Harriet Miers withdrew this morning as a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.
In announcing the decision, Miers and President Bush cited their concern with the requests from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for documents dealing with her work as White House counsel, papers that the administration has chosen to withhold as privileged.
But the nomination of Miers to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was already in deep trouble, with little support in the Senate, open criticism from many senators of both parties and an outpouring of opposition from conservative activists and intellectuals.
Some of them, most notably columnist Charles Krauthammer | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/20/AR2005102001635.html, had proposed using the documents dispute as a face-saving reason for withdrawal. In fact, negotiations over the documents had barely begun when the withdrawal was announced this morning.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Miers called Bush about 8:30 last night to tell him she was withdrawing and handed him her letter 12 hours later in the Oval Office.
Bush is "deeply disappointed in the process," McClellan said. Miers will remain as White House counsel and will be involved in choosing a new court nominee, he added.
The decision marked the end of one of the most contentious Supreme Court nominations in recent years, following on controversies over the naming of Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork. Thomas was approved by the Senate in 1991 after a bitter confirmation hearing and Bork was defeated in 1987. A major political difference between the Bork and Miers nominations is that Bork was championed by a powerful wing of the GOP, while Miers appeared to have only one truly enthusiastic supporter, the president.
The last person to withdraw as a Supreme Court nominee was Douglas H. Ginsburg, nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. Ginsburg pulled out after revealing that he had used marijuana. Three nominees have been rejected by the Senate in modern times, including Bork.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority leader who supported Miers, called the withdrawal a victory for "the radical right wing" of the Republican Party.
While the decision was a blow to the Bush administration, the move also may defuse a major controversy for the White House as it confronts possible indictments stemming from the disclosure of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Miers's withdrawal came a day after she returned a second questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee dealing, in part, with the nature of her White House work.
Her first questionnaire was deemed inadequate by the committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and the ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Specter said the committee will not review the new material.
O'Connor has said she will remain on the court until a successor is confirmed. How long she will consent to stay, however, is unknown. When she announced her retirement July 1, she said she needed time and energy to attend to the needs of her husband, who has Alzheimer's disease.
Miers told the president in her letter of withdrawal that she was "concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interests of the country."
Bush responded that he was reluctantly accepting the decision.
"I nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court because of her extraordinary legal experience, her character, and her conservative judicial philosophy," he said in a statement. But, he said, "I understand and share her concern . . . about the current state of the Supreme Court confirmation process.
"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.
"Harriet Miers' decision," Bush said, "demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers -- and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her."
McClellan said Miers "recognized that the process was headed toward an unresolvable impasse. . . . She recognizes she cannot reveal confidential advice or documents during her time serving in the executive branch. . . . And senators had made it clear that she would be required to cross those lines in the confirmation process."
He added, "Her legal experience is primarily as a practicing attorney and as a high-level government official. Much of her constitutional experience is confidential and protected from disclosure by the executive branch. And given today's confirmation process, I think it's [that] combination of factors that are almost unique to her record that have created this conflict."
Specter lamented the withdrawal and denied that the information needed by the committee would infringe on the president's prerogatives.
"The Judiciary Committee did not intrude on the president's executive privileges," Specter said on the floor of the Senate today. "The committee studiously avoided asking what advice Ms. Miers gave to the president."
He said Miers didn't get basic due process because her nomination was subjected to a "one-sided debate in news releases, press conferences, radio and TV talk shows and the editorial pages." If her Senate hearing had gone forward, he said, "she would have had the opportunity to establish that her intellect and capabilities . . . could be carried over" to the area of constitutional law. "Whether she would have been confirmed remains an open question but at least she would have the major voice in delivering her own fate."
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he was "just pleased she stepped up to the realization that she should step aside. I had problems with her in terms of her experience and qualifications. I was just concerned that she was not strong enough, dynamic enough and had enough experience in the constitutional arena.
"A lot of his [Bush's] friends and supporters were saying, 'Geez, we're just not that comfortable with this nominee,' " Lott said. "I am a conservative but that was not my problem with this nominee. I was concerned about the breadth of her experience."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) urged Bush to find a compromise candidate that members of both parties could support. "The president has an opportunity now to unite the country. In appointing the next nominee, he must listen to all Americans, not just the far right," Kennedy said, according to the Associated Press.
Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, denounced what he described as the White House's "complete capitulation to the far-right interest groups" and urged Bush to resist naming "an ultraconservative nominee" to replace Miers.
"It's an astonishing spectacle," Neas said in a statement.
Neas urged Bush to "choose a nominee with a great legal mind and mainstream legal philosophy who could draw bipartisan support." He said the president "must not let the extreme right dictate his next choice."
Bush nominated Miers on Oct. 3. The decision took many by surprise as she had not been generally included on a long-circulated short list of possible nominees and she had no prior judicial experience.
Before going to work for Bush when he was governor of Texas, Miers was managing partner in an important Texas law firm and a specialist in conventional corporate litigation.
The criticism from conservative intellectuals, including former White House aide David Frum and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, began immediately, focusing on her lack of experience and the absence of any involvement with the major constitutional issues that so concern Bush's conservative base.
As she made her courtesy calls on senators, their comments afterward were at best polite and at times, negative.
The most outspoken critics were Republicans. The Democrats remained relatively quiet.
Meanwhile, in the press and the blogosphere, Miers was becoming an object of ridicule.
Her situation worsened when evangelical leader James Dobson stated publicly that he had been assured by the White House that she was a devoted evangelical Christian, after which President Bush mentioned her religion as something people should "know about."
Washington Post staff writers William Branigin and Daniela Deane contributed to this article.