The height of cronyism

By Joel Shapiro of Portland, Oregon. Joel is a long-time political activist and an adjunct professor of law at Lewis & Clark Law School.

With the nomination of Harriet Miers to serve as Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Bush has elevated cronyism to the highest level of government.

One would think that in the wake of FEMA's Michael Brown fiasco, Bush would be somewhat cowed. But instead, we see the same pattern of cronyism that values personal connections and Bush loyalty above qualifications, experience, and excellence. Like Brown, Miers is wholly unqualified for the position to which she has been nominated. Miers has never served as a judge at any level, and has minimal jurisprudential experience.

When Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, Bush the Elder famously stated that Thomas was "the most qualified" person for the job. That claim was laughable then, and stands up no better with the passage of time. Today, Junior claimed that after an exhaustive search, "one person stood out as exceptionally well-suited to sit on the highest court of our nation," in nominating Harriet Miers. This assertion is equally preposterous, and forces one to consider both the judgment of the President and the quality of the search.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the search for a new Justice was similar to other searches that Bush has commissioned. When Bush was confronted with choosing the most important position in his administration -- the office of Vice President -- the person who lead the search, Dick Cheney, was found to be the most qualified person for the job. Likewise, Harriet Miers headed the search for a new Supreme Court Justice. Does anyone really believe, given the tremendous depth of talent on the federal Circuit Courts, that someone with little or no jurisprudential experience can truly be "the one person who stood out as exceptionally well-suited"? You have to wonder what the search criteria were.

A position on the U.S. Supreme Court should not be treated as one more plum in the political spoils system. Replacing Justice O'Connor as the swing vote on the Court is too significant to the future of our country to be left to someone who has been essentially a political apparatchik for much of her career.

In this time of great political, economic, military, diplomatic turmoil and transition, many legal principles will be re-defined. Weighty issues of civil liberties, Constitutional rights, and the powers of the government vis-à-vis individuals and other nations will be decided by the Supreme Court. Do we really believe that these decisions should turn on the judgment of someone whose prime attribute is that no one besides George Bush really knows what her "judicial philosophy" is? Wouldn't a serious Constitutional scholar be better suited to these issues than someone who, until moving to the White House staff with Bush, spent six years serving as the Bush-appointed head of the scandal-plagued Texas Lottery Commission?

We have already seen the disastrous results that Bush cronyism wrought on the citizens of the Gulf Coast. While the purview of the Supreme Court is quite different from natural disaster preparedness, there can be no question that such cronyism on the highest court in the land would wreak even more devastating damage upon the long-term civic health of our nation.

We must get involved now to stop the political merry-go-round of Bush cronyism. We cannot afford to wait for the day -- sometime in the future, as our Constitutional rights lay in tatters -- when we hear ex-President Junior say: "Harri, you're doing a heck of a job."


  • C2TBF (unverified)

    God knows Clinton didn't practice cronyism.

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    I'm pretty sure Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer had never been personal attorneys to Bill Clinton. Actually, I think the nomination process was the first time that he'd ever met either of them.

  • C2TBF (unverified)


  • cindy (unverified)

    Heard about the convited folks pardoned by Bush last week? Most were convicted for drug offenses. Google it.

  • C2TBF (unverified)

    Hey, I love Clinton and I love Bush and I love cronyism. That's how things get done. Should W gave "googled" the best Ivy League C.V. for Supreme Court Justice and gone with that? That's not why I voted for him. I voted for him to use his judgement and stand up to the wackos on both ends of the political spectrum, and I have been quite happy with the results. Anyway, hasn't it historically been the case that half of the Supreme Court justices had no prior judicial experience prior to their appointments?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    W picked Harriet the Hag after Brownie turned it down.

    Seems you need a REAL law degree for the job.

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    I voted for him to use his judgement and stand up to the wackos on both ends of the political spectrum, and I have been quite happy with the results.

    There you have it folks. Proof positive that you don't have to be a political extremist to be a wacko.

  • Andrew Hall (unverified)

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recommended to Clinton by that flaming liberal Orrin Hatch. Somehow I can't imagine Dubya asking the Democrats for any sort of recommendation...

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    God knows Clinton didn't practice cronyism.

