Embattled Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination in the face of continuing strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
In a letter, President Bush said he "reluctantly" accepted her withdrawal and continued to defend his choice to replace retiring justice Sandra Day O'Connor (see "Bush Nominates White House Counsel Harriet Miers To Supreme Court"). The President tied Miers' decision to the Senate's repeated request that the White House turn over internal documents that related to Miers' advice to the president during her tenure as White House Counsel, documents Bush said were privileged and not subject to review.
Miers met with the president on Wednesday night to discuss her plans to step down, according to CNN. She formally requested that her nomination be withdrawn in a letter to the president dated Thursday (October 27) in which she said, "I am concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interests of our country." Confirmation hearings were scheduled to begin November 7. If confirmed, the 60-year-old attorney would have been the third woman on the Supreme Court.
The nomination was controversial from the moment the president announced it more than three weeks ago, with pundits from the left and right attacking the Texas lawyer's lack of experience as a judge. In a rare rebuff to the president's agenda, many conservative commentators and politicians blasted the nomination as not being conservative enough and questioned the logic of Bush nominating someone from his inner circle with so little experience (see "Why Does Bush's Latest Supreme Court Nominee Scare The GOP?"). For the past three weeks, Miers' qualifications, as well as her unknown views on such polarizing subjects as abortion, have come under scrutiny. The White House struggled to find a way to salvage the nomination, switching from promoting Miers' strong religious background to her history as a trailblazer for women in Texas legal circles, but none of the spin tactics appeared to sway the concern over the nomination.
The issue that kept returning to the forefront was a concern that Miers did not have the qualifications to serve on the nation's highest court. But in withdrawing, Miers pegged the decision mostly to the issue of the documents, explaining, "I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy. While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain executive branch material and information will continue."
In her letter, Miers told Bush she had been "greatly honored and humbled by the confidence that you have shown in me, and have appreciated immensely your support and the support of many others." But as she had in her acceptance remarks several weeks ago, Miers stressed her belief that "The strength and independence of our three branches of government are critical to the continued success of this great nation. Repeatedly in the course of the process of confirmation for nominees in other positions, I have steadfastly maintained that the independence of the executive branch be preserved and its confidential documents and information not be released to further a confirmation process. I feel compelled to adhere to this position, especially related to my own nomination."
"It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House — disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel," Bush said in his statement. "Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers — and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her."
Internal conversations between the president and his counsel are historically privileged, but when asking for the release of the papers, senators argued that they needed to see some sort of documentation of where Miers stood on any topics that might be of import to the court. Pundits analyzing the announcement on CNN Thursday morning said the decision to tie the failed nomination to the release of the documents — which was unlikely to have happened anyway — was a means of saving face for the administration as support for Miers declined.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told CNN that he respected Miers' decision and looked forward to working with the president to find a new nominee. "We remain ready to fulfill our duty to provide advice and consent on judicial nominees," the Tennessee Republican said. "And the Supreme Court still awaits its next justice — a highly qualified nominee who is committed to upholding the Constitution and who believes in the limited role of a judge to interpret the law and not legislate from the bench."
As recently as Wednesday, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan dismissed suggestions that senators were reluctant support Miers because they were unimpressed with her qualification as a nominee. "I think you're seeing a lot of members of the Senate saying, 'We want to hear what she has to say in the hearings,' before they make a judgment," he said, according to CNN. "With Harriet Miers, there are many in the Senate that simply did not know her previously, although she is widely respected within the legal profession."
[This story was originally published at 9:57 am ET on 10.27.2005]