The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, November 07, 2005


In the coverage of the recent pair of Supreme Court nominations, one thing I haven't seen is any clear mention of how well the system is working.

A process failure in the White House led to the nomination of Ms. Miers. [There's no good spin for this.]

Constituents, voicing their opposition to this nomination, persuaded several Senators to declare opposition or withhold support. This is not praised as representative democracy in action, but condemned as "punditocracy". Why? Would it be better if objections were ignored?

The White House, seeking a more conservative candidate, nevertheless shied away from extreme candidates like Edith Clement. In particular, the aim seems to have been for a candidate who would make ideological opponents seems, well, ideological. As Ann Althouse says, "Those who are springing into action to try to take down Mr. Alito by making him look like a right-wing ideologue seemed to have blinded themselves to the way they look." This is not praised as reasonable accomodation to ensure the Senate's consent, but as fainthearted or underhanded "stealth conservatism". Why? Would it be better if the makeup of the court were unaffected by elections? Or perhaps if it were purely majoritarian?

Worse yet, Mr. Alito's supporters have been attempting to focus the debate on his qualifications. This is not praised as an attempt to get the best man for the job, but derided as a smokescreen to cover his ideology. Would it be better if he were unqualified, sharpening the focus on his ideology?

The wonderful property of open, representative system is that it works well even when the individual components work badly. Perhaps President Bush would rather have appointed Karl Rove's bloodthirsty love child to the Supreme Court, and reluctantly settled on Mr. Alito in order to have a smokescreen of "qualifications" and "relevant experience". Perhaps Harry Reid is eager for a grandstand victory to please his anti-democratic base. But the desirability of the result does not depend on Mr. Bush's or Mr. Reid's motivations.