    Can we raise the level of argument a little bit? C2, I think it's great that you bring a critical eye to Blue. But this kind of comment is totally useless. It's an irrelevant misdirection that actually avoids critical thinking. Whether Clinton practiced cronyism is hardly at issue (who's next, Old Hickory?).

    If you think it was a good one, say so and defend it. Otherwise, take the dittohead one-liners elsewhere.

  • C2TBF (unverified)

    Mr Alworth - Agreed.

    I can't see how the cronyism charge possibly applies in this case. How is the fact that he knows her and has worked with her for 20 years disqualifying? It seems to me to be a proper use of "cronyism" as it gives him unique insight into her character that he wouldn't have about other people, their CV's notwithstanding. What possible quid-pro-quo do people think Bush would get out of a supreme court appointment? I mean, are people really that fantastical in their view of the world? I have hired many people with very impressive CV credentials, Ivy League quantitative PhD's, and the biggest and costliest risk is always that you miss character flaws in the interviewing process, despite best efforts.

    Bush's quid-pro-quo in this case could only be his continuing attempt to improve his legacy, which I'm quite confident will grow over time. He's doing what he believes to be the best for the country whether you agree with his choices or not.

    The cronyism charges certainly holds merit in cases like the ones "cindy" mentions above. If true, they are similar to the blatant cronyism of the type that Clinton practiced in his pardons, i.e. the inexcusable kind that is carried out strictly for cash. In Bush's case, however, if they are related to drug offenses, it's more likely he pardoned for good reasons, i.e. in a plea-type of arrangement or something else. God knows our drug laws and enforcement are all f***ed up.

  • Jeremy Rogers (unverified)

    Cronyism concerns me much less than right-wing extremism. I'll take Miers over many of the other names that were thrown around.

    While it does bother me that we would compromise the hight court by simply appointing a friend with a law degree (by they way--if I am ever President, Joel Shapiro is going to be on the Supreme Court.) It is very likely that a more qualified choice would also have a more whacked interpretation of the constitution.

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    C2- can you point to any credentials that Miers has for the job? This is quite possibly the least qualified nominee in modern times. Conservative and liberal commentators agree on this point.

    Have non judges been on the Court? Of course the answer is "yes." But these past non-judges have been elected politicians, or have been attorney generals, or have had extensive experience litigating cases at all levels of the system. And they often have established records as scholars.

    Miers has none of this.

    By the way, from the OED: cronyism is ‘The appointment of friends to government posts without proper regard to their qualifications’.

    It is not related to bribery or payoffs. This is a crony appointment. Miers most important qualification, even according to Bush himself, is that he's known her for 20 years.

    Yes, that's a great reason for a lifetime appointment to one of the most powerful judicial posts in the land.

  • Jon (unverified)

    What little is known about Miers suggests she is a political operative with some extreme views if not extreme qualifications. In a nutshell, Miers probably fails the "Three Strikes Test" for the Supreme Court:

    X Dubious Qualifications X Extreme Views X Proven Partisan Operative

    For the full story, see:

    "Miers Fails the Three Strikes Test"

  • C2TBF (unverified)

    Mr Gronke - I hate to break it to you like this, but George W. Bush won the last Presidential election. Miers' primary qualification is the fact that she has been nominated by the President who enjoys the support of the voting public, especially in matters such as these. By all means, throw up a big fight about this nomination and see how many (more) people become alienated from the Democratic Party.

    Ever heard of Tom Daschle?

  • jefferson smith (unverified)

    The last time a judicial nominee that had this ratio of crony-to-merit on the High Court was Abe Fortas -- Lyndon Johnson's longtime loyalist and personal lawyer who went on to start a big law firm and get the Supreme Court.

    Of course, Fortas only lasted days (before beng driven out by cronyistic behavior--accepting consulting fees from people with business before the court).

    Loyalty is an important attribute -- indeed, personal loyalty is a necessary consideration for any leader as they ask their compadres-in-arms to join in toil and sacrifice. But, best used, loyalty is a tiebreaker: something to consider to help make decisions among otherwise commensurately qualified people.

