What Bush Had in Mind in Choosing Miers

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While the choice is still fresh, one can already draw some conclusions from George W. Bush's selection of Harriet Miers in terms of what the President saw as most important for him and for public perception:

THE CASE FOR DIVERSITY: This choice shows that the White House took the arguments about diversity seriously. It's hard to imagine that Bush wouldn't have received a ton of grief if he had nominated a white male to take the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor. Everyone from Laura Bush to O'Connor herself weighed in for a woman and their arguments seem to have prevailed.

ACADEMICS NEED NOT APPLY: The nomination shows the premium Bush puts on real world experience. Bush has no professors in his cabinet, unlike Clinton, who had Robert Reich and Madeleine Albright at the table and had briefly been a professor himself. It has been 34 years since a president nominated a justice who had not been a judge before—William Rehnquist in 1971. Bush has shown that he values the real-world experience of practicing law as much as he does any academic reputation. John Roberts, who took his seat as Chief Justice of the U.S. this morning, was primarily a practicing lawyer like Miers and had only briefly served on the bench.

BUSH LIKES TO DELEGATE THE DETAILS: Miers herself is considered extremely fastidious, detail-oriented. A former White House staffer describes her as "incredibly diligent and precise." Before becoming White House counsel last year, she was staff secretary, a little-known but extremely important job in the White House—one, for instance, previously held during the Clinton years by John Podesta, who went on to become Clinton's Chief of Staff. The staff secretary is in charge of the paper flow around the White House and is generally the person who literally puts documents in front of the President to sign. It tends to be filled by someone with unquestioned loyalty and competence. (Right now the position is held by Brett Kavanaugh, who worked for Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and whom Bush has nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—a position, should he get it, will make him the part of the next generation of conservative Supreme Court favorites.) Miers' attention to detail led to her rise in Dallas legal circles, where she went from first woman partner of her firm to being its president and, being likable and organized, she became the president of the Texas Bar Association.

BUSH WANTS A WINNER: While Bush cares about appeasing conservatives, he clearly wants a nominee with broader appeal. Conservatives are already nervous that Miers may not be ideologically pure enough. And indeed it's probably a good bet that a practicing lawyer is going to be more pragmatic than someone who spent their life in the ivory tower of academia or the bench. The next couple of weeks will be about the White House assuring the base that Miers is one of them and convincing Democrats that she's another John Roberts—amiable and open minded. While Senate minority leader Harry Reid has already made something like an endorsement of Miers, it may be a harder sell to Democrats at large. They seem ready for a fight this time and Roberts, who's intellectual qualifications for the court were undisputed, was an easier sell than Miers who no one will mistake for one of the great litigators of our time. A pure Texan, Miers grew up in Dallas, went to college—she was a math major—and law school there and practiced law there her whole life. Even her judicial clerkship was in Dallas.

THE PERSONAL DYNAMIC COUNTS: For Bush, being part of his working family matters a lot in terms of trust, but being in a conventional family dynamic doesn't seem to be a deciding factor. Miers is the first single woman appointed to the court and the first single person since David Souter. At 60, Miers came of age before the you-can-have-it-all ethic. What Miers lacks in kids, however, she makes up in a strong personal relationship with the president—a relationship every bit as close as the one the President enjoys with Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes.