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Documents, backlash doomed nomination


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Supreme Court
George W. Bush
Harriet Miers

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Harriet Miers took her name out of consideration for the Supreme Court on Thursday amid a brewing showdown over White House documents. But some lawmakers and observers suggest that the impasse was simply the most graceful exit possible for a floundering nominee.

Miers never served as a judge and her critics said her background as an attorney, a former head of the Texas State Bar Association and as a Dallas city council member provided few clues to her judicial philosophy.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had asked for documents she had worked on as the White House's top lawyer. The president refused, calling the request "a red line I'm not willing to cross." (Full story)

In a letter to the president on Thursday, Miers said she was concerned that she would be called upon to testify about her service as White House counsel, which she said would jeopardize the independence of the Executive branch.

"I am 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," she wrote. (Watch Miers withdraw her nomination -- 1:38)

In a statement issued by the White House, Bush said, "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."

But Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownbeck suggested the line could have been drawn somewhere else to avoid the impasse.

"We were not asking for documents regarding attorney-client privilege -- or privileged communications," he said. We were saying 'show us documents of policy issues discussions,' so we could get some framework of her policy views."

Also, the White House learned from a key Capitol Hill ally Wednesday night that opposition to the nomination was building, CNN's Ed Henry reported.

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.

Miers has been under fire since her nomination was announced, with critics arguing that she was being appointed because of her close relationship to the president, rather than her legal credentials or her knowledge of constitutional law.

Some of the harshest criticism came from members of Bush's conservative base who were furious that he did not choose to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing seat on the court, with someone who clearly would shift the court to the right.

"When the president announced this nominee, I expressed my tentative support, based on what I was able to discover about her. But I also said I would await the hearings to learn more about her judicial philosophy," said James Dobson, head of the group Focus on the Family. "Based on what we now know about Miss Miers, it appears that we would not have been able to support her candidacy. Thankfully, that difficult evaluation is no longer necessary."

The White House tried to reassure Dobson and other social conservatives, by stressing Miers' evangelical Christian faith, but the effort was unsuccessful. (Full story)

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, suggested in a column in last Friday's Washington Post that the White House press the documents issue as a face-saving way to withdraw the nomination.

"That creates a classic conflict, not of personality, not of competence, not of ideology, but of simple constitutional prerogatives: The Senate cannot confirm her unless it has this information. And the White House cannot allow release of this information lest it jeopardize executive privilege," he wrote.

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.

"Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues," the Nevada Democrat said. (Watch Democrats blame 'radicals' for failed pick -- 3:40)

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Bush now "should nominate a strict constructionist conservative."

"That's what he is and ran as as president," Lott said. "He said if you elect me, this is the nominee you will get." (Watch Lott say withdrawing was the right thing -- 5:43)

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, urged the president to choose a nominee in the mold of O'Connor instead of someone from what he called the radical right.

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter told CNN that the Miers controversy proves that Bush should appoint someone further to the right, instead of reaching out to Democrats.

"This does show the power of the radical right wing, as Democrats call it -- normal Americans as I call it -- in this country," she said.

Activist Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, echoed those sentiments.

"The president did the right thing in withdrawing her and saving her from further embarrassment. I now hope he'll deliver on his campaign commitment to pick a judge in the mold of [Justices Clarence] Thomas and [Antonin] Scalia."

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted over the weekend found that 50 percent of Americans surveyed said they disapproved of the pick.

Forty percent of respondents said they approved of the choice in the survey, which had a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

Only 20 percent of respondents said that they thought Miers was one of the most qualified candidates for the court. Forty-nine percent said they thought she was qualified, but that others were more qualified and 22 percent said she was not qualified.

In the survey, 70 percent said that it was a negative that little was known about her views on major issues and 66 percent said her lack of experience was a negative.

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