I just read a series of excerpts collected by Time Magazine from Harriet Miers' article in the 1992 Texas Lawyer.
(In the comments below, perhaps someone can link a full copy. [UPDATE: Here it is.] I want to see if Time slyly picked out the worst passages, or whether (as I fear) the entire article is as painfully platitudinous as the excerpts that Time chose.)
The first Miers quotation [See the 2D UPDATE below; the error in this passage is in LEXIS's transcription--JL]:
"The same liberties that ensure a free society make the innocent vulnerable to those who prevent rights and privileges and commit senseless and cruel acts. Those precious liberties include free speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of liberties, access to public places, the right to bear arms and freedom from constant surveillance. We are not willing to sacrifice these rights because of the acts of maniacs."
What is the "freedom of liberties"? We all make typographical errors (and this may well be one [UPDATE: it is a typo; see 2D Update below]), but her writing has that airy feel of someone trying to sound important by regurgitating empty platitudes.
Time's second excerpt includes this sentence:
"Those who would choose a rule of man rather than the rule of law must not escape fitting penalty."
You get the sense that first she wrote "must not escape penalty," then thought that she needed to qualify it with the word "fitting," but she didn't realize that idiomatically this would require adding an article: "must not escape a fitting penalty." On this blog (and elsewhere), I have published many sentences as awkward as this one of Miers', but I'd like to see something that read as clearly as the articles or op-eds of my co-conspirators.
Time's third excerpt is similarly timeless:
I have refrained from explaining why some of Miers' sentences are awkward, but this one violates the "short-to-long principle," explained by Joseph Williams in his books on writing. For grace, Miers' list should be reordered from shorter to longer elements: "poverty, family dysfunction, the lack of education, the lack of health care (particularly mental health care), and the lack of self-esteem or hope in some segments of our society." Not every good writer does this all the time, and many good writers do this instinctually without a rule, but in these excerpts from her meager writing, Miers consistently makes poor choices. In these excerpts, Miers shows no natural skill for writing.
"We all can be active in some way to address the social issues that foster criminal behavior, such as: lack of self-esteem or hope in some segments of our society, poverty, lack of health care (particularly mental health care), lack of education, and family dysfunction."
Time's fourth excerpt:
"We lawyers are trained in problem-solving and we have the leadership and other opportunities available to professionals in our society. The two men who died exemplified individuals devoted to their God, their families, their fellow man, their communities and their profession. Speakers in both memorial services, used the very same words: ˜Well done, good and faithful servant."
Note the incorrect comma in the last sentence [UPDATE: again, the comma is a typographical error by LEXIS] and the plodding first sentence.
To be fair, I confess that Time's fifth excerpt ends on a more eloquent note. Speaking about two violent murders, Miers wrote:
Of course, in our prose we ALL make lots of mistakes. Further, one can't be certain that Miers actually wrote this article published under her name. An associate in her law firm may well have ghost-written it for her. Or a poor editor may have tampered with Miers' writing.
"Plain and simple, they are despicable acts —- examples of the worst nature of man. The rest of us are challenged even more to demonstrate the best."
Yet if these are representative examples of Harriet Miers' writings, she will be among the least able writers to serve on the Court in recent years. In my opinion, the majority of students whom I supervise for independent senior research projects at Northwestern Law write better prose than the passages published in the Texas Lawyer under Harriet Miers' name.
The last piece that I encountered before reading the excerpts from Miers' article was Randy Barnett's op-ed on Miers. The difference in the quality of the prose between the two pieces is striking. Randy Barnett writes like a person who earns his living by expressing his reasoning in writing; Harriet Miers doesn't — though if she is confirmed, that is exactly what she will be doing for the next couple of decades. (Since 1971, Justices have left the Court at the average age of 79.5).
It has been said of Justice Blackmun that he realized his own intellectual limitations, leaving the hard job of drafting his opinions to his clerks, reserving to himself the easier task of substantively cite-checking what his clerks wrote. Unless Miers' writing has improved since 1992 (and it may well have), she might take a leaf from Justice Blackmun's book.
UPDATE: 1. In the comments, some argue that my suggestion that an Associate or clerk at Miers' firm might have written the Texas Lawyer article is probably true. I don't know.
2. Originally, I had missed the Miers article on both Westlaw and LEXIS, but LEXIS has it (as a reader notes in comments). I would like to see a photocopy of the original (it's not on Heinonline.org) because there are enough errors in the LEXIS version that I suspect that at least part of the fault is not in Miers' writing but in the typists at LEXIS. Some of the following excerpts look more like LEXIS typos than Miers' writing to me [UPDATE: my suspicions are confirmed in the 2D Update below]:
Until I see a copy of the published article, I think it is likely that at least some of the errors I criticized in my earlier post were errors of the LEXIS typists. Certainly, the two errors listed in this update look like typists' errors [UPDATE: They are.]
Many times the push for such precautions is aimed at the criminal courts, but as the Fort Worth case shows, but civil courts have at least as great an interest in courthouse security. . . .
Judicial appropriations for the State of Texas represent 0.32 percent of the total state appropriations. While money cannot solve all the problems, and many times increased expenditure is a simple but wrong approach to solving problems and face, adequate personnel, space and equipment for the judiciary in Texas are essential if we expect the third branch of government to do its job.
2D UPDATE: In two comments below, Virginia Postrel helpfully reports on what she found in checking the excerpts above against a library microfiche copy of Harriet Miers' 1992 article. Although I raised the possibility of typos in my original post, by the time of my first update, I thought that some of the worst errors must be LEXIS typos: "I think it is likely that at least some of the errors I criticized in my earlier post were errors of the LEXIS typists. Certainly, the two errors listed in this update look like typists' errors."
Postrel points out that the first error is NOT in the original:
In her second comment, Postrel checks the errors noted in my first update, errors that looked to me like LEXIS typos. Postrel wrote:
I have the original article, courtesy of microfiche in the SMU Law library. The first quote is wrong. The correct quotation is:The rest of the quotations [in my original post] are correct. She writes like a competent corporate executive, maybe a p.r. person, avoiding controversy while still managing to make something of an argument.
"Those precious liberties include free speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, access to public places, the right to bear arms and freedom from constant surveillance."
Thanks to Virginia for clearing this up.
I forgot to check the update. There are indeed typos in both quotes. The originals read:
Many times the push for such precautions is aimed at the criminal courts, but as the Fort Worth case shows, the civil courts have at least as great an interest in courthouse security. . . .
Judicial appropriations for the State of Texas represent 0.32 percent of the total state appropriations. While money cannot solve all the problems, and many times increased expenditure is a simple but wrong approach to solving problems we face, adequate personnel, space and equipment for the judiciary in Texas are essential if we expect the third branch of government to do its job.
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