White Meets Powell Meets O'Connor?

I know little about Harriet Miers, beyond what I read in the papers (the electrons?) this morning. But I was struck by how her career path -- not necessarily her views, which I don't know -- fits more the paths of Justices White (especially) and Powell than of some more recent Justices. (There's also of course an element of Justice O'Connor, in the sense that both were among the first women to have risen to important positions in their civic and professional communities, Justice O'Connor in Arizona law and politics, and Harriet Miers in Dallas legal practice and in the Texas bar; but the analogy to White, and, to some extent, Powell, I think, is in many ways stronger.)

White and Powell, like Miers, came to the bench from lawyering, not from judging or the academy. Powell, like Miers, made his reputation chiefly in private practice, some amount of public service, and bar association leadership. White, like Miers, served in Washington following a substantial career in private practice (though Miers' was longer, since she is a decade and a half older than White was when he was nominated). White, like Miers, came to Washington after working on the presidential campaign, and had known the President before even before the campaign. My sense is that he was appointed both to the Administration and to the bench in large part because he enjoyed the President's personal confidence.

And these items, I think, fit a pattern: During that era and before -- though not as much since the Stevens appointment in 1975 -- Justices were often drawn from among practicing lawyers who had made their reputations as lawyers; and, as lawyers, they were more often likely to have developed relationships with the President who appointed them, or at least the President's team. Chief Justice Roberts in some measure fits that profile as well, though of course he was an inside-the-Beltway lawyer as opposed to Miers, Powell, O'Connor, and to a smaller extent White, who built their careers in their own states. They were not academics or judges; but the current heavy loading of ex-academics and ex-judges is a relatively modern phenomenon, not a settled long-term tradition.

Naturally, one can tell little from this pattern about a nominee's quality -- White, Powell, and O'Connor have been highly regarded, but not so, for instance, with Arthur Goldberg or Abe Fortas -- or about the nominee's likely ideology. It's not even clear that coming from lawyering would make the nominee more particularistic and less given to applying broader ideological principles; White, Powell, and O'Connor can probably be characterized as relatively particularistically minded Justices, but so could, for instance, Justice Breyer. Conversely, one of the most ideologically minded Justices since World War II, Justices Hugo Black, had been a Senator, not a judge or an academic.

My point is simply that when one is looking at Miers' career and credentials, it may be helpful to avoid comparing her to the current crop of Justices -- the natural tendency whenever one is considering a new nominee -- but rather to nominees who come from a different, but just as historically well established, mold.