From Pine View Farm

Baptists and Bootleggers 6

Some interesting commentary today regarding the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. The editorial and op-ed pages of the Washington Post offered a full buffet of food for thought:

Colbert King, writing from a liberal perspective, says in today’s Washington Post:

At first I didn’t know what to think about President Bush’s nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. She certainly was not among the people that I expected Bush to select for the high court. But then conservative commentators and columnists — bless their hard-wired hearts — came down on Miers like tons of bricks in free fall. Thus I was visited with the following revelation: If Miers is capable of causing the right to weep, wail and gnash its teeth, she can’t be all bad.

E. J. Dionne, also in today’s Post, sees inconsistencies between the current Federal Administration’s stance on discussing (now) Chief Justice John Roberts’s personal life and Ms. Miers’s personal life:

Shortly after Bush named John Roberts to the Supreme Court, a few Democrats, including Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), suggested that the nominee might reasonably be questioned about the impact of his religious faith on his decisions as a justice.

Durbin had his head taken off. “We have no religious tests for public office in this country,” thundered Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), insisting that any inquiry about a potential judge’s religious views was “offensive.” Fidelis, a conservative Catholic group, declared that “Roberts’ religious faith and how he lives that faith as an individual has no bearing and no place in the confirmation process.”

But now that Harriet Miers, Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee, is in trouble with conservatives, her religious faith and how she lives that faith are becoming central to the case being made for her by the administration and its supporters. Miers has almost no public record. Don’t worry, the administration’s allies are telling their friends on the right, she’s an evangelical Christian .

Ruth Marcus considers how Senator Frist and Congressman Delay managed to get in such serious public relations trouble (and perhaps serious legal trouble–we will have to wait and see about that) almost simultaneouosly.

Hubris, indeed, can be seen at the core of the twin dramas that have ensnared two top congressional leaders. But the fault takes many forms, and its manifestations in the cases of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) are as different as the two lawmakers themselves.

Frist’s hubris is that of the man whose overweening self-regard is such that he can’t imagine that anyone would question his behavior; DeLay’s is that of the man whose relentless drive for power is such that he doesn’t care what people think.

Whereas the Post itself, speaking from the editorial column, counsels restraint:

More fundamental is that it is no more legitimate for conservatives than for liberals to demand satisfaction on the “key issues of the day,” as Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) put it. Mr. Bush is not obligated to nominate a jurist with a stated philosophy that can be relied on to produce predictable votes on contested questions. The president promised during his campaigns to nominate justices who would interpret the law strictly and not legislate from the bench. He believes Ms. Miers would be such a justice and is willing to put his prestige behind the proposition, and that fact entitles the nominee to reasonable consideration.

I offer another perspective: This nomination has put a strain on the uneasy alliance between right-wing Christian groups seeking to promote a specific social agenda and business-oriented Republicans seeking to promote a particular economic agenda. The Republican Party has reached its current strength because these two factions have bargained to support each other’s programs.

It seems clear from their comments that a good part of the unhappiness of many Republicans, those with the social agenda, with the nomination of Ms. Miers is that, as far as they are concerned, she is an unknown quantity.

I think that the business-oriented Republicans realize that the social agenda of the right-wing Christian groups is not palatable to the nation as a whole. Remember that Mr. Bush’s majority in the popular vote was very thin in the last election and that, in the 2000 election, he actually lost the popular vote, while his victory in the Electoral College will forever be under a cloud.

There is, in short, no huge national mandate for change, and certainly not for the radical changes some of the right-wing Christian (and business) groups are calling for. The fate of Mr. Bush’s attempt to privatize social security (even when cloaked in the Trojan Horse of “personal accounts”) demonstrates that.

Nevertheless, significant parts of the business agenda have moved along: The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, business and environmental regulations have been relaxed or abolished, businesses have even been intimidated into firing lobbyists who are not members of the correct party.

Now the proponents of the social agenda are demanding payback from the business element, payback in the open, on top of the table, for all to see.

The business side of the house knows that payback in the open might well awaken resistance from the great majority of moderate or apathetic citizens and render that social agenda a non-starter, just as the social security proposals turned out to be non-starters.

In short, the unholy Republican alliance of the the Baptists and the Bootleggers is under severe strain. It will be interesting to see in what shape it survives.



  1. Opie

    October 9, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    I don’t think the split is anywhere near as well defined as you assume. Christian conservatives certainly are not 100% behind this nomination from what I see. The split is more between the conservatives who wanted an out-in-the-open argument over the future of Constitutional interpretation and the ones who are willing to trust Bush with whoever he chooses.

    As for myself, I am uncomfortable with how so many more qualified people were passed over. The only bright spot I find in the nomination is that there are signs she may be sensitive to the political interest highest on my agenda: religious freedom. She’s said to be active in a church and to take her Christianity very seriously. Beyond that, I don’t know what to make of the lady.