  • jefferson smith (unverified)

    A touch on background info (from my days as a law nerd):

    1. Ginsberg: Harvard Law/Columbia Law School; DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge

    2. Kennedy: Harvard Law; DC Circuit Judge

    3. Souter: Harvard Law; 1st Circuit Judge

    4. O'Connor: Stanford Law; Arizona Court of Appeals Judge

    5. Thomas: Yale Law; DC Circuit Judge

    6. Stevens: Northwestern Law; 7th Circuit Judge

    7. Scalia: Harvard Law; DC Circuit Judge

    8. Breyer: Harvard Law; 1st Circuit Judge

    9. Roberts: Harvard Law; DC Circuit Judge

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    Hmmm. Southern Methodist Law vs. Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern and Yale. Yeah, those are about on par. And let's not forget that all the justices (except Thomas and I dunno about Roberts) don't just have a JD (basic lawyer) but also have an LLM (lawyer with more schooling thus more initials and quite possibly more brainpower).

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    Ok, I was wrong about the everybody having an advanced law degree thing, but most of 'em do and I rather think it's a plus.

    Here's a link to bios of the current justices so you can compare and contrast.

  • C2TBF (unverified)

    Truly pathetic. My Ivy Leaguers are my least productive employees. I live in Boston, and the idea that it would be desirable to have 80%-90% of the Supreme Court justices from the same school(s) is perverse. We live in a country of hundreds of millions of people. This is just basic common sense.

  • LT (unverified)

    Anyone who thinks only Democrats oppose Harriet Miers ought to read the recent George Will column. That is what makes this so interesting: Bush's "base" are the ones screaming bloody murder.

    Not to mention what someone said on Al Franken: that one of the Federalist Papers (79?)--that is the papers written by those wanting the Constitution ratified--said the reason for the Advice and Consent of the Senate inclusion was to prevent presidents picking someone from their own state or someone very close to them to high positions of authority. There were those of the Founding Fathers who opposed political parties which they called "factions", so don't go connecting them with either political party.

    Anyone who thinks every battle is "those evil Democrats trying to defeat good Republicans" (or any other "this is THE Democrats vs. THE Republicans" formulation) needs to realize this is a paradigm shift.

    Tom Oliphant has said more positive things about Miers than any number of Republican Senators or commentators--look up what David Frum, Bill Kristol and others have said.

  • Misha (unverified)

    Two items:

    1. Jefferson, Abe Fortas is well respected as one of the most influential legal minds ever to sit on the Supreme Court (writing such opinions as Tinker v. DesMoines, which created due process rights for minors). Fortas did not sit on the court for "days" -- he sat on the court for four years. (Yes, he was shamed into resigning for some sketchy dealings after being nominated for Chief Justice.) Fortas was also eminently qualified to be a Supreme Court justice. While at Yale Law School, he was editor of the Law Review. He was general counsel to the Public Works Administration and Undersecretary of the Interior before founding one of Washington's most influential law firms. In that time, he frequently argued cases before the Supreme Court, including the landmark case Gideon v. Waynewright, which created the right to counsel as we know it today.

    2. C2TBF, for your information, the question at hand is: SHOULD President Bush have appointed Miers? Saying that he should have appointed her because he's the President and he gets to make appointments is just obnoxious dead-end logic. There seem to be some enlightened folks here trying to have a heightened conversation about whether Ms. Miers' qualifications are good enough to warrant an appointment. Thus far, you have contributed absolutely nothing that advances this conversation.

  • Misha (unverified)

    Err... Tinker v. DesMoines created free speech rights for minors in school (wearing armbands to protest the Vietnam War). In re Gault created due process rights for minors, and was also written by Justice Fortas.

    My bad.

  • Boo-Yah Too Yah (unverified)

    Hey Jeff-


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    Get this...

    My husband, a Republican who voted for Bush both times for President and once as governor, was surprised when he heard about who Bush had chosen.

    His response was: "Didn't they learn from FEMA?"

    He dislikes the way Bush has been picking unqualified friends for positions, rather than looking for people who are truly qualified.

  • jim karlock (unverified)

    Jenni Simonis | Oct 6, 2005 6:32:34 PM He dislikes the way Bush has been picking unqualified friends for positions, rather than looking for people who are truly qualified. JK: Can't get much worse than our curent court saying it is OK for government to take someone's lifelong home and sell it to Wal-Mart. (100% of the Demo nominees voted YES)

    I am still hoping for a nominee that can read simple english like "congress shall make no law" and "shall not be infringed" without finding hidden meaning. Really simple stuff like that.

