Which is more important, religious correctness or legal qualification? Welcome to the Miers controversy

Harriet Miers, White House Counsel and President Bush’s nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, attended not one, but two worship services on Sunday, October 9, in her hometown, Dallas, Texas.

After an early Episcopal service, she joined a breakaway group from Valley View Christian Church (her home church for over 25 years) in singing hymns and listened to a sermon on Acts.

In 1979, she was baptized by full immersion. But if you favor sprinkling over immersion, rest assured-Dr. James Dobson has stated publicly, “Harriet Miers is an Evangelical [sic] Christian . . . from a very conservative church which is almost universally pro-life . . .”

Dobson received this information from none other than presidential advisor, Karl Rove, who has been called to testify before a federal grand jury about leaking information regarding a CIA agent. But I digress.

I know much more about Harriet Miers’ worship activities than I need or, perhaps, should know.

What is more important-Miers’ ‘religious correctness,’ or her professional qualifications to sit on the highest court in the land?

What distinguishes justices of the Supreme Court from members of Congress and the President if not independence from partisan viewpoints?

Is Miers suitable because she belongs to Valley View Christian Church, a conservative Christian church? Or is she suitable because she has demonstrated in her legal career that she has the requisite intellectual qualities that we expect Supreme Court justices to possess?

She was the first female partner in a large Dallas law firm, the first female president of the Texas State Bar Association, and chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the other female justice, graduated at the top of her law school class at Columbia, argued several key women’s rights cases before the Supreme Court, was the first tenured woman law professor at Columbia and served thirteen years on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.)

Irony runs rampant. Many on the right are demanding that an ‘originalist’ be placed on the Court, that is, someone who will interpret the vague words of the Constitution according to the intentions of the framers lest the Court ‘make’ law. Those framers passed Article 6 of the Constitution that states: ” . . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

At that time, 11 of the 13 states had religious tests. Pennsylvania, for example, required public officials to be Protestant and to believe in the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, preventing Jews and Catholics from holding state office. The test was dropped in 1790.

To emphasize that Miers has passed the “Dobson test” (a test Jefferson would not have passed) flies in the face of the meaning of strict constructionism.

Of course, judges shed neither their backgrounds, nor their religious traditions when they don judicial robes; however, judges are to decide cases based on the law, not specific faith traditions.

But, as I write, it is Miers’ faith tradition that is being touted. And that makes me nervous, even as a Christian.

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