Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, fiercely criticized by conservatives as unqualified, abruptly withdrew her name from consideration yesterday. President Bush said he will make a new nomination “in a timely manner.”
Both Mr. Bush and Miss Miers, the White House counsel, cited senators’ calls for internal administration documents as the main factor for her decision.
“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,” Mr. Bush said.
But Democrats — including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who had suggested to Mr. Bush that he nominate Miss Miers to the Supreme Court — blamed right-wing conservatives for Miss Miers’ demise.
“The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers nomination,” said Mr. Reid, of Nevada. “Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues.”
For more than three weeks, conservative interest groups and pundits have said Miss Miers, who has never served in the judiciary, lacked a clear record of conservative jurisprudence and could fail to provide a strict constructionist voice on the court, as Mr. Bush promised. Republican senators had deemed Miss Miers unimpressive after meeting privately with her.
The president said he “reluctantly accepted” Miss Miers’ withdrawal and said obstinate senators caused it, but as early as last week, the White House had begun making contingency plans for the move, The Washington Times reported Saturday.
After the morning announcement, Republicans circled the wagons, with some lamenting Miss Miers’ downfall and others urging the president to move forward by quickly nominating a replacement for the slot being vacated by retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had scheduled confirmation hearings for Miss Miers to begin Nov. 7, said, “This is a sad episode.”
Just two weeks ago, Mr. Specter had said a Miers withdrawal would be “a sign of incredible weakness.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he expects a “nominee quickly … within days.”
Mr. Bush, who nominated John G. Roberts Jr. for the a Supreme Court seat in July to replace Justice O’Connor and then shifted him to the chief justice slot when William H. Rehnquist died, has vetted numerous candidates for the position.
Among the front-runners are conservative federal appeals court judges Michael W. McConnell, Samuel A. Alito Jr., J. Michael Luttig, Edith Hollan Jones, Edith Brown Clement, Priscilla R. Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. Judge Alito was narrowly passed over when Mr. Bush chose Miss Miers, one administration official said.
Inside the White House, which began the day awaiting word on possible indictments over the CIA leak scandal, the mood was upbeat — at least publicly.
One aide said, “The writing was on the wall” regarding what Democrats planned to attack Miss Miers on during her Senate confirmation hearing. Another aide recalled the fate of Miguel Estrada, a Bush nominee for an appeals court post who withdrew his name more than a year after his nomination because Senate Democrats refused to allow a full floor vote.
But there were no White House recriminations launched at Democrats and no publicly expressed regrets over Mr. Bush’s decision to nominate someone from outside what he calls the “judicial monastery.”
“She recognized that the process was headed toward an unresolvable impasse,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. “She cannot answer questions on specific issues in Supreme Court cases … and senators had made it clear that she would be required to cross those lines in the confirmation process, given her different and unique record that she has and the fact that she does not have a judicial record or other substantial public writings, opinions or briefs on constitutional matters.”
Miss Miers, 60, a longtime Bush friend and confidante, said the push for privileged information led to her withdrawal in a letter she delivered early yesterday morning to the president in the Oval Office.
“As you know, members of the Senate have indicated their intention to seek documents about my service in the White House in order to judge whether to support me,” she wrote.
“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. … 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.”
In a strange twist, in returning to her job as White House counsel, Miss Miers will advise the president on the next Supreme Court nominee.
Justice O’Connor, whose vote has been decisive on 5-4 rulings that upheld abortion rights, sustained affirmative action and limited the application of the death penalty, will remain on the high court until a replacement is confirmed.