A while back, I wrote this post with some of my thoughts about how judges in spite of the system are mostly excellent, citing among other things Judge Posner who wrote in this book: "I may be living in the golden age of the federal appellate judiciary. There may never have been a time when so large a fraction of federal judges were outstanding."
I also told the following tale, heard in the church in D.C. where I was married:
The homilist was some fellow from the Church of England, with a syrupy British accent and bone-dry sense of humor.... He related the story of a young priest assigned to a class of teenagers, who made the mistake one day of opening the floor for questions, and the first question was this: "why are the clergy so mediocre?" He thought a moment, and answered, "because we have only the laity to pick from."
The post also notes this discussion about whether it is good for federal judges to be "mediocre."
As to the U.S. Supreme Court, the question may be, why aren't the Supreme Court justices more mediocre? The answer may be, they've got the federal judiciary (and many other sources of excellence) to pick from. All of which makes me feel short-changed by the nomination of Harriet Miers. From my desk, the appearance is that the president didn't even try to make a great pick. The stated rationale that Bush knows Miers personally and therefore he feels confident how she will vote doesn't cut it with me. The idea doesn't even make sense, judging on the basis of "what would Bush want me to do?"
If the President was going to pick an unknown, and why not, he should have found a well-qualified one, and laughed like Nixon did over Rehnquist, or like Bush himself could have done after the vote was in on Roberts.