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Miers withdraws Supreme Court nomination

Troubled pick faced opposition from conservatives, liberals

Bush nominated Miers on October 3, and the nominee ran into opposition almost from the start.


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George W. Bush
Sandra Day O'Connor
Harriet Miers

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday accepted the withdrawal of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers after weeks of opposition from both liberals and conservatives, who questioned her qualifications and record.

In her withdrawal letter to the president, Miers said she was "concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and its staff and it is not in the best interest of the country."

In a statement, Bush said he "reluctantly accepted" her withdrawal.

The White House said Miers had to withdraw over concerns that senators wanted documents of privileged discussions between the president and his top lawyer. (Watch video: Withdrawal accepted -- 1:38)

"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 in the statement. (Full statement) (Miers' letter)

Bush vowed to fill the vacancy "in a timely manner." (View potential nominees)

"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," Bush added.

Bush's decision to nominate Miers, 60, White House counsel and a longtime adviser, had divided his supporters, many of whom wanted a nominee with a clear record of opposition to abortion and solid views on other legal issues important to conservatives. (Read more on why Miers withdrew)

The White House learned from a key Capitol Hill ally Wednesday night that opposition to the nomination was building, CNN's Ed Henry reported. (Watch an overview of what can be learned from Miers' nomination -- 1:53)

In a blunt assessment, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Miers' main advocate in the Senate, told high-level White House aides that the nominee faced stiff opposition from conservatives, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called White House Chief of Staff Andy Card to tell him that Miers did not have the votes to be confirmed, sources told Henry.

However, Ed Gillespie, a Republican strategist heavily involved in Miers' nomination and the previous one for Chief Justice John Roberts, maintained that the nomination process forced her to withdraw, not opposition from conservative activists.

"I don't think there was a mistake, and we're not red-faced at all," Gillespie said. "She, I think, rightly and in a principled manner came to the conclusion that there was about to be a conflict between her role as nominee and the principle she's espoused as White House counsel and counsel to the president."

Gillespie said if the White House released communication between Miers and the president it "would compromise the integrity for the ability of her staff to have a candid conversation with any future president."

But Democratic and Republican senators said that they hadn't asked for privileged documents.

"We were not asking for documents regarding attorney-client privilege -- or privileged communications," Judiciary Committee member Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, said. "We were saying, 'Show us documents of policy issues discussions,' so we could get some framework of her policy views."

Withdrawal applauded

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Miers' withdrawal was probably for the best.

"I think she made the right decision, and I think she deserves a lot of credit for realizing that this was going to be very difficult, particularly in view of her position as White House counsel," Lott said. (Watch video: Sen. Lott's statements -- 5:40)

"I just was concerned that she was not strong enough, dynamic enough and had enough experience in the constitutional area to be on the Supreme Court. It was not a philosophical, regional, religious thing with me." (Read more reactions to Miers' decision)

Miers' withdrawal also was applauded by conservative activists, many of whom opposed the nomination from the beginning.

"The president did the right thing in withdrawing her and saving her from further embarrassment," the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly said. "I now hope he'll deliver on his campaign commitment to pick a judge in the mold of [Clarence] Thomas and [Antonin] Scalia." (Read more reaction from conservative activists)

In a statement, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition said: "These have been a difficult few weeks as the Senate and the public measured Harriet Miers and her fitness to serve on our nation's highest court. ...

"As the president considers a new nominee for the court vacancy, I trust that he will find someone who, like him, is a person of strong and identifiable principles -- one who has participated fully in the important public policy debates."

Some conservatives argued that Bush could have prevented this impasse over the nomination.

"It was avoidable had the president nominated someone who fit his own description of the kind of judicial philosophy he preferred. If he'd done that, this would not have happened," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. "I don't think that anyone knew where she stood and that was the problem."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who said he had recommended that Bush nominate Miers, blamed "the radical right wing of the Republican Party" for killing her nomination. (Watch video: Democrats' statements -- 3:40)

"Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues," the Nevada Democrat said.

Charges of cronyism, questions on qualifications

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the questions about her lack of experience in constitutional law, her closeness to the president and conservative activists' unhappiness ultimately led to Miers' withdrawal.

"The Republicans would welcome an ideological fight," Toobin said. "The problem was Harriet Miers didn't present that sort of clean fight."

Bush nominated Miers on October 3 to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, often a moderate swing vote, on the high court. (Profile)

O'Connor will stay on the court until the Senate confirms her replacement. (Watch video on front-running nominees -- 3:42)

Days after announcing her nomination, Bush defended Miers against Democratic charges of cronyism and conservatives' questions about her record, saying she shared his legal philosophy.

"I picked the best person I could find," Bush said. "People are going to be amazed at her strength of character and her intellect."

CNN's Dana Bash, Claire Brinberg and Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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