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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Harriet Miers and Thomas Becket -- a warning

There has been much discussion in the MSM and various blogs about how close Harriet Miers is to Bush, and how well he knows her, and how much has relied upon her. Some have opined that Bush is hoping to have a “friend” – a pliant vote – on the Court. I doubt he sees it quite that way – but if he did, he might want to take a look at the play Becket, by Jean Anouilh. (This was made into a wonderful movie starring a young Peter O’Toole as Henry II of England and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket. Many years later, a much older Peter O’Toole starred again in A Lion in Winter, playing – a much older Henry II.)

In Becket, Thomas Becket is Henry II’s close companion, friend, advisor, and right-hand man. He professes belief in nothing, and purports to have subordinated honor to personal and political pragmatism. (He has his reasons – but that’s another story.) When the Archbishop of Canterbury – a frequent thorn in Henry’s side – dies, Henry has a sudden inspiration:

H: … Listen, Thomas! Tradition prevents me from touching the privileges of the Primacy. You follow me so far?

B: Yes, my prince . . . .

H: But what if the Primate is my man? If the Archbishop of Canterbury is for the King, how can his power possibly incommodate me?

Becket is profoundly troubled by this scheme, and begs Henry to abandon it, but Henry insists, and forces Becket on the bishops as Archbishop of Canterbury. (He is not a priest, but is a deacon – so he can be quickly elevated to priesthood and then on up.) Becket then finds that his new position commands new loyalties and offers him a second chance at personal integrity. He ends up staunchly opposing Henry -- to the point of martyrdom -- on matters of church vs. secular jurisdiction.

I am not suggesting any close parallels between the principals in this story and those in our current political drama. Nevertheless -- lifetime tenure as a Supreme Court Justice is the most exalted position any American lawyer can attain, bearing the greatest responsibility. It would be foolhardy to gamble that a lawyer assuming that role would end up treating it as a vehicle for furthering a President’s – or a friend’s – political agenda.

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