Dynamist Blog

Looking for Dirt on Miers

This peculiar piece by Dallas Morning News metro columnist Steve Blow illustrates what's wrong with the judicial nomination process. Blow asks readers to send him dirt on Harriet Miers, because, he says, his colleagues haven't found anything wrong with her. Why would anyone object to putting her on the Supreme Court?

We've poked and prodded into her personal and professional life, interviewed scores of people, looking for anything that bears on her qualification for a seat on the Supreme Court.

And after all that, not one associate here was found with the view that she is unqualified for the position.

Yet skepticism remains high, even among some of President Bush's strongest supporters. Some have even raised the idea that her nomination be withdrawn. So what gives? We've got great confidence expressed by those who know her best and grave doubts expressed by those who know her least.

In this view, only corruption, utter stupidity, professional failure, or ideological extremism (whatever that is) warrants opposition. So if you think a nominee is simply so-so--in this case, the successful product of a closed, parochial local business culture that eschews substantive debate--you should just shut up. Or, alternatively, try to destroy her.

Icy Invention

This fun story on how Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine demonstrates that patent protection need not be the most important spur to profitable invention. Here's an excerpt:

Mr. Martinez had grown up around his father's eatery, El Charo. Tequila was tough to come by then, he said, and the margarita was an exotic drink that most people only consumed on vacations in Mexico.

But the elder Mr. Martinez occasionally would make the frozen drink in a blender for his patrons. When his son opened his own restaurant, he knew that frozen margaritas would help his establishment stand out.

The harried bartenders at Mariano's couldn't squeeze enough limes or blend the drinks fast enough to keep up with demand, though. Customers complained — the signature drink was inconsistent, and it wasn't even cold.

"I saw my dream evaporating," Mr. Martinez said. "This was my one shot at being somebody."

A pit stop at a 7-Eleven proved inspiring. Mr. Martinez spotted a Slurpee machine and knew he'd found the answer. He acquired a soft-serve ice cream machine and started mixing.

"The challenge was to make each drink taste like a blender margarita," he said. "We kept experimenting — and tasting."

Once Mr. Martinez hit upon the right recipe — sugar was the secret ingredient, he said — he moved the machine to the bar.

"It became an instant success," he said. "We didn't have to sell it."

Mr. Martinez never got a patent for his margarita machine, so copycats quickly surfaced. Soon, other bars and restaurants were pouring frozen margaritas, and a few claimed to have acquired "Mariano's secret recipe."

"I never dreamed that I invented anything," Mr. Martinez said. "To me, it was just a way of producing consistent, quality, cold margaritas."

Martinez's original machine was just added to the Smithsonian's collection of American inventions.

More Book Bargains

Amazon has sold out of its supercheap copies of The Substance of Style, but it's now offering a new deal: TSOS plus Freakonomics at a 5% discount off the usual price. (Look under "Best Value" on either book's page.)

NOTE: This item has been moved up from last week.

Too Good to Miss

Combining unparalled reporting, often-hilarious personal memoir, and his usual spectacular writing, Michael Lewis describes what really went on in New Orleans after Katrina (he was there) and what it might portend for his hometown. If ever there were a must-read article, this is it: fun, informative, and smart.

More on Miers

Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze (previously identified here as "the Jill Stewart of Dallas") writes on Harriet Miers's record in Dallas politics. He has a funny lead:

Just about everybody who served or worked with Harriet Miers during her brief political career in Dallas remembers her as a hard-working, fair-minded moderate. When the Dallas political spectrum is properly framed against the national matrix, that means many people elsewhere will view her as a right-wing Christian nut case.

The article offers a nice roundup of what people who've worked with her on political issues say about Miers. Unfortunately, it tells us nothing about her judicial philosophy, assuming she has one beyond trying to be fair-minded.

What Really Happened in the Superdome

At Reason Online, Matt Welch has a great interview with Major Ed Bush, public affairs officer for the Louisiana National Guard, who was at the Superdome before, during, and after Katrina. The Q&A has a lot of details about what happened, what didn't, and how the Louisiana National Guard handled various problems--including those spawned by wild rumors repeated on the radios that were the only source of outside media for evacuees in the Dome.

Why the Anger?

I don't think the activist rage over the Miers nomination stems primarily from fears that she'll "vote wrong" on the Court, as though the Supreme Court were a legislature. If you're a results-oriented conservative, she may very well do fine, just as Fred Barnes assured viewers on Fox a couple of nights ago. (If only there were some evidence of how she'd come to the "right" results...)

No, I think people are enraged in large measure because, given a terribly important appointment opportunity, Bush has made himself look like the dumb, parochial, cronyist hack that his enemies have always said he was . That makes anyone who actively supported him look like a fool. (I would distinguish between "actively supported" and "voted for," since, unlike a president picking a Supreme Court justice, voters didn't have much to choose from.) David Frum, who is taking some unfair abuse for questioning Miers's qualifications, posts the following reader comment, among many others:

You just gave a laundry list of "why Miers" with a negative point of view. Why on earth did you not apply the same principles, questions and concerns about W?

He appointed a loyal friend because that's what he knows and understands. He has never been required to perform, has never been held accountable, and has rarely, if ever suffered any negative consequences he actually earned. This character forming lifestyle began in his youth and continues.

You supported the most unqualified, unaccomplished, unremarkable man who has probably ever even considered running for major office.

I think that last line is hyperbole, but, in light of this nomination, it doesn't look like a complete slur.

Miers's Legal Record

A reader who practices law in Illinois writes:

Miers holds herself out as practicing law in the areas of Antitrust & Trade Regulation, and Litigation & Appeals. But over thirty years, she is only listed as an attorney on 16 decisions, arising from 13 cases. Seven of these decisions were appeals.

Some of this is due, no doubt, to her areas of practice. Complex litigation may take years to reach completion. Businesses tend to favor out-of-court settlements. But it is also more than likely that her skills in trade regulation were primarily exercised as a negotiator and scrivener in the conference room, not in the court room.

The number of cases involving large national businesses is also not encouraging. Companies like Microsoft have large legal teams, which may simply use local counsel to make sure that in-house filings are consistent with local practice, as well as provide "local color."

One other explanation for her relative paucity of reported decisions is that she has been involved in numerous trade associations, committees and charities. These are all laudable, but they most likely took away from traditional legal practice. As would management of a law firm.

My own area of practice -- environmental law -- would not fare well in comparison either. But I think lawyers can excel and have admirable careers and still not be well-qualified for the Supreme Court.

On a positive note, my hairdresser, who worked with her on a project to help abused children, says Miers is a sweet person. But he hasn't seen her in eight years.

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