The Magazine

A Faith-Based Nomination

The White House is emphasizing Harriet Miers's religious views.

Oct 17, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 05 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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In that Fox News interview, Dobson said, "There has not been an appointee to the Supreme Court who is an evangelical Christian to my knowledge in decades," and "it is refreshing that one could even be considered." If confirmed, Miers would be the Court's only evangelical Protestant, and arguably she would be the first since the advent of modern evangelicalism almost a century ago. (Clarence Thomas is the only competitor for the latter designation. When he went on the Court, he was a member of a charismatic Episcopal church that describes itself as evangelical. A few years later he went back to the Catholic church of his formative years.) Dobson isn't the only evangelical leader to see Miers in historical terms. Jay Sekulow, counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said last week in an interview with Pat Robertson that the Miers nomination represented "a big opportunity for those of us who . . . share an evangelical faith in Christianity to see someone with our positions put on the court."

The administration has encouraged the transmission of messages like these to evangelical leaders. Indeed, an exercise in religious identity politics can be glimpsed. But a question this early in the confirmation process is whether it will work--in particular, whether the evangelicals who are key constituents in the Republican coalition will come alive with excitement about a nominee whom some conservatives openly criticize and key Republican senators, such as Sam Brownback and John Thune, himself an evangelical, have yet to endorse.

The problem for Bush a week after announcing his choice of Miers stems from the fact that it is entirely possible for someone to hold moral (or religious, for that matter) views that are deemed conservative, yet to approach judging in ways that are at odds with the judicial conservatism that the president himself says he wants in a jurist. That is why what people most need to know about Miers is how she thinks about the law and the role of the courts--a question not easy to answer given the nature of her legal career and the brevity of her encounters with federal constitutional law. The president is asking conservatives--including the evangelicals among them--to trust him as to Miers's fitness in all respects for the High Court.

Not every evangelical leader has decided so to trust--Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council have expressed doubts about the nomination. And there is off-the-record anxiety. "People are mystified," one prominent evangelical told me, "that [the president] wouldn't go to the max" and nominate a clear exemplar of his judicial philosophy. "A lot of people are nervous." Dobson himself reflected that nervousness last Wednesday, the third day after the announcement of Miers's nomination, when he used his own talk show to confess to an "agonized heart" and to pray about whether he had made the right decision with his early endorsement.

Terry Eastland is publisher of The Weekly Standard.