The Evangelical Seat

Tuesday, October 04, 2005
As I studied the short lists of potential candidates for appointment to the USSC over the past month or so my main consideration was political impact. I presumed that anyone shortlisted would have a legal background comensurate with the position. I didn't do any historical study of previous appointee's qualifications although I was aware that previous President's had gone outside the ranks of judges and law professors in making selections. When Harriet Miers was mentioned several months ago I immediately dismissed her because my political calculus was too narrow and too old fashioned. She received gender points but no points for ethnicity or (because of my ignorance) religious background.

I was rooting for Brown or Estrada or Garza (especially the latter) because, by my narrow calculus, an originalist such as Garza would both fulfill the President's promise and add an advantageous ethnic 'first' to the long list of people with very diverse backgrounds who have been appointed to positions of authority by this administration. The practice of making appointments to the USSC with an eye toward gender, religious background and ethnicity is not new (Taney, the first Catholic, was confirmed in 1836) but the use of "political calculus" for appointments seems to have increased since Marshall's appointment by Johnson.

All that to say that I was very surprised by Ms. Miers appointment. Stunned, actually, because the first thought in my mind was "he's crazy to pick an unknown insider - the base will revolt". Then I heard Karl Rove's whisper from the dark corner he so loves; "Fool - do your homework." So, unable to disobey the master, I started looking around the internet for clues. The first that I found was an post (via Hugh Hewitt) that mentions a 25 year membership at Valley View Christian Church, which appears to be a strongly evangelical institution with a 'Baptist Lite' theological orientation (Baptist Lite means that it does not focus on a purity code, in contrast to some churches in the SBC). Then Dr. Dobson stepped in with his affirmation. Finally, this morning Hugh Hewitt again. This appointment is everything that the most important part of the President's base could hope for. It does make the neocon segment of his support a bit queasy but they have generally produced more smoke than light anyway. Any loss among the neocons will be offset by an increase in commitment by evangelicals who have been a bit uncertain about the President's follow through.

This wasn't a political masterstroke by any means. It is simply the strengthening of the foundation of the political base which will carry the party forward. It may provide for some interesting political entertainment if the loony left tries to impose a religious test during the confirmation hearings.

Will Ms. Mier's appointment have a strong impact on the court? I really doubt that it will. Her church practices servant evangelism which relies on the actions of its membership in life ministry to carry the message. I doubt that she will ever cast a vote on the court that is inconsonant with her beliefs but I also doubt that she will actively voice her beliefs within the context of a judicial opinion.

17 comments:

Knucklehead said...

Rick,

I've been trying to figure out the early opposition to Miers. Of course there's the "she wasn't on my short list" one. Fine, she was apparently on the short list that counted.

The neocons and the libertarian (of which I think the legal scholar "snobs" are a subset) wings of the conservative movement seem to the ones most upset.

What is it the neocons are upset about?

What is it the non-legal scholar portion of the libertarians are upset about?

I'm not finding anything other than "I wanted someone else!" and "she's not a nationally reknown luminary of legalistic argumentation!" in the negative commentary.

chuck said...

Knuck,

I'm not finding anything other than "I wanted someone else!" and "she's not a nationally reknown luminary of legalistic argumentation!"

That's pretty much what I see too. I don't think these folks connect with the evangelical base at all. Guess they think of themselves as the leaders of the movement and evangelicals as invisible followers.

Did the Repulicans rise because of the intellectual work of the conservative vanguard or because the religious South split from the Democrats? I suspect they think the former while I am inclined to the latter.

Knucklehead said...

Did the Repulicans rise because of the intellectual work of the conservative vanguard or because the religious South split from the Democrats? I suspect they think the former while I am inclined to the latter.

Darned good question. My take on it would be each served a purpose. The "vanguard" provided the intellectual sparks necessary to create some smoke and fire to replace the Democrats as they became increasingly crippled by the "installed base". But the evangelicals (which is a very different animal than the left - and even many garden variety liberals - believes it to be) provided the electoral college votes and, eventually, the actual political majorities.

Miers, it seems to me, should appeal to that religious southern base (there's a reasonably sized contingent outside the south, BTW). The vanguard clearly is disappointed to the point of open hostility. Perhaps Mr. President will toss them a bone if another opportunity arises.

Rick Ballard said...

Knuck,

You don't have to scratch the veneer of pseudo-sophistication on the part of most neocons very hard to get to their vacuous ignorance concerning evangelicals. That's even more true of the MSM/MSE establishment which continues to flail away at the Billy Sunday/Jerry Falwell/Jim Bakker/Pat Robertson stereotype as the summa qua non of evangelism. I would be very surprised if more than a few of either neocons or leftists would recognize the name Warren or Hybels or Gumbel or have any idea of the size and scope of their ministries. They would much rather focus on the popularity of the Left Behind series as a mark of the lack of sophistication exhibited by evangelicals than examine the model for growth successfully propounded in 'The Purpose Driven Church'.

