Miers, Under Fire From Right, Withdrawn as Court Nominee

On Oct. 17, Harriet Miers was surrounded by members of the media after meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). This week, Specter had said he planned to ask Miers about some administration policies.
On Oct. 17, Harriet Miers was surrounded by members of the media after meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). This week, Specter had said he planned to ask Miers about some administration policies. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)

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By Michael A. Fletcher and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 28, 2005

The Bush administration withdrew the Supreme Court nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers yesterday, bowing to intensifying attacks from right-leaning activists challenging the depth of her conservative credentials and the strength of her judicial qualifications.

The decision was sealed in a phone call between Miers and President Bush on Wednesday night, and it abruptly reopened the search for a successor to the pivotal seat held by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Bush said he will name a new candidate in a "timely manner," and some in the White House are pushing for a nomination perhaps as soon as today.

Miers's withdrawal touched off a fresh wave of speculation about whom Bush would nominate for the seat. Some conservative activists predict Bush will reconsider some previously thought to be in the running, including federal appellate judges Samuel A. Alito Jr., J. Michael Luttig, Karen J. Williams, Michael W. McConnell and Priscilla R. Owen. Another federal judge mentioned is Diane S. Sykes.

Others speculated that Bush might nominate a senator with judicial experience, such as John Cornyn (R-Tex.), to avoid a contentious battle because senators would be unlikely to reject one of their own. Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice and one of the few to actively back Miers, played down that possibility, saying: "I doubt it will happen."

The debacle of Miers's nomination comes amid the possible indictments of senior White House advisers in the CIA leak investigation and growing public restiveness over the war in Iraq. Republicans say the president's selection must placate conservatives, reassert his control over the selection process and meet Senate approval.

The White House was tight-lipped about the possible nominees, but some advocacy groups that had pushed for Miers's withdrawal made clear they expect a nominee with an unmistakable record as a judicial conservative.

"We are assured that the president will keep his promise to nominate a strict constructionist," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America, which opposed Miers. Although Miers is an evangelical Christian, the group nonetheless accused her of supporting people and groups who "undermine respect for life and family."

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, called on Bush to name a consensus candidate, while chastising him for giving in to the demands of conservative activists. "The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers nomination," said Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), who had recommended that Bush consider her for the high court. "Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who would pack the court with rigid ideologues."

In announcing the decision, Miers and Bush cited their concern with requests from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for documents dealing with her work as White House counsel -- papers that the administration has withheld as privileged. Senators sought documents that might illuminate her legal views.

"Protection of the prerogatives of the executive branch and continued pursuit of my nomination are in tension," Miers said in a withdrawal letter she hand-delivered to Bush yesterday. "I have decided that my confirmation should yield."

In a statement, Bush said he reluctantly accepted Miers's withdrawal, even as he praised her as an extraordinary lawyer and a pioneer in expanding women's role in the law. He said disclosure of internal documents detailing the advice Miers gave him during five years as a White House staff member "would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel."

Bush added that Miers will remain White House counsel, in which her responsibilities include vetting judicial nominees and helping prepare them for the confirmation process.


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