The Writing Sample

Beldar offers up, as a sample of Harriet Miers’ persuasive writing, a letter she wrote to George W. Bush (when he was governor of Texas) urging him to veto legislation that would prevent the newly Republican-controlled courts from regulating attorneys’ fees, specifically those charged by the plaintiffs’ bar in contingency-fee cases. I agree wholeheartedly with Patterico that this is another unencouraging sign (to say the least) about Miers’ writing abilities. Check out the last two full paragraphs:

The passage of this proposed law squarely raises the issue of the special interest laws [sic] for the benefit of those who have the wealth and power to cause to be passed self-protective legislation. What possible justification can exist for this law? There may be attempts to explain or provide justification. Those of us who are knowledgeable about the legal community know that this law is a special interest bill to protect from legitimate scrutiny and regulation individuals in our state perceived to wield power and influence.
I respectfully suggest that this law should be vetoed. It is bad, indefensible policy. Additionally, I feel confident it will never work and those involved in its promulgation will be smeared with legitimate criticism for a blatant attempt to shield, protect and curry favor with interests that have brought shame on this state, badly hurt our economic development efforts directed at creating jobs and continue to this day to cause our state to be held in disrepute for “justice for sale.”

Where to begin? Leave aside the grammatical disaster that is the phrase, “[t]he passage of this proposed law squarely raises the issue of the special interest laws . . . ” We have the mealy-mouthed phrase “those who have the wealth and power to cause to be passed self-protective legislation,” rather than coming right out and saying, in a declarative sentence, “the contingency fee bar” or some such clear descriptive phrase. Then, having gone not nearly far enough, Miers backtracks: those who, two short sentences earlier, could be confidently asserted to “have the wealth and power to cause to be passed self-protective legislation” are suddenly only “perceived to wield power and influence.” And while the bill will, for reasons unstated, “never work” (at what? Miers does describe some specific bad effects earlier in the letter, but never addresses the bill’s actual stated purpose, and seems to assume that it actually will work at the purpose of benefitting people with actual or perceived power or influence), it nonetheless will, at some future date, “continue to this day” (in the future? or are we in Doc Brown’s DeLorean now? actually, it’s the “interests” that “continue to this day” to do bad things, but that connection is lost in Miers’ tortured syntax) to cause the bill’s proponents to be “smeared with legitimate criticism” (!!).
David Brooks’ grim assessment of Miers’ writings as the head of the Texas Bar were bad enough, but one can understand that a bar association president’s job is to say nothing, and most rational people wouldn’t put much effort into writing those letters. But this was an attempt to persuade the governor of the state to veto a bill, and yet we get instead this train wreck of euphemisms, tortured grammar, and laughable solecisms. I do not look forward to spending the rest of my professional career reading opinions like this, and this sort of thing pushes me one step closer to throwing my lot in 100% with the anti-Miers forces.
UPDATE: Patterico also directs us to this critique along the same lines.
SECOND UPDATE: Another example, from Patterico, of muddled thinking and/or bad writing from Miers.

16 thoughts on “The Writing Sample”

  1. Kurt Vonnegut for the Supreme Court! At least we know he can write.
    This is pretty lame, Crank Man. Do you think these guys write their own opinions?

  2. To take both ends of the spectrum:
    Scalia most assuredly does write his own opinions. Sure, his law clerks will do a first draft, but the final product bears his unmistakable stamp.
    Marshall just as clearly did not write his own opinions. Half of the time, he didn’t even know what was in them.
    Which do *you* prefer?

  3. Along the same lines of rhetoric and grammatical excellence, we can go to the footage of Dubya played at the end of Fahrenheit 9/11:
    “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…er…uh…(red-faced)…uh, you can’t get fooled again.”
    Ah, intelligence at its best.
    Just another example of the idiocy of this administration. How could 53 million people have been so stupid in ’04?

  4. Kurt was great on the Daily show!
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  5. Astonishing.
    “[C]ause to be passed self-protective legislation”???
    Crank, going back to something you said last week: as a non-partner at your firm, you could not recommend the hiring as a SUMMER ASSOCIATE of someone who wrote this type of passive-voiced gar-bage. Yet, as an American attorney — with a forum to express his opinions to nearly 700,000 and counting — you still haven’t decided whether you want to see her seated on the highest court? I simply can’t understand your logic here. She’s not fit to push paper & eat comped lunches . . . but she may yet be suited to sit as one of the Nine Elect atop the legal system, a system predicated on good writing and clear thinking? I’m lost.
    I’ll say it again: what are you waiting for? A devastatingly reasoned letter to her local sanitation board, arguing to change trash pick-up from Tuesday to Wednesday, so she could sleep in the morning after MNF? C’mon!