  2. Frank

    October 9, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    I agree that the split is not an even down the middle thing. But, when I look at the shades of gray, I think that the Baptist/Bootlegger element is definitely in play here.

    I’m curious. When you say, “religious freedom,” what exactly do you mean? I’m not sure you and I define the terms the same.

  3. Opie

    October 9, 2005 at 9:54 pm

    In a way, that’s the whole question to me: how do we define it? Clearly the free exercise clause of the First Amendment calls for religious freedom. Being someone who values that, I normally hope conflicts over it will be decided as much in favor of religious freedom as possible, and yet I also bear in mind that no constitutional right is absolute. It’s just become more of a passion with me as I get older.

  4. Frank

    October 11, 2005 at 9:47 am

    I think that’s were a lot of these stupid suits come from–the definition of “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Most of the court cases that I know of are about “establishment,” and concern attempts by the state that either are, or may be construed as, attempts to support one religion.

    But there has been a trend to protect “free exercise” also ( This case involved religious meetings on school grounds after religious hours; my take is that meetings on school grounds does not constitute establishment so long as the school is available for other types of meetings and so long as the facilities are available to any legitimate religious group.

    Frankly, some of the cases persons have brought to court have been silly and stupid and see an attempt to establish a religion where there is no such attempt.

    And it’s not an easy issue to deal with. The Law tends to favor yes or no type issues; it struggles with “maybes,” and “it looks like it but it really isn’t” and “I know it when I see it” answers.

    The recent ruling on the display of the Ten Commandments shows that an attempt to render an “I’ll know when I see it” ruling. (

  5. Opie

    October 11, 2005 at 10:05 pm

    Yeah, I don’t expect the government to subsidize or endorse my religion, and if someone really thinks displaying the Ten Commandments on publicly owned property is an endorsement, I might roll my eyes and wonder what it must be like to not have a life, but I ‘m not going to fight over it.

    I do think the gov’t needs to remember that in an honest separation of church and state, the door swings both ways. If they don’t want the church to control the state then they should not expect the state to have control over the church, either. I have some issues there at times.

    But my interests lie just as much in the individual freedom of exercise. I think it’s simply barbaric when Jacques Chirac is so petty as to view little Muslim girls wearing scarfs as a threat to French culture. He should carry himself with more dignity than that.

    One thing I look for is when an act of free exercise is buttressed by other constitutional guarantees. Should a public high school valedictorian be allowed to ask the audience to stand and join her in prayer before her graduation address? Of course not. Should she be allowed to begin her address by bowing her head and praying aloud for God’s blessing on her efforts? Of course she should – that’s an important freedom of speech the government should not be allowed to restrict.

  6. Frank

    October 12, 2005 at 8:18 pm

    One of the more interesting pieces of trivia is that most of the Ten Commandment Plaques in Court Houses and County Buildings around the US had no religious significance; they had commercial significance.

    They were distributed as part of Cecil B. DeMille’s publicity campaign for The Ten Commandments movie. (

    (Aside: What could be more American than that?)

    (Old joke: Joe: Did you hear about the new Biblical epic?

    Moe: No, what?

    Joe: The Life of Charlton Heston.)

    In contrast, Judge Roy Moore’s placement of a Ten Commandment’s Plaque in the Alabama Supreme Court was clearly an attempt to endorse a particular religion. No amount of sophistry can deny that; indeed, he was quite vocal about it. (

    The stuff going on in France is something else. France does not really have a tradition of separation of church and state; they have a tradition, dating from the French Revolution, of anti-clericalism, rooted in the French Catholic Church’s involvement in and support for the monarchy before the Revolution.

    In other words, they have substituted the integration of the Church and State of the monarchy with the State’s repudiation of the Church. That does lead to another conversation: to what extent does the Church compromise itself when it allies itself with the State?

    Canada’s struggles to deal with diversity are more similar to ours. I used to work with a fellow of Canadian descent (his father immigrated to the US when my friend was seven) and he informed me of this case:

    I submit that this looks like a case that could have been filed in the USA, a case trying to find some accommodation between religious expression on the one hand and the state’s not endorsing a religion on the other.

    What I found most interesting, as I thought about your post today, was this: That most of the court challenges to religious displays in American life have come from persons in the Christian tradition. They haven’t come from Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or Shintoists.

    The first case of note came from Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Another case involving school prayer involved Unitarians ( Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the famous atheist, was raised Presbyterian. ('Hair)

    The New York State case, involving a prayer written by the State, seems to have attracted a more ecumenical group of plaintiffs and amicus curiae briefs:

    I have not been able to find what religion Michael Newdow, of the 2004 “under God” case, might have come from or been raised in, if any.

    Nevertheless, given that so many of these cases seem to have originated from persons raised in the Christian tradition, I wonder if their complaints say as much about their own insecurity as they might say about the separation, or lack thereof, of Church and State in the USA.