Thursday, October 06, 2005

Qualifications? Why?

I was watching Washington Journal on C-Span this morning as a series of "experts" breezed through to offer their opinions on the nomination of Harriet Miers.

I find myself growing more and more irritated with the people who are acting as apologists for Miers. Over and over again, I keep hearing this argument: "Well, so-and-so was never a judge before his appointment to the Supreme Court, and he was a great justice." Or "Nobody could have expected this historical guy to amount to anything, based on his qualifications. But look how important he turned out to be."

Great. That's all fine as far as it goes, in the sense that it proves that there exist at least N people who did better than their record would indicate.

But it's a stupid, fatuous argument when it is applied to any particular case. What ticks me off is that this isn't an argument for why MIERS is a particularly good pick to be on the Supreme Court. It's as if all the experts are saying "Well, there's no particular reason I can think of why she should be approved, but in a cosmic sense, why shouldn't ANYONE be on the Supreme Court? Why put up any barriers?"

It's rather like Intelligent Design advocates who say "What do you care if we publish our results in scientific journals or not? Scientific journals are overrated, and they're biased against our work anyway."

Or it's like the crackpot inventor who tries to convince the world that his perpetual motion machine, or his eternal life rings, have merit. He says "Well they all laugh at me. But they laughed at Edison too!" Fine. So you have that in common with Edison. But what you still don't have is evidence that your whatchamacallit is of any use at all. Or as Carl Sagan put it: "But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

And applying this to Supreme Court Justices: the fact that some brilliant legal minds had no credentials does not imply that all people without credentials have brilliant legal minds. Some people are just flat-out bad picks.

It's not about whether I personally think that Harriet Miers is a good pick or not. It's about the way all the people who defend her have nothing better to say than "You can't really tell anything at all about whether anyone is good, so you might as well just approve her and find out."

This sort of linguistic trick is nothing more than a kind of solipsism (I'll explain what I mean by that in more detail in a later post). It's not an argument, it's a concession. It's "I have no way to support what I say, but really we have no way of knowing anything at all. So you might as well admit that I'm right. I don't need a better reason."

You should always beware the kind of people who argue from solipsism. They may or may not know that they're wrong, but this argument stems from frustration that they can't figure out a better way to make their case.

In my opinion, Supreme Court nominees are not "innocent until proven guilty". There are far, far more people who *should not* be on the USSC than people who *should*. The burden of proof ought to be on Miers and her supporters to prove that she is one of the rare individuals who does have any business being on the highest court in the land.

But I can guarantee she won't meet that burden of proof. Just like John Roberts, we'll hear a lot of "I can't comment on this" and "That's not my problem". We'll get no substantial arguments at all. And she'll be waved through.


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  2. Update: Boy, I sure was wrong about Harriet Miers "sailing through", wasn't I?

    We have much more information about "Scalito", and I almost think I would have preferred the clueless blank slate that was Miers.