« Beldar on Hewitt Tuesday | Main | Professoriat to Dubya: Shut up and do what we tell you, you're just the President »

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Miers, the ABA, and candles in the darkness

I'm about to admit to résumé fraud.

I'm pretty sure that on every written résumé I've ever had after beginning the practice of law — and being somewhat of a credentials snob myself, I've always had one lying around somewhere — in listing my "professional affiliations," I've had a line reading something like this:  "Member: Houston Bar Association, State Bar of Texas, and American Bar Association." And that's sometimes been a lie.

Oh, I've been a member of the State Bar of Texas continuously, without break or exception, ever since the day I got my law license (Nov. 24, 1980 — the date's embossed on my bar card). In Texas, you have to be; membership in the State Bar is mandatory in order to be licensed. And I believe strongly in the professional, charitable, educational, and public service work done by the Houston Bar Association. Like the SBoT, it's essentially an apolitical group, one that includes lawyers of every political stripe, from all practice areas, from all size firms, etc. So I've tried to keep my membership in it current, and I occasionally go to some of the Houston Bar Association's continuing legal education luncheons, and so forth. I'm not particularly "active" in either the SBoT or the HBA, but I'm a willing supporter of both organizations and their work and goals.

But my membership in the ABA has been spotty at best. I think if one were to consult its membership records, one would find I've not been a member now for more years that I have been a member. And I certainly haven't revised and re-revised my résumé to reflect my drifting in and out of the ABA.

Like many lawyers, I'm ambivalent about the ABA. Like my local and state bar associations, it does some very commendable things, particularly with regard to pro bono and continuing education. Some of the practice specialty sections of the ABA are quite good, and the regular magazine of the ABA Litigation Section, for example, is quite useful.

And certainly when Lewis F. Powell, Jr. was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1972, his past presidency of the ABA was universally considered an important qualification. It demonstrated his devotion to the profession; it showed that he was a leader among and respected by his peers; it showed his strong and regular character. No one dreamed of suggesting that it said anything, however, about how he might vote in cases on the Supreme Court! Nor, I think, can any of his votes be explained in hindsight as having had anything specific to do with his past ABA involvement.

But over the course of my own career, the ABA has become increasingly political — more of an advocacy group for particular political points of view, and less of a "service to the profession and society" organization. And not to put too fine a point on it, it just irks the hell out of me for the ABA to be using my dues to help promote any political agenda — regardless of whether that political agenda matches up with my own or not! I haven't resigned in a huff, as a protest. But unless I've been at a firm that paid the ABA membership dues automatically for all of its lawyers — and paying the dues is the only "qualification" for membership besides having a law degree, I think; it's by no means an "exclusive" club or a credential suggesting any particular individual merit or accomplishment — I haven't maintained my ABA membership continuously or even regularly.

Nevertheless, of all the arguments being thrown up against the Miers nomination, I think the one that most disgusts me — other, perhaps, than the ugly innuendo implicit in comparing her nomination to that of the ethically challenged Abe Fortas — is the suggestion that because Harriet Miers has been not merely a member, but active in the ABA, she's somehow an unfit nominee. Here (slightly edited) is something I left as part of a comment over on Professor Bainbridge's blog today (emphasis in original):

I explain over on my own blog, at length, why Ms. Miers' participation in either the Dallas Bar Association or State Bar of Texas ought not trouble any conservative, for those are not political lobbying or advocacy groups, but genuinely apolitical "service to the profession and society" groups.

With respect to the ABA, if there were indications that Ms. Miers had helped move that group to the left, or that it had moved her leftward, I agree that would be troubling; but there are no such indications. Prof. B refers to her "beloved ABA"; but a lawyer who's invested so much into her local and state "service to the profession and society" groups naturally longs for something similar, and similarly effective, at a national level. It is a damned shame, a travesty, and a legitimate indictment of the legal profession that we've lost and we now lack an apolitical national bar organization comparable to the Dallas Bar Association or the State Bar of Texas. The ABA used to be one, but it's been possessed by demons. I cannot fault her for wanting and working to see them exorcized. Indeed, I'm ashamed that I, like so many other lawyers who value the need for such a national bar association, gave up that fight.

How dare the opponents of this nomination condemn Harriet Miers for lighting a candle instead of raging against the dark? How dare they fault her for acts of professionalism?

