one of the oldest tenets held by that particular “non-denominational” sect is that “where scripture speaks we speak, where it is silent, we are silent.” This would seem to belie a fundamentalist viewpoint that is very vocal on issues not directly mentioned in scripture. It would also explain Miers reluctance to publicly speak out on such controversial cultural issues such as school prayer, abortion, and gay rights issues over the years. In fact, she once denounced a group she was involved in for taking an official stance on abortion. Her particular religious beliefs appear to lean towards a more moderate approach than with what most fundamentalist would be comfortable with. In addition, Miers was previously a Texas Democrat, having supported Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988, but later switched parties and became a staunch supporter of George W. Bush as governor.

Another fair criticism of Miers is that she has been a part of Bush’s inner circle for the past two decades, currently serving as his legal counsel. Ironically, charges of cronyism have been used by some social conservatives who are wary of a lack of a defined stance on everybody’s favorite subject, abortion. Funny they didn’t speak up much over Michael Brown’s appointment to FEMA, or Bush’s quote, “Brownie, you are doing a fine job,” shortly after Katrina hit. She has routinely represented corporate interests in various legal battles over the years as well Therefore, the more moderate fiscal conservatives are probably happier with the Miers choice because of her experience as a corporate, pro-business lawyer.

Even though I have primarily dedicated my blog to media and corporate reform, I still support Miers nomination by President Bush. I believe she will be swayed away from extreme idealogical views while serving on the bench, and is unlikely to contribute to overturning precedent concerning controversial social issues. Furthermore, I don’t think we are likely to get a nominee any less friendly to corporate interests on the court than Miers, for reasons I have established in previous entries on this blog. Overall, Miers has a better chance of being a moderate conservative than most of the other candidates for the position. I believe the combination of Roberts and Miers replacing Rehnquist and O’Connor over time will prove to be a wash for both conservatives and liberals.

Please see the following links for more info on Harriet Miers:

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