Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Why Not the Second Best?

Why, oh why, must I quarrel with Beldar? (Who, in addition to being a both a gentleman and a scholar, is rarely short of awesome.)

Today Beldar continues his defense of Miers by posting a correction to this Rich Lowry post. In short, Lowry reports that a pro-Bush lawyer says unflattering things about Meirs's qualifications, essentially:
Says Miers was with an undistinguished law firm; never practiced constitutional law; never argued any big cases; never was on law review; has never written on any of the important legal issues. Says she's not even second rate, but is third rate. Dozens and dozens of women would have been better qualified.

Beldar's response is a correction in one good sense: He reports that Miers was an editor at Southwestern Law Journal. The rest of his correction seems to be little more than Beldar sticking up for the reputation of regional Texas lawyers. He says that he thinks Meirs's firm was distinguished; that it's not particularly important that she's never practiced con law; that she had big clients, even if she didn't argue any big cases; and that she very well may have written on important issues in private work for her clients that you and I will never be able to judge.

This is pretty thin stuff and I find it unconvincing. If you'll permit the snobbery, Beldar's appraisal of Meirs's schooling tells you all you need to know about where he's coming from. He means it as a defense of Meirs when he says:
. . . when Ms. Miers was a student there, SMU Law School was widely regarded as the second-best law school in Texas.

[Insert your own joke here.]
I feel like a jerk for pointing this out--and there's nothing wrong with regional schools and I'm sure they often turn out very bright, competent lawyers who are great people. But this is the Supreme Court we're talking about and it doesn't seem like too much to ask that maybe we hope for better than what the second-best law school in Texas has to offer?

Update, 12:09 p.m.: For people who insist that the second-best law school in Texas was nonetheless stocked with great minds, I'll refer readers back to Miers's description of Bush as the "most brilliant man" she had ever met.


Anonymous said...

Except, and I say this as a practicing lawyer, that the law school you attended, to the extent it says anything at all, often says very little about the quality of the lawyer you become. It's simply not the case that the best 150 students go to #1 Law School, and students 151-300 go to #2 Law School, and so on. On the whole, the better student group is probably at #1 Law School (although at any given time it may not have the best class as compared to a rival), but that's not to say that the top students at #2 Law School aren't every bit the equal of the top students of #1 Law School. The same applies when you compare regional schools with non-regional schools.

At least that's the way it is here in Canada, where I graduated from what is understood to be our number one law school (lest you think I simply have a chip on my shoulder). Anyway, aren't we as conservatives supposed to be interested in the qualities of Miers as an individual, and not those of the group to which she belongs? I'm not convinced she was a great pick, but like Ramesh Ponnuru, I'm unmoved by any argument that focuses on the merits, or lack thereof, of SMU Law School.

epinionated2005@gmail.com said...

The law school is not necessarily a good determining factor. US News and World Report does these rankings, but their criteria include :
Peer assessment (subjective)
Assessment by judges/lawyers (subjective)
Acceptance rate (no determined correlative effect to making better lawyers)
and a host of sound measures like incoming class GPA and LSAT rankings as well as post graduate employment percentages. However, if Ron who graduated from Yale in 1992 is asked by US News what law school he thinks is best, isn't he going to say Yale? So without knowing how much weight subjective analysis gets, it is a little hard for me to put faith in such rankings.

Further, how relevant is the school in shaping a person. JVL, you and I have noted our displeasure with our UUD's. No doubt some of the top law-school students felt similar disatisfaction, though they having invested as much as they did pressed on with it. If Miers was an eager student, who worked hard at SMU, as opposed to a bored, disinterested Ivy League grad, who followed this path cause Dad expected him too, I would go with Miers. Her competition did not seem to include this sort of law school grad, so it doesn't particularly apply, except to diminish the whole argument in favor of fancy-shmancy law schools.

I mentioned to a friend that I thought this was more judo from Bush, trying to get an opponent to use their own momentum to their disadvantage. He asks us to trust him and while I am not delighted in doing so, I voted for him, and gave him my tacit approval 11 months ago. My hope is that within eight months of her confirmation, Miers will have been involved either in dissent or the majority with enough decisions that she illustrates the value of her selection. This perhaps re-energizes the base and brings another seat or two in the Senate in '06. Then Estrada [insert your favorite pick here] in '07 when an opening occurs.

