Today's Papers

Bush League

Everyone leads with Bush’s nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, with each paper displaying different amounts of skepticism about her qualifications. The New York Times and Washington Post both note in subheads that Miers was never a judge. The Los Angeles Times’ headline mentions Miers’ status as Bush’s “Close Ally,” while the Wall Street Journal’s headline mentions her “Scanty Record.” USA Today’s lead focuses on the curious reversal prompted by the nomination, which saw some Democrats offering unexpected praise while some conservatives complained.

Everyone covers the basics of Miers’ career and reputation. Sixty years old, she was a corporate litigator (Microsoft, Disney), and later, chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission when Bush was governor. More recently, she was Bush’s staff secretary, then deputy chief of staff, then White House counsel. Her relationship to Bush is so close that, as the LAT notes, White House insiders joked  that Miers was Bush’s “work wife.”

Miers has no background in constitutional law and zero judicial experience—the first non-judge nominee since Nixon nominated Rehnquist in 1971—and both Democrats and conservative commentators attacked her for her it. Conservatives wanted someone with an established track record as a conservative judge. When Rush Limbaugh brought up the “concern out there among the president’s supporters,” Dick Cheney replied, “I’m confident that she has a conservative judicial philosophy you’ll be comfortable with, Rush.”

Despite praise from some Democrats, the WSJ notes, Miers hasn’t necessarily escaped a bitter Democratic filibuster.

The NYT and the WP both feature news analysis arguing that the choice of Miers was likely intended to avoid an ideological battle at a time when Bush is beset by criticism over Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.

In describing Miers, Bush emphasized her repeated shattering of glass ceilings. She was the first woman to head a major Dallas law firm and the first woman chief of the Texas Bar Association. If confirmed, she would be the third female Supreme Court justice.

Miers’ positions on such issues as abortion, gay rights, and religious expression are mostly unknown. The WSJ notes that since it had no judicial record to point to, the White House chose instead to emphasize her religious background. Miers was born Catholic but is now a member of a church whose minister describes as “conservative, Bible-based, evangelical,” and her friends describe her as very religious.

USA Today’s off-lead addresses “questions of cronyism,” wondering whether Bush values Miers’ gender and her loyalty over her credentials, and arguing that the selection recalls “an era in which presidents often turned to personal friends to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court.” The WP agrees, noting that “Bush has frequently turned to his inner circle for critical appointments … favoring loyalists over the most sterling résumés of better-known outsiders.” The LAT points out that because the White House is already grappling with Michael Brown’s handling of Katrina, the perception of cronyism is especially risky.

The WP fronts (and others tease) news that Tom DeLay was indicted again, this time on much more serious felony charges of money laundering. Two charges allege that DeLay conspired to and did launder $190,000 of corporate contributions through an arm of the RNC, to funnel to Republican candidates for the Texas House of Representatives. If convicted, DeLay could face life in prison.

The NYT fronts news that Shiite and Kurdish leaders in Iraq adopted rules that all but guarantee that the new constitution will survive the upcoming referendum. Sunnis responded by alleging that the vote was being fixed, and threatened to boycott. Under the new rules, the constitution will fail only if two-thirds of the registered voters in any three provinces reject it—a near-impossible result given the probable turnout. *

USA Today fronts the fact that the Army is not punishing reservists who refuse to go to war. Since the reservist call-up in June 2004, 73 soldiers have defied orders to appear for wartime duty. The army’s response? “Army staffers keep calling.” Usually, when soldiers don’t show up for duty, they’re declared AWOL, but the current situation is “sensitive” since reservists “have historically not been expected to serve.”

Everyone mentions the news that SUV sales have plunged, down 43 percent from last year. The decline is bad news for Ford and GM, and is largely due to soaring gas prices. Meanwhile, demand for hybrid cars is up. “Just three years ago, people ignored the fuel economy numbers on the sticker,” said one analyst. “Now it’s one of the first things people ask about.”

Counting one’s blessings … The NYT reports that Bhutan is ditching the GDP in favor of a more holistic measure of a nation’s prosperity—the GNH, or gross national happiness. The move is grounded in Buddhist doctrine, but comports with the latest psychological research, which shows that above a basic level of comfort, wealth doesn’t correlate with happiness. Elsewhere, researchers are trying to come up with indices of well-being based on factors such as mental illness, civility, access to parks, crime, volunteerism, and the division between work and leisure time. As one happiness “campaigner” summed up his mission, “Medieval peasants worked less than you do.”

Correction, Oct. 4, 2005: This article originally and incorrectly stated that the Iraqi constitution will fail only if two-thirds of all registered voters reject it. In fact, it will fail only if two-thirds of the registered voters in any three provinces reject it. (Return to corrected sentence.)