  6. “… this sort of thing pushes me one step closer to throwing my lot in 100% with the anti-Miers forces>”
    I second Mike. What the hell are you waiting for? Fine, I understand the partisan support for Bush’s nominee, even a deference to any President’s selection being a benefit of the doubt. Maybe you even believe Miers will suit your political agenda… But at some point, as a lawyer particularly, aren’t you asking yourself whether the Supreme Court deserves better? Whether the country deserves better? Bush has nominated the (debatebly) most qualified person within earshot of his desk. And that ain’t saying much in this White House.

  7. Perhaps I can offer you the final straw (or wafer-thin mint)… [via John cole]:

    The Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers suffered another setback on Wednesday when the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her to resubmit parts of her judicial questionnaire, saying various members had found her responses “inadequate,” “insufficient” and “insulting.”
    Senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee chairman, and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat, sent Ms. Miers a letter faulting what they called incomplete responses about her legal career, her work in the White House, her potential conflicts on cases involving the administration and the suspension of her license by the District of Columbia Bar…
    […] Veteran senators and aides said they could not recall another occasion when the committee had sent back a nominee’s answers to a questionnaire because they were incomplete. Former Senator Daniel R. Coats of Indiana, the administration’s appointed guide for Ms. Miers on Capitol Hill, defended her answers in the Senate questionnaire as a work in progress.

    And then this from Bork:

    There is a great deal more to constitutional law than hostility to Roe. Ms. Miers is reported to have endorsed affirmative action. That position, or its opposite, can be reconciled with Christian belief. Issues we cannot now identify or even imagine will come before the court in the next 20 years. Reliance upon religious faith tells us nothing about how a Justice Miers would rule. Only a commitment to originalism provides a solid foundation for constitutional adjudication. There is no sign that she has thought about, much less adopted, that philosophy of judging…
    By passing over the many clearly qualified persons, male and female, to pick a stealth candidate, George W. Bush has sent a message to aspiring young originalists that it is better not to say anything remotely controversial, a sort of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” admonition to would-be judges. It is a blow in particular to the Federalist Society, most of whose members endorse originalism. The society, unlike the ACLU, takes no public positions, engages in no litigation, and includes people of differing views in its programs. It performs the invaluable function of making law students, in the heavily left-leaning schools, aware that there are respectable perspectives on law other than liberal activism. Yet the society has been defamed in McCarthyite fashion by liberals; and it appears to have been important to the White House that neither the new chief justice nor Ms. Miers had much to do with the Federalists.

    I’ll take my thanks in the form of a blogroll link under “The Loyal Opposition.”

  8. The quibbling over the questionnaire is a side issue. And the Bork article wasn’t really anything new.
    I’m probably coming out against Miers in the next few days if I don’t see something to change my mind . . . but assuming I do, I’ll want to take the time to lay out why. A Justice who can’t write isn’t acceptable – among other things, that means she could be hostage to her clerks, like Harry Blackmun.

  9. Wallowing in the Miers

    The Counsel to the President of the United States can’t write. Really. The evidence is now overwhelming. She can’t write. Not a lick.

  10. Ah yes, I always love to read passages from Saturday Night Massacre Bork. Wonder if Alberto will be faced with the same decision in the next few weeks…

    Thought you’d get a kick out of this article in last week’s NYT Week in Review section. It asserts that attorneys generally are poor writers, citing Harriet Miers as only the most recent example.
    I could not disagree more. Attorneys tend to be more serious writers than most journalists, but well worth the effort.
    One of the Bill Safire’s best On Language columns kicked off with a reply Bill received from Justice Scalia concerning the use of a gerund in a recent opinion. Scalia’s command of the English language matched the best of writers I am sure.

  12. Is Patterico a crank?

    We’ve established that I’m a crank because I got all picky about week-one-of-civil-procedure-class concepts Ms. Miers got badly wrong in her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. Here it turns out she’s not doing so well on the constitutional bits …

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