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Loyal and inexperienced

RUNNING A state lottery does not qualify anyone for the Supreme Court. Solving a property rights dispute is also not a qualification, even if the client becomes president. Clerking for a federal district court judge and serving on a city council are meager additions to a resume for this job. Heading up a large law firm can demonstrate ability as a lawyer and manager but provide little experience with constitutional principles. Working as counsel to the president does inevitably involve major public issues, including questions of constitutionality. The counsel's job would be a significant qualification if it had been held for years rather than months.

All in all, Harriet Miers's work experience makes her one of the least qualified nominees for the Supreme Court in many decades.

This was only underlined yesterday by Senator Orrin Hatch's earnest but laughable suggestion that Miers's activity with the American Bar Association, and in particular the possibility that she might one day have headed the ABA, make her a strong choice.

While such a thin resume is disappointing, it is not by itself disqualifying. But it does place Miers in a position of having to prove her case to the Senate.

What are her views on the separation of powers? Does she believe, as some conservatives do, that the executive branch (her current boss) is seeking to arrogate too much power from Congress and the courts? Has she contributed to that effort? What does she think of the Bill of Rights? Has she helped the administration diminish fundamental rights in its management of the Patriot Act and its handling of prisoners from Iraq and Afghanistan? Does she find in the Constitution a right to privacy, unenunciated but strong?

These and scores of similar questions must be fully answered by Miers if she is to gain the confidence of the Senate.

It was intriguing that the initial reaction to her nomination yesterday found some conservative groups joining liberals in expressing skepticism. Because she is close to a blank slate, Miers goes to the Senate known mostly as a loyalist of President Bush. While loyalty is an undeniable political virtue, loyalty to an individual can be a liability in a justice on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Miers will likely serve 15 or 20 years after Bush leaves office. She must be a strong and independent thinker. Her passionate commitment must be to the Constitution and to the notion that ours is and must always be a government of laws and not of men.

The Senate has rarely been faced with such a challenging task, and it is one they cannot accomplish alone. It is up to Miers to make the case for herself. If she does, the Senate can advise intelligently. If she fails, the Senate should not consent to a mystery.

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