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Trench warfare

As a professor, I've learned to be skeptical about theorists and to value practical experience

Issue: "Malaria: Kill or be killed," Oct. 29, 2005

As of October 20 we have trench warfare on the Miers nomination between two opposing armies, both conservative.

In one set of trenches, machine guns blazing away, are National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, conservative columnists led by Michelle Malkin, anonymous Judiciary Committee staff members, and many constitutional law theorists.

In the opposite trenches sit evangelical leaders such as Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Jay Sekulow, bloggers led by Hugh Hewitt, White House staff members, law professors Ken Starr and Lino Graglia, and many lawyers in private practice.

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From each side comes an occasional sortie, yet barring sensational developments we should expect little movement until next month's Judiciary Committee hearings. Meanwhile, liberals are smiling as conservatives attack each other.

Here are two key questions in the dispute: Should a Supreme Court justice be a constitutional law theorist, or is practical experience as a lawyer equally important? Since the conservative goal is to reduce Supreme Court imperialism, is the most trustworthy person for a life appointment someone who has written in favor of judicial humility or someone whose humility President Bush and others have observed firsthand over the years?

Another key question involves religion. Some say any questions about a nominee's religion create a "religious test" for office, which is forbidden by a clause in Article VI of the Constitution. (The founders included that clause to forbid an equivalent of the British practice of requiring all monarchs to receive Anglican communion.)

Since justices taking office do swear or affirm that they will faithfully perform their duties "so help me God," it seems appropriate to ask nominees whether their beliefs will help or hinder them in fulfilling that oath. Biblical religion certainly helps by teaching believers to side with neither rich nor poor, to pay no heed to flattery, and to obey authority-in this case the Constitution-placed over us.

Here's where I stand: As a professor, I've learned to be skeptical about theorists and to value practical experience. I don't know Harriet Miers, but I've heard very positive things about her from trustworthy people. I've asked anyone with negative impressions of her to come forward and either speak on the record or provide evidence to substantiate concerns.

Regarding off-the-record attacks, WORLD is stricter than some publications. For example, we tell our reporters not to give interviewees off-the-record status merely because they ask for it and proffer a juicy tidbit. So far we have heard gossip but no negatives that meet this magazine's evidentiary tests. We're waiting for the hearings, which should be dramatic.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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