The people supporting Harriet Miers' Supreme Court nomination, who started out looking defensive, have acquired symptoms of outright desperation.
Rather than strain themselves with the impossible task of justifying the appointment, they are now on the attack. They claim the critics oppose Miss Miers just because she's a woman.
In truth, Miss Miers' sex was one of her two attractions for the president -- the other being her canine worship of him. But the complaints about her weak credentials would be made even if she had testosterone coming out of her ears.
Miss Miers, after all, is by any standard the least-qualified Supreme Court nominee since Harry Truman picked his poker buddies. Among conservative women, not known for their prejudice against Republican females, she has drawn reactions ranging from tepid support to withering contempt.
Finding a reason to reject this nomination is about as hard as finding sand at the beach. What's tough is coming up with any rationale that would fool a fourth-grader. Yet a bizarre array of activists have joined in blaming Miss Miers' cold reception on old-fashioned male chauvinism.
Early on, Ed Gillespie, former head of the Republican National Committee, said the opposition carried "a whiff of sexism." First Lady Laura Bush agreed "that's possible," while grousing "people are not looking at her accomplishments."
Some liberals joined in, such as Eleanor Smeal, head of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who exclaimed: "Does she have the mental capacity? Give me a break. Would they say that about a man?" Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski professed to be "shocked at the sexism and double standard coming out of the far right."
If this is the best Miss Miers' defenders can do, she must be worse than anyone thought. Conservatives weren't crazy about Ruth Bader Ginsburg when Bill Clinton nominated her to the court, but nobody ever said she lacked the requisite brainpower. Only three Republican senators voted against her, and none on the basis of her IQ.
Nor has anyone accused Miss Miers of being in the same mental class as, say, Dan Quayle. The charge is not that she bombed the SAT -- it's that her professional career has not prepared her for the duties of a justice. Nobody says the people who get MacArthur Foundation "genius grants" are dimwitted, but no one nominates them to the Supreme Court, either.
The truth is that the aggrieved right-wingers would be giving each other champagne showers if Mr. Bush had picked any number of skirt-clad judges -- including Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, Edith Jones and Karen Williams. Their beef with Miss Miers is that they don't know if she's conservative but do know she's underqualified.
You need not be a woman to have your credentials questioned. It happened to Clarence Thomas in 1991. Among the critics was Harvard Law professor Christopher Edley, who said, "No one can look at Clarence Thomas's record and find the claim that he was the best qualified person remotely credible."
Not only conservatives feel their intelligence is insulted when the president and his press secretary insist Miss Miers is the best possible person for the job. Even ardent admirers have trouble formulating intelligible arguments for her confirmation.
Margaret Donahue Hall, a partner at Miss Miers' old law firm, told the New York Times, "In my heart of hearts, I know she'd make a great Supreme Court justice, but it's hard to put into words why."
The double standard is not among Miss Miers' opponents but among her supporters. No white male with her resume would be considered for the court. Even G. Harold Carswell, rejected in 1970 because of his ostentatious mediocrity, had spent more than a decade on the federal bench. Clarence Thomas was a federal appeals court judge. Miss Miers has never presided over so much as a traffic case.
There is no rule Supreme Court justices must come from the ranks of sitting judges. But if Mr. Bush thinks Miss Miers has the right stuff to serve in the federal judiciary, why didn't it occur to him to appoint her to an appeals court first? That apprenticeship was not beneath Chief Justice John Roberts, despite his glittering resume. Miss Miers lacks not only the judicial experience but also the glittering resume.
Of course, it's possible many people oppose the nomination really because they can't stomach the idea of a woman on the Supreme Court. And it's possible Tom DeLay got indicted because the prosecutor hates Baptists.
Steve Chapman is a nationally syndicated columnist.
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