In his memoir, “Decision Points,” former President George W. Bush seems clearly proud of his Supreme Court legacy – the appointments of Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. But he’s also still sour over the failed nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers, blaming Washington conservative elitists for dooming her bid because she wasn’t a “fancy” Ivy Leaguer.
Bush also reveals how close he came to nominating two different people to fill the vacancies that emerged during his administration: Judges Priscilla Owen and Mike Luttig.
Roberts was initially nominated to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who had announced her retirement. But after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died about six weeks later, Bush nominated Roberts for the chief justice position and renewed his search for a replacement for O’Connor. Be famously selected White House counsel Harriet Miers.
Miers’ tumultuous bid for the Supreme Court ended three weeks later after reports of growing criticism of her lack of judicial experience. But Bush blames conservatives, including Ann Coulter, for torpedoing Miers’ bid because the Southern Methodist University alum was more hoi polloi than Harvard.
“It seemed to me that there was another argument against Harriet, one that went largely unspoken: How could I name someone who did not run in elite legal circles?” Bush wrote, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Harriet had not gone to an Ivy League law school. Her personal style compounded the doubts. She is not glib. She is not fancy. She thinks hard before she speaks – a trait so rare in Washington that it is mistaken for intellectual slowness. As one conservative critic (Coulter) condescendingly put it, ‘However nice, helpful, prompt and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn’t qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on “The West Wing,” let alone to be a real one.’”
Bush said his biggest regret was putting his friend Miers through the experience at all.
“While I know Harriet would have made a fine justice, I didn’t think enough about how the selection would be perceived by others,” Mr. Bush writes. “I put my friend in an impossible situation. If I had to do it over again, I would not have thrown Harriet to the wolves of Washington.”
Bush also revealed that he also seriously considered nominating Owen instead of Miers, but feared that Democrats may filibuster Owens’ bid, CBS News’ Jan Crawford reports.
Wanting an easier confirmation, he turned to Miers instead.
After Miers’ withdrawal, Bush nominated Alito. During a visit by Alito and his family to the White House after his confirmation, Bush said to him: “Sam, you ought to thank Harriet Miers for making this possible.” Alito responded: “Mr. President, you’re exactly right.”
Bush also reveals that Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales didn’t initially back Roberts. Instead they preferred Luttig.
He also was keenly aware of his father’s disappointment in his pawn Supreme Court pick: Justice David Souter. Souter had “evolved into a different kind of judge than he expected,” Bush wrote.