The fact that they are throwing all of the toys out of the playpen because no one is paying attention to them is amusing but it really does fall into the 'dogs bark at passing caravan' category.

Knucklehead said...

For anyone who hasn't followed one of the ubiquitous links to it, Thomas Lifson's article in the American Thinker is worth reading.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Rick,

You make a good point. By putting the Democrats in the position that they have to oppose Miers simply because she is a Christian, they're being forced to lay their Christian-hating cards on the table. Which, I guarantee, will cement the hold of the Republicans on all the red states, and further weaken the Democrats' hold on the blue states.

RogerA said...

Rick--I would like to think SCOTUS is some entity or Dephic Oracular dimensions, but it is fundamentally nine people thrown together, supported by reinforced battalion of law clerks with idological axes to grind, who want to influence law. I guess I dont care who goes on the court as long as they are willing to adjudicate my personal preferences :) .

I think the choice is good in the sense that it potentially avoids a disruptive spectable in the senate; although, even the DUers and Kos Kids are starting to wake up the fact that the President may have pulled on over on the.

I think this nomination may go a long way in separating the democratic party leadership from its (can I say "adult") base and its radical progressive base--even if the so-called conservative base doesnt like the choice, they arent going to defect to the democrats; it will be democrats who get separated from their NARAL and other Progressive funding sources.

I would like to think that politics shouldnt matter in SCOTUS nominations--but really.

terrye said...

I just wish the conservatives would stop whining.

They are pissy because they wanted a fight and now they won't get one.

screw the rest of us.

They are also pissed because Miers is a regular human being with some idea of how real Americans live and work.

I am tired of the pompous Ivy Leaguers running everything.

And I also agree with meaninglesshot air. The Democrats will be confounded by this.

The pundits might whine because they were deprived of the oppurtunity to have a big fight on cable TV but the rest of the country is tired of that stuff.

The conservatives are responding to Miers the same way the media and Democrats responded to Katrina.

Not a pretty sight.

chuck said...

I've been watching Althouse on this nomination. She hasn't really addressed the qualifications angle, but is very interesting in the professional woman's angle. Here is her latest.

Knucklehead said...

Just curious, but does anyone think it is evern remotely possible that Bush anticipated that this nomination would provoke a catfight within "conservative" circles and that he thinks that might be a "good" thing? Vent some pressure, clear some air prior to some tough fights ahead in '06.

chuck said...

Knuck,

I kind of doubt it. I suspect that they didn't know because, while keeping the decision so closely held, they didn't really talk that much to outsiders. Not that I have noticed the conservative vanguard having that much influence on domestic policy in any case. I think Bush has always tended to ignore them. But maybe they did so calculate. I am kind of an innocent, so the machinations of the truly devious tend to escape me.

Rick Ballard said...

Chuck,

It seems like every time I look for a devious interpretation for one of W's actions I wind up coming back to the obvious. The obvious answer here is that W gave the pointyheads the first choice with Roberts and gave the evangelicals the second choice with Miers. I imagine that time will tell us that Miers is as least as much an originalist as Roberts - perhaps more.

Right now the pointy heads have their skirts over their heads because they didn't go 2 for 2. At this point, I'm with Terrye in feeling that they should get a terse two or three word reply with the promise of a strong letter to follow.

They aren't the real muscle in the party and they never will be.

chuck said...

Love your take, Rick. Just to complete the meltdown of all those smarty pants conservatives, here is George Will. Someday somebody is going to have to change all those diapers, but it ain't going to be me.

JB said...

The "evangelical seat" candidate suggested by ...Harry Reid! How's that for a punchline?

It's simply brilliant any way you slice it. W. sees the big picture better than all the pointy-headed neocons/libertarains put together.

chuck said...

The "evangelical seat" candidate suggested by ...Harry Reid! How's that for a punchline?

I read somewhere that he was impressed that she always returned his calls promptly. I wonder if they teach that at Yale.

Rick Ballard said...

jb,

You're edging toward the real political depth of the appointment. Very few people (and Reid is definitely one of them) understand that evangelicals represent as large a bloc in the Democratic party as do the blacks. The libs constitute the only larger bloc. The litmus for both Democratic evangelicals and Democratic libs is Roe and the perception among evangelicals will be that Mier would favor its overturn. That will be the perception of the NARAL/NOW people too.

I seem to remember a verse from somewhere that mentioned a house divided cannot stand.

That silly W.

terrye said...

I saw that Reid is trying to explain saying something nice about Harriet Miers.

It is pretty sad when a politician has to explain being civil to a Sunday School teacher.

I think the far right and the left should go lock themselves in a big room somewhere and duke it out and leave the rest of us the hell alone.

This is an interesting pick. Sunday School teacher career woman who happens to be councel to the President.

Don't see that every day.