By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Disharmonic convergence

Here’s the lead of a Washington Post story today on the White House’s attempts to use religion in order to shore up the prospects of President Bush’s embattled Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers:

POST: President Bush said yesterday that it was appropriate for the White House to invoke Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers’s religion in making the case for her to skeptical conservatives, triggering a debate over what role, if any, her evangelical faith should play in the confirmation battle.

Bush said religion is part of Miers’s overall background much like her work as a corporate lawyer in Texas, and that “our outreach program has been just to explain the facts to people.” At the same time, his attorney general went on television and described Miers as “pro-life.” But the White House said her religious and personal views would not affect her ability to serve as a neutral justice.

“People ask me why I picked Harriet Miers,” Bush said in response to a reporter’s question at an Oval Office appearance with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. “They want to know Harriet Miers’s background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers’s life is her religion.”

But when White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about this yesterday, he said the inordinate public attention on Miers’ religious beliefs was – you guessed it – the fault of the media. Here is the end of a long exchange:

Q: It seems that what you’re doing is trying to calm a revolt on the right concerned that Harriet Miers isn’t conservative enough, by saying, it’s okay, she is conservative enough, because she goes to this church.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it seems like the media wants to focus on things other than her qualifications. Maybe your news organization would rather focus on things other than her qualifications and record. The President believes we should focus on her qualifications and her record and her judicial philosophy. And that’s what we emphasize.

Talk about trying to have it both ways.

The Post also reports today that some Bush administration officials grumbled that Miers wasn’t even qualified to be White House counsel when she was named to succeed Alberto Gonzales, now the attorney general. Supposedly they’ve changed their minds.

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  1. Anonymous

    I Believe the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland said, “words mean exactly what I want them to mean”. In light of the White House’s (appropriate)revulsion at the prior concerns about John Roberts Catholisism affecting his judgment; we are truly “down the rabbit hole.Pat Ryan

  2. Edmund Burke

    Don’t lose sight of the big picture here. Now we see the real danger to which the President’s political calculations concerning Ms. Miers has opened the door. The President tried to signal the religious right that Ms. Miers can be trusted to enact her evangelical Christian beliefs into law thru Supreme Court decisions, such as outlawing abortion. But in doing so, Mr. Bush also revealed that he and his Administration are either profoundly ignorant or must instead have a most cynical and even more profound contempt for the US Constitution itself. Perhaps thru pressured political miscalcuation, Mr. Bush now has brought the most important question about his Supreme Court nominees to the foreground. Perhaps now it will be possible to show to all the American people just what this Republican, so-called “conservative” majority is all about: the cynical exploitation of those with religious beliefs who wish to see those beliefs imposed thru law on all Americans. The religious right now is beginning to sense the duplicity here: the Republican insiders and leaders don’t want their new Supreme Court appointees actually to succeed in establishing in law religious beliefs about abortion or any other hot button social issue — to do that would take the issue away. With abortion outlawed, who would carry the signs and march for the conservative cause? But if Mr. Bush’s nominees act as independent judges, as they should, and fail to outlaw abortion, why then Republicans can still carry on as though they were frustrated by those shadowy “liberal” elites in the courts. Without the abortion issue, the army of the faithful might turn to other concerns and away from marching together with Republicans. These faithful might even turn to issues like economic justice for themselves as middle class people as well as America’s deteriorating infrastructure at the hands of these cynical modern day robber barons. They might awaken to the massive growth in government under these so-called “conservatives” while government’s competence and efficiency in providing for the public interest has plummeted on their watch. What every American needs to understand is that deciding questions like abortion or any other issue before the US Supreme Court by establishing in law one’s religious beliefs — beliefs to be imposed on everyone — is unconstitutional on its face. Thomas Jefferson could not have been more clear on this. The right of each and every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The Constitution’s framers understood very well that religious liberty can flourish only if the government leaves religion alone. The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one’s religion free of government interference. The establishment clause requires the separation of church and state. So, it doesn’t matter what church Ms. Miers goes to — if she can’t leave her religion out of her judicial decision making, then she can’t be qualified to be a US Supreme Court Justice. That is the issue that now must come out during confirmation hearings. That is the question I most want to hear asked: is it appropriate, or even constitutional to base Supreme Court decisions on religious beliefs?

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