So go get 'em Harriet, and George I hope you have something good up your sleeve.

Anonymous said...

"My hope is that within eight months of her confirmation, Miers will have been involved either in dissent or the majority with enough decisions that she illustrates the value of her selection. This perhaps re-energizes the base and brings another seat or two in the Senate in '06."

The only possible way this could happen is if Miers somehow convinces Kennedy to change his mind on abortion and then writes the opinion overturning Roe. Ain't no other case that could possibly do this. In other words, prepare for the Republicans to lose at least a half-dozen Senate seats in '06.

Anonymous said...

Sure. What law school one goes to doesn't say much about the lawyer one becomes. I'm in agreement with that. However, having gone to a regional law school (and a top-tier one), there is no chance in hell that I, nor Harriet Miers, could ever clerk on the Supreme Court. The clerks are virtually all chosen from ivy-league schools and a few others (like Stanford, NYU, etc).

Being that that is the case, it seems sort of disingenuous to say that a school like SMU shouldn't disqualify one from serving on the Supreme Court, when it would in effect disqualify one from clerking on the Court.

Maybe it's the latter that needs to be changed and not the former, but facts is facts.


Sarah said...

I don't think this was a good nomination. But it's getting harder and harder to read the hysterics over it as not motivated by East Coast snobbery.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah. I'll concede the point to JVL that there were much better candidates out there, and I admit that I was, and am, disappointed, in the nomination.

But the hissy fit he's throwing over this is pretty revealing. I'm not sure how he reconciles his contempt for "regional law schools" and the intellectual firepower of their graduates with his puerile fascination with sub-moronic internet gossip sites, but this site has been stewing in some pretty noxious juices lately.


Anonymous said...

Uh, Bush himself went to Yale and Harvard, yet you seem to think the guy is pretty much an idiot, so what the fuck does that say about your lame ass argument about the law school somebody went to determining their qualifications?

BTW, what law school did Marbury go to?

Anonymous said...

Hey, Anon. #7, I'm pretty sure you mean Marshall. What law school did John Marshall go to. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Marshall.

Marbury was a litigant in the renowned case decided in 1803. Marshall wrote the opinion.


Anonymous said...

Not to interrupt this little pile up on my boy, but maybe--just brainstorming here--maybe JVL wouldn't be all that upset about the SMU Law thing if Miers had somehow distinguished herself at some point in her legal career.

I mean, do you hear Last sniffing about how Mike McConnell got his B.A. at Michigan State?

Because that would be idiotic. McConnell is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Read some of his law review articles. Read some of his judicial opinions. The man is ready to play Varsity ball.

Miers, however, is not. Sorry. No matter how much you care to fluff the administration, nothing is going to change that fact.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that Meirs wouldn't have been my first choice.

On to the rest: I've actually attended a law school that's the second best in the state (and that's in a state with only 3 law schools!). I transferred to a law school that I think is the best and that is conventionally ranked as one of the top handful. So I think I'm in a good position to say: Don't let where someone went to school bother you or impress you too much. I did exceptionally well before my transfer, and pretty darn well after. Law school is law school, wherever you are. The best graduates of a second-rate law school are often on par with some of the best graduates of the very best law schools. (Believe it or not, but the best graduates of the best law schools are very rarely the best of the undergraduate world. Many are--like Judge McConnell--products of the second best schools in their state.) We should look for talent where we find it.

There is a lot of suggestion going around that somehow con law is different from other kinds of law. That's simply not true, and to suggest it is is to accept the liberal view of the thing--that there's some extra-legal magic required to know what that old document means. As it is, the president and the Congress are charged with knowing what it means, and we don't insist that they have to be scholars. (Recall that one of our finest interpreters of the constitution, Abraham Lincoln, never served on the court.)

Anonymous said...

Anon. #10, you make some quite compelling points. Quick nitpick: Lincoln did in fact sit as judge while on the regional circuit before he was married. It was an informal arrangement, usually when Judge David Davis was feeling ill.

Let me return to my central observation: whatever you think of the value of a law school diploma, much more depends on what one has done since tacking the thing on the wall. In my estimation, Miers has done much--she has much to be proud of--but not enough to be nominated ot the SCOTUS. I think we see eye to eye on that.