Her roots aren’t Ivy League


Q: WHAT DOES Harriet Miers, a highly successful lawyer, longtime member of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas and confidant of the president of the United States, want more than anything else?

A: The approval of the faculty of Yale Law School.

Or at least that is the fear among conservatives. They worry that although Miers is believed to be a pro-life evangelical conservative, she -- like David Souter and Anthony Kennedy before her -- will be seduced by liberalism. As former Bush speechwriter David Frum noted after Miers was nominated, “The pressures on a Supreme Court justice to shift leftward are intense.” Frum noted “the sweet little inducements -- the flattery, the invitations to conferences in Austria and Italy, the lectureships at Yale and Harvard -- that come to judges who soften and crumble.”

Ah, yes, the sweet little inducements: Washington dinner parties, laudatory editorials from the nation’s great liberal newspapers and, perhaps most important, praise from the smug savants back at dear old Yale or Harvard. Many leading lawyers never forget their roots in the Ivy League, where all-knowing professors throw laurels on judges who “get it” and scorn those who don’t. Forget Austria: It takes a very strong (or very principled) constitution to do without that intellectual flattery.


But perhaps that makes Miers the perfect candidate. Perhaps it takes someone who did not go to Harvard or Yale and has never seemed to care. Miers went to law school at Southern Methodist University, which, although a well-respected institution, was unlikely to have been a bastion of progressive thought when she entered it in 1970.

As a result, she likely avoided the flaying of conservative justices that would have been tattooed in the minds of most members of today’s Supreme Court. (Five out of the nine justices, including Souter and Kennedy and the new chief justice, John Roberts, attended Harvard Law School. One, Clarence Thomas, went to Yale Law School.)

Nor did Miers enter the world of the East Coast establishment after law school. Instead of fleeing the conservative confines of Dallas for New York City or Washington, she joined a small, corporate law firm and built a successful career as a corporate litigator. Unlike in New York, where verbalizing a pro-life viewpoint often leads to wrinkled brows and sad sighs (or worse), in Dallas many of the “best people” are pro-life.

Frum, who worked with Miers in the early Bush years, opined in National Review Online: “Harriet Miers is a taut, nervous, anxious personality. It is hard for me to imagine that she can endure the anger and abuse -- or resist the blandishments -- that transformed, say, Anthony Kennedy into the judge he is today.”

Yet this seems unlikely: Why would a lawyer who has never seemed to chase after fame or establishment intellectual credentials suddenly long for the embrace of the blue state intelligentsia? Isn’t it more likely that her “taut, nervous, anxious” personality would not feel especially comfortable mingling in such a foreign crowd?

Political analyst Larry Sabato estimates that a quarter of the Supreme Court justices appointed in the last half-century have “evolved” from conservative to moderate or liberal. There are many reasons why that may be the case, including what D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman once called “the Greenhouse effect” -- a yearning for positive coverage by scribes such as Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times -- or the desire to be termed a judicial giant by liberal historians.


But Miers’ colleagues repeatedly say she doesn’t care about any of that.

It is possible, of course, that she will “evolve.” That’s the risk in nominating anyone to the Supreme Court, and particularly someone without a lengthy record on the critical issues. Yet the fear that she will turn away from the type of people she has surrounded herself with all her life (conservative Christians from Texas) so as to win an appreciative welcome at a Columbia Law School reception seems far less likely for Harriet Miers than for almost anyone else the president could have selected.

MARVIN OLASKY is a University of Texas professor and editor in chief of World, a weekly news magazine. PETER OLASKY is a Manhattan lawyer.