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Miers, Under Fire From Right, Withdrawn as Court Nominee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)

The nomination of Miers, 60, to be the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice was imperiled almost from the beginning. Miers was a top-shelf corporate lawyer who spent three decades breaking down barriers in the male-dominated Texas legal establishment. But her candidacy encountered immediate criticism because of her lack of judicial experience and constitutional background, and her close relationship with Bush.

Democrats accused of her of being a Bush crony, because she had served as his personal lawyer in Texas before providing legal advice to his two gubernatorial campaigns and then serving on his White House staff. Many conservative activists, meanwhile, were appalled that Bush passed over a deep roster of doctrinaire conservative jurists in favor of a candidate with a sparse legal paper trail and no known record as a constitutional thinker.

Those objections only sharpened in the weeks since her Oct. 3 nomination. Miers's speeches and writings during her short stint as a member of the Dallas City Council and as a bar association leader in Texas in the 1990s suggested that she harbored liberal sentiments on some issues, such as affirmative action, and inconsistent views on other social issues, such as abortion.

With the ideological balance of the Supreme Court at stake with the retirement of O'Connor -- who has often been a swing vote -- many conservative groups decided to openly challenge the president by opposing Miers. Right-leaning columnists called for her withdrawal, and earlier this week two conservative coalitions launched a campaign that included plans for radio and television ads calling on her to step down.

On Capitol Hill, senators had been raising pointed questions about Miers's legal views and experience. In a letter to Miers on Wednesday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) disclosed his plans to seek her views on some Bush administration policies, including the detention of suspected terrorists at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

With support for Miers among many Republican senators apparently crumbling, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) spoke with Bush at the White House on Wednesday, although sources differed on the degree to which he signaled the difficulty that Miers faced in winning confirmation.

"I had spoken with the president [Wednesday], and spoke with the White House over the course of the day, and just really reflected where I thought things were and that we were on course to start the hearings, and that the hearings would ultimately determine the outcome," Frist told reporters.

But a Senate source close to Frist said that the senator was much blunter and more negative, and that he suggested Miers withdraw because her chances of being confirmed were not good. In phone calls to White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Frist "gave it to them straight," said the source, who spoke on background because of the private nature of White House conversations.

At least one call took place before -- and at least one shortly after -- Frist met with senior GOP senators for a 6:30 p.m. dinner in the Capitol, the source said.

Former senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who accompanied Miers to numerous private meetings with senators, told reporters yesterday that for "several days" Miers had been recognizing that she could not provide the documents that senators were demanding while also protecting the president.

"The central problem," Coats said, was that Miers did not have a deep paper trail or a history of judicial decisions, and "senators rightly wanted to see some objective evidence of what her judicial philosophy was. But as special counsel, she was in a position where she wanted and needed to protect the executive privilege of the president. . . . She was troubled by this conundrum."

While conservative groups and Republicans battled over Miers's nomination, liberal activists and Democrats were mostly silent. But with her withdrawing under pressure, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it will be easier for senators from both parties to press future nominees on their judicial and political views.

"I started out three years ago saying people should address their judicial philosophy," he said in an interview, "and now we have most people agreeing -- conservatives, liberals, moderates. I think it's going to be very hard for future nominees to avoid talking about their judicial philosophy."

Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said the Miers battle shows that conservatives will not be satisfied unless they get a nominee who is "guaranteed" to vote what they consider to be the right way on their issues.

"I've never seen anything like the last few weeks," he said. "You've got a sitting president, and you have a wing of his own party just pummeling him day after day."

Roger Clegg, vice president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes many affirmative-action programs, said Bush erred in limiting his search to women and minorities when he chose Miers.

"I hope that this time around they will not exclude people just because they are white males, and that the decision is based on who is the best qualified," he said.

Staff writer Jo Becker contributed to this report.

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