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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Categorical Representation

I was surprised to read some pretty hard hitting criticism of President Bush by George Will in one of his recent columns.

In that column Will is supporting the "presumptive opposition" of the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court and two grounds. First, he opposes her nomination because there is "no evidence" that she has the talents or standing in the judicial community to be considered for one of the top legal posts in the country. He lack of a paper trail, while perhaps beneficial in the confirmation process, is an indication that she may not have the talent nor the inclination for the constitutional reasoning required on the court. As a result the burden is on Miers in the hearings to demonstrate she has the capacity and talent for the job. One assumes that Will thinks that if the senators do their job, they'll likely reveal that she doesn't.

More interesting however, is Will's assertion that Bush has accepted the notion that the Supreme Court is "an institution of representation" both since he nominated a woman to fill O'Connor's seat and because of the strategy the White House has used to defend her.

Within his argument I really liked his description of the dual problems with such an approach.

"Under the rubric of 'diversity' - nowadays, the first refuge of intellectually disreputable impulses - the president announced, surely without fathoming the implications, his belief in identity politics and its tawdry corollary, the idea of categorical representation. Identity politics holds that one's essential attributes are genetic, biological, ethnic or chromosomal - that one's nature and understanding are decisively shaped by race, ethnicity or gender.

Categorical representation holds that the interests of a group can only be understood, empathized with and represented by a member of that group."

I think Will makes an important point about the difference between positions that are representative and those that are not. While I can buy to some degree that argument that representatives or even senators should be based to a degree on categorical representation, on the Supreme Court what we as Americans should want I would think are the best legal minds available, not a court that "looks like America". The analogy I would use is that of a surgeon. Would you rather be on the operating table looking at a surgeon that fits your race, ethnicity, and gender or the one that has the most skill?

It'll be an interesting confirmation process to watch and I think Bush has given his opponents needless ammunition in his selection of Miers.

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