Scrutiny of public appointments

Harriet Miers has withdrawn as a nominee for the Supreme Court.

It was clear that, whatever her merits as a person, Harriet Miers was not suitable for a lifetime appointment to a Court for which qualifications include a sharp legal mind, intellectual rigour, and an ability not only to make decisions but communicate the reasons for them.

In the United States, the process of Senate approval can weed out unsuitable nominees.  Admittedly it doesn’t always correct the Administration’s mistakes, but the fact that the system exists, and that it is not toothless (a Republican-led Senate having refused to approve the appointment by a Republican White House of John Boulton, and leading to the withdrawal of Ms Miers) forces the Administration to think considerably harder about who it is going to nominate.

In the UK, we don’t have proper scrutiny of the thousands of appointments made by the Government, generally by the Prime Minister under Crown prerogative.  We should.

However, the reason the Miers nomination failed was not only that she was not suited for the job, but because the appointment failed to secure the support of the conservative base, by virtue of whose support President Bush governs. In his current difficulties I suspect that he will be tempted to throw them some red meat, by the nomination of a conservative. We may yet wish that Harriet Miers had been confirmed.

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