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A Leap of Faith onto the Court

Raymond J. Keating

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Raymond J. KeatingHarriet E. Miers might turn out to be a female version of Justice Antonin Scalia if the U.S. Senate gives thumbs up to President George W. Bush's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Who knows?

But given her background and apparent relative lack of interest in constitutional matters during her legal career, such an assumption would require a huge leap of faith.

President Bush seems to have made this leap, as he promised to appoint judges holding similar judicial views as Scalia and Clarence Thomas. That is, judges who take the law and Constitution as written and intended seriously, and practice judicial restraint by not legislating from the bench.

But as the President signaled on October 12, this nomination involved another leap of faith. President Bush said: "People ask me why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion."

That no doubt is true. For Ms. Miers, her faith hopefully is a source of strength and moral clarity. That can't hurt a judge. And she no doubt will need the piece of mind that comes with faith to weather some rough-and-tumble politics during the upcoming weeks.

But to what degree does and should -- religion play in pushing herr for the Supreme Court? It seems that part of the political strategy to gain support among the President's conservative base is to emphasize that Miers is an evangelical Christian.

Conservatives have been disgruntled because Harriet Miers never would have been selected for the Court except for the fact that she is the President's friend, staff member, and former lawyer. The selection is viewed as a great opportunity lost, as Miers amounts to a judicial blank slate when many excellent candidates male or female, and of varied ethnicity -- were availabble with stellar credentials regarding judicial restraint.

Injecting religion into the mix sniffed of desperation on the part of the W hite House. President Bush essentially asked his base to trust him. At a press conference, Bush said about Miers: "I know her heart. I know what she believes." He added: "I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person, with the same philosophy, that she is today." By the way, Bush also seemed to indicate that during years working together he never recalled talking about her views on abortion. Hmmm, knows her heart? Trust?

Of course, a hint of hypocrisy lingers as well. When questions were raised about Chief Justice John G. Roberts' Catholic faith leading up to his nomination hearings, his supporters appropriately protested. Now, though, supporters are trying to use Miers' faith in her favor.

So, for conservatives, does it really come down to little more than where she goes to church and trusting the President?

Such a strategy does not speak well of the administration's take on conservatives or Christians. After all, there are lots of conservatives and devout Christians around, but that does not mean they would make good Supreme Court justices. Conservatives understand this fact, and Christians do as well.

In the end, the President gets to pick pretty much whomever he wants for the Supreme Court. As long as Miers possesses the requisite honesty, integrity, competence and temperament, then she warrants Senate approval. That, however, does not mean she is the best person for the job. Nor does it mean that conservatives or Christians have to be happy.

Faithful Christians unfortunately can possess wrongheaded views on economics, politics, and the environment, for example. The same goes for the law. Christian beliefs or church attendance do not necessarily translate into sound judicial philosophy, leaving conservatives and Christians to pray that in the case of Harriet Miers hopefully they do.

Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Copyright Raymond J. Keating

Posted: 22-Oct-05

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