    Thanks JK

  • Misha (unverified)

    Jim Karlock--

    Not to put a damper on your righteous indignation, but there were more REPUBLICAN appointees in the majority on that case than Democratic appointees. Well played, but try again next time.

    As for your other comment about interpreting the Constitution literally, as I understand the Court's ruling in that case (and I must admit, I haven't read it), the issue was over what the phrase "public use" in the Constitution means. The Fifth Amendment says that private property may not "be taken for public use, without just compensation." It is hardly clear from a first reading what this really means.

    If a city wants to facilitate economic growth by inviting a big employer to town, is that a "public use"? Or are "public uses" only government uses? I'm not arguing one way or the other on this one; I'm just saying that one could make a good argument for both positions. So while it may suit you to pretend that matters of constitutional interpretation are as easy as reading the words on the page, this one is actually a much tougher call than that.

    What you forget to mention is that the Supreme Court explicitly said: if people want their property protected from this type of encroachment, they should urge their elected officials to pass laws prohibiting it. Now, sir, the ball is in your park. Most state legislatures and both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans. But I haven't seen any legislation yet...

  • civiletti (unverified)

    Can Miers actually be less qualified than Thomas? Can anyone with a law degree who speaks English?

    As far as Ivy League dilomas, Shrub has one. Could he have made it through law school? Hell, he was a pilot in the reserves, wasn't he?

  • States Rights (unverified)

    Alexander Hamilton on cronyism, and the importance of the Senate's advice and consent: (from Federalist Paper #76)

    "To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. . . . He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure."

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    civiletti: i hope your point is that thomas was unqualified for the court; he was. he remains, and grows ever more so, an embarrassment.

    and if thomas is embarrassing, miers is downright humiliating. bush seems to be trying to set the standard for incompetence so low that no one will ever "top" him. we thought things were bad under reagan; had we but known how much worse it could get! miers is the icing on this toxic cake. the senate should refuse her nominationk on the simple fact of her complete lack of qualifications. she is not worthy of this seat, and if wyden and smith refuse to acknowledge that fact, we have yet another in a list of compelling reasons to get rid of both.

  • djk (unverified)

    I hate to break it to you like this, but George W. Bush won the last Presidential election. Miers' primary qualification is the fact that she has been nominated by the President who enjoys the support of the voting public, especially in matters such as these.

    Under the Constitution, the President can appoint anyone he wants to the Supreme Court. Anyone. Doesn't need to be a judge, an attorney, a U.S. citizen, or even an adult. The President could nominate an illiterate teenage rickshaw driver from the streets of Dhaka who didn't speak a word of English, and that appointment would meet the "primary qualification" set forth by C2TFB.

    That doesn't mean the Senate is under any obligation to confirm the appointment. The Senate isn't a rubber-stamp body, and it shouldn't be. Our system of checks and balances is there for a reason.

    A Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. The justices are handed a sacred trust: to be guardians and custodians of the constitution and the body of common law that has grown up around it over the past two hundred and some years. Ideally, this position should be reserved for the finest legal minds in America; people who have spent a large portion of their adult life immersed in constitutional law, thoroughly understanding the arguments on each side of hundreds of constitutional debates, and known to have a proper respect for the dignity of the court and the need for judicial restraint. It is most assuredly not a prize for an imperial president to bestow upon his most favorite sycophants.

    Miers is no doubt a fine corporate attorney, but I see nothing to distinguish her from literally thousands of other senior partners in large corporate law firms around America. Bush could have picked a random name from any state Bar directory and probably could have done just as well. Roberts has argued numerous appellate cases before the United States Supreme Courts and various federal circuit courts, which included many, many constitutional issues -- and served (perhaps not long enough) as a federal appellate judge. You probably could make the argument that Roberts is one of our finest legal minds, with an extensive background in constitutional law. Nobody can make that claim about Miers with a straight face.

    Every time I thought my opinion of Bush couldn't sink any lower, he proves me wrong with something like this.

  • Marvinlee (unverified)

    I have no idea if Ms. Miers will make a competent justice of the Supreme Court. How does one know? Being a woman, a non-Harvard graduate, and someone who has donated to both political parties would not make her ineligible in my view. It is the role of senators to carefully examine her abilities and render a judgment. I am confident that she will, and should, get close questioning. As to her specific personal views on issues that she may later rule on, no nominee is likely to be very forthcoming.

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