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Bush's unconventional choice

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But just as striking were the words of encouragement from a key Democrat, Senate minority leader Harry Reid. Senator Reid, in fact, acknowledges that he recommended Miers for the nomination. In a statement after Bush's announcement, Reid said, "... the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer."

Miers now faces the daunting challenge of following John Roberts to the witness chair in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chief Justice Roberts came to the table with a golden résumé and no questions over qualifications, just over judicial philosophy. Miers will need to show enough senators that she has the legal chops to merit lifetime appointment to the nation's ultimate appeals court.

Democrats are going see her as "someone who has distinguished herself purely through political appointments," says Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and a judicial confirmation expert. "It is hard to look at her career and think that the next logical step for her from White House counsel is to be on the Supreme Court of the United States."

With little hard evidence that Miers will take positions that please the activist base of the Republican Party, Bush is essentially saying to his party, "Trust me," says Professor Gerhardt.

Miers's selection over the many other long-mentioned candidates - with lengthier paper trails - may point to a reluctance by Bush to tempt the possibility of a filibuster in the Senate. If Senate Democrats were to engage in endless debate, Bush and his Republican allies would then face a decision over whether to go "nuclear" by changing the rules and allowing his nominee to pass with a simple majority. To some analysts, Bush's selection of a nominee who does not trigger automatic, fierce partisan opposition in the Senate is a sign of his weakened political position.

But now Bush is facing qualms from his right flank. "Many conservatives today will view this as the most unqualified nominee since Abe Fortas," says Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of libertarian and conservative organizations and a former counsel on judicial nominations to Senate majority leader Bill Frist. "It's exactly the opposite of what we were looking for ... to undo the need for stealth nominees."

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