WASHINGTON — Under withering attack from conservatives, President Bush today
ended his push to put loyalist Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court. Democrats
accused him of bowing to the "radical right wing of the Republican Party."
The White House said Miers had withdrawn her name because of a bipartisan
effort in Congress to gain access to internal documents related to her role as
counsel to the president. But politics played a larger role: Bush's conservative
backers had doubts about her ideological purity, and Democrats had little
incentive to help the nominee or the president.
The withdrawal stunned Washington on a day when the capital was awaiting
potential bad news for the administration on another front — the possible
indictments of senior White House aides in the CIA leak case. Earlier in the
week, the U.S. military death toll in Iraq hit 2,000.
President Bush said he reluctantly accepted Miers' decision to withdraw,
after weeks of insisting that he did not want her to step down.
"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. "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."
There were few regrets on Capitol Hill, from either party.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., told Fox News that the nomination had been a bad
idea. "Let's move on," he said. "In a month, who will remember the name Harriet
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called Miers capable but added, "This clearly was
the wrong position for her."
"The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers
nomination," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who had
recommended Miers to the president.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist spoke with White House chief of staff Andy
Card last night and offered a "frank assessment of the situation in the
committee and in the full Senate," Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson said.
Miers' withdrawal means the justice she was chosen to replace, Sandra Day
O'Connor, will be delay her retirement further. O'Connor has been a swing voter
on numerous emotional social issues, and more are set to come before the Supreme
On Nov. 30, the Court is to hear arguments on New Hampshire's
parental-notification law for abortion, which a lower court said is
unconstitutional because it lacks an exception allowing a minor to have an
abortion to protect her health. O'Connor has been expected to vote to strike
down the law. That case also could determine the legal standard for challenges
to other states' abortion laws.
Also in late November the Court may decide whether it will hear the Bush
administration's appeal of a 2003 federal law that bans the type of late-term
operation known as partial-birth abortion. Lower courts have said the law is
unconstitutional, because it lacks a health exception.
"In all likelihood, a new justice will not assume his or her seat on the Court before all four First Amendment-related cases currently set for oral argument are argued and assigned," said Ronald K.L. Collins, First Amendment Center scholar. "O’Connor will likely participate in and vote on cases involving the Solomon Amendment, whistle-blowing, anti-abortion demonstrations and a church's use of hallucinogenic tea. There is also the question of whether the next nominee will be confirmed in time to participate in the five campaign-finance cases the Court recently agreed to hear, which have not yet been set for oral arguments."
Before Bush chose Miers on Oct. 3, speculation focused on her and two other
Bush loyalists: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Bush's longtime friend who
would be the first Hispanic on the Court, and corporate lawyer Larry Thompson,
who was the government's highest ranking black law enforcement official as
deputy attorney general during Bush's first term.
Other candidates mentioned frequently included conservative federal appeals
court judges J. Michael Luttig, Priscilla Owen, Karen Williams, Alice Batchelder
and Samuel Alito; Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan and Maureen
Mahoney, a frequent litigator before the high court.
Polls show Bush is at the weakest point of his presidency with growing
numbers of voters disapproving of his job performance and his policies on
Miers and her supporters knew she faced growing odds against her
In her letter dated yesterday, Miers said she was concerned that the
confirmation process "would create a burden for the White House and our staff
that is not in the best interest of the country."
She noted that members of the Senate had indicated their intention to seek
documents about her service in the White House in order to judge whether to
support her confirmation.
"While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for
consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain executive
branch materials and information will continue," she wrote.
Since her nomination, there have been widespread complaints about Miers' lack
of legal credentials, doubts about her ability and assertions of cronyism
because of her longtime association with Bush.
In a letter yesterday, Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, sought assurances that Miers would show no favoritism toward Bush if
confirmed as a justice.
Bush said Miers would remain as White House counsel.
"My responsibility to fill this vacancy remains," Bush said in a statement.
"I will do so in a timely manner."