I don't draw the comparison to Justice Powell to suggest that Ms. Miers' voting on the Court would likely resemble his; indeed, to the extent that the ABA returned to its apolitical professional mission, one ought not be able to infer anything about likely votes from participation in it. And there were times that I didn't agree with Justice Powell's decisions on the Court (although many more times when I did). But no one who's even remotely knowledgeable on these topics would argue that Lewis Powell was anything less than a giant, not just of the ABA, but of the American bar; a prince among lawyers and men; beloved of and admired by his clerks and his fellow Justices; and a decent, dignified, and ethical man who embodied and exemplified the personal and professional qualities to which our profession ostensibly aspires. The notion that conservatives are now holding Harriet Miers' work with the American Bar Association against her — when she not only advanced its legitimate public and professional service goals, but endured much grief and frustration in trying her best to restore the ABA to those primary purposes — must have Justice Powell spinning in his grave.

Posted by Beldar at 07:18 PM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Miers, the ABA, and candles in the darkness and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Yet more Miers blather from The Ministry of Minor Perfidy

Tracked on Oct 6, 2005 10:58:10 AM


(1) Sue Bob made the following comment | Oct 5, 2005 7:48:55 PM | Permalink

Beldar, you need to apprise Miss Ann Coulter of the extent and merit of Harriet Miers' work in the State Bar and the ABA. Ann was just on O'Reilly and is under the impresion that Harriet was only the first woman President of the Dallas Bar. Further, Ann has no idea of what it was like to be a female lawyer when Harriet started--much less one with power in a Texas firm.

If I could, I'd invade the Fox News studio and snatch every blonde hair out of Ann's head.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 5, 2005 7:53:32 PM | Permalink

Well, Ms. Coulter ended up doing John Roberts' nomination a lot of good.

I think I'll leave her be.

(3) Deborah made the following comment | Oct 5, 2005 8:31:16 PM | Permalink

This is an excellent post. I am old enough to remember when the ABA was apolitical and useful to lawyers who wanted to be good lawyers. In fact, it was kind of like the State Bar of Texas is now. It's a shame that the ABA can't measure up to a really good state bar association, especially when it comes to representing all its members and not just a select few.

I quit the ABA years ago, but this post makes me regret that I gave up on it ... for a few minutes, but the reality is I don't think it would have mattered. It's a blue state organization through and through.

(4) Rick Ballard made the following comment | Oct 5, 2005 8:40:06 PM | Permalink


Your advocacy has reinforced my initial reaction to Ms. Mier's appointment. Having a top notch litigator on the high court will have positive results. I keep wondering whether the profs are teaching out of love for the law or because there came a day when they realized that jury's really could see right through them. Brilliant people, I'm sure, right there in the top one percent of the population - along with 3,000,000 others.

(5) Patterico made the following comment | Oct 5, 2005 9:21:53 PM | Permalink

Lewis Powell may have been a heck of a nice guy -- I'm sure he was. Miers may be a wonderful human being too. I have no reason to doubt that.

But I think Powell was a lousy Justice. He was scared to death when he got to the Court that he was in over his head (as was Blackmun) -- and they were both right. Powell became a split-the-baby Justice who was famous for his ad hoc multi-part tests, made up out of whole cloth.

O'Connor loved splitting the baby too. (She also found it a constitutional right to stab the baby's skull and suck the baby's brains out with a suction catheter -- but that's another issue for another day.)

I hate Justices like that.

(6) David C made the following comment | Oct 5, 2005 11:39:51 PM | Permalink

A very good post, Beldar.

I can agree with all of it except your praise of Lewis Powell. There I must agree with Patterico. So I must ask: who the hell cares if Powell is spinning in his grave?

(7) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 5, 2005 11:51:26 PM | Permalink

David C, I'm not suggesting by any means that her bar activities mean she'll vote like Justice Powell. I'm arguing that her bar activities, even though they are not useful for making any predictions about how she'll vote, help demonstrate that she has ample qualifications. Her opponents are suggesting that they detract from her qualifications, that they're a negative.

(8) John McAdams made the following comment | Oct 8, 2005 8:36:07 PM | Permalink

[Mr. McAdams, consistent with my normal habits, I'm deleting your post, which consisted only of a link to a post on your own blog, which in turn did not link this one. Trackbacks are good, if you've linked one of my posts. And I'm reasonably tolerant, and an occasional practitioner, of low-key link-whoring to generate traffic and publicize ideas. But just a naked link makes your comment here indistinguishable from spam; you're just promoting your website, and not contributing to a debate here. — Beldar.]

(9) Courtney Gidts made the following comment | Nov 14, 2005 4:30:36 PM | Permalink

I've managed to save up roughly $54315 in my bank account, but I'm not sure if I should buy a house or not. Do you think the market is stable or do you think that home prices will decrease by a lot?

(10) Courtney Gidts made the following comment | Nov 14, 2005 4:31:41 PM | Permalink

I've managed to save up roughly $54315 in my bank account, but I'm not sure if I should buy a house or not. Do you think the market is stable or do you think that home prices will decrease by a lot?

The comments to this entry are closed.