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Does SMU Offer Creative Writing For Supreme Court Justices 101?

Everyone wants to learn as much as they can about nominees to the Supreme Court because they are appointed to the court for life. Once they are on the Supreme Court, the justices answer to no one.

All kinds of questions are being asked about President Bush's nominee to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's position on the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers. Who does her hair? Does she make her own clothes? Does she like Mexican or Chinese food better? Can she write coherently?

Of course, writing legal opinions is an important part of a Supreme Court justice's work.

Ms. Miers does not have a large volume of work by which to be judged as did recently confirmed Chief Justice John Roberts. Most of her writing was published in the Texas Bar Journal in 1992-1993 while she served as president of the State Bar of Texas. This week Ms. Miers has been criticized for her writing skills, perhaps most notably by David Brooks in the New York TimesSelect on October 13th. In critiquing her skills as a writer, Mr. Brooks opined: "the quality of thought and writing doesn't even rise to the level of pedestrian."

He went on to quote some examples, noting:

Nothing excuses sentences like this:

"More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems."

Or this: "We must end collective acceptance of inappropriate conduct and increase education in professionalism."

Or this: "When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved."

Or passages like this: "An organization must also implement programs to fulfill strategies established through its goals and mission. Methods for evaluation of these strategies are a necessity. With the framework of mission, goals, strategies, programs, and methods for evaluation in place, a meaningful budgeting process can begin."

Or, finally, this: "We have to understand and appreciate that achieving justice for all is in jeopardy before a call to arms to assist in obtaining support for the justice system will be effective. Achieving the necessary understanding and appreciation of why the challenge is so important, we can then turn to the task of providing the much needed support."

Here is the final Harriet Miers' gem Mr. Brooks chose to highlight in his article:

"There is always a necessity to tend to a myriad of responsibilities on a number of cases as well as matters not directly related to the practice of law." And yet, "Disciplining ourselves to provide the opportunity for thought and analysis has to rise again to a high priority."

Remembering that Ms. Miers was a math major as an undergraduate, I would imagine that she became quite adept at putting together algebraic formulas; constructing coherent sentences and fashioning them together to make a point is obviously not her strong suit.

Nevertheless, Ms. Miers will be confirmed as the next associate justice unless she speaks as incoherently as she writes. Perhaps Ms. Miers can take a crash course on creative writing next summer at SMU during the court's hiatus.

If you would like to read some of the things she has written in their entirety, go here.

Posted by Rick | October 14, 2005 03:18 PM

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