News Articles

Miers withdraws nomination to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (BP)–Embattled nominee Harriet Miers withdrew Oct. 27 as President Bush’s selection for associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Bush said in a written statement he “reluctantly accepted” Miers’ decision and would submit a new nominee in “a timely manner.”

Opposition to Miers’ nomination had mounted since her surprise selection by the president Oct. 3. The most telling criticism came from conservatives disappointed with Bush’s failure to name someone with a clear record or philosophy of interpreting the Constitution based on its original intent. Though Miers had not served as a judge, Bush vouched for her as a judicial conservative, and a 1989 questionnaire showed she took a firm pro-life position in a race for the Dallas City Council.

Nothing seemed to quell the opposition of some on the right, however, and an Oct. 26 published report of a 1993 speech she gave only intensified the concerns of pro-lifers and other social conservatives. In the appearance before a Dallas women’s group, Miers appeared to endorse “self-determination” on the issue of abortion.

The Miers nomination had gained the support of some conservative evangelical leaders, including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice. The president had earned conservatives’ trust with his record on appointments to the federal judiciary, Land said.

Land said he “was saddened that this good and decent public servant has decided to withdraw….

“President Bush and his nominee, Harriet Miers, deserved better treatment than they received,” Land told Baptist Press. “Harriet Miers is yet one more victim of a process that has gone seriously awry in the past two decades.

“Nominees are subject to such brutalization in the current atmosphere that even as tough a guy as Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has said that if he were to face the prospect of a nomination today he would likely not allow himself to be nominated,” he said. “Until, and when, this nomination atmosphere is corrected, the country will be deprived of the services of many gifted and able people who refuse to put themselves and their families through this kind of ordeal.”

Dobson said he believed Bush “made a wise decision” in accepting Miers’ withdrawal, adding he had recently “grown increasingly concerned about her conservative credentials.”

He announced his “tentative support” for Miers when she was nominated but said he would wait for her hearings to learn more about her philosophy, Dobson said in a written release Oct. 27. “Based on what we 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,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, a leading advocate for Miers on Capitol Hill, said he was disappointed.

“While I think it’s a shame, this is quite a tough process, and I can certainly understand,” he said in a written statement.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada had suggested Miers to Bush as a possible nominee, and he criticized conservatives after she withdrew.

“I believe without any question when the history books are written about all of this, that it will show that the radical right wing of the Republican Party drove this woman’s nomination right out of town,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Apparently Miss Miers didn’t satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues. The only voices heard in this process were the far right.”

While Miers, 60, will resume her job as White House counsel, Bush will return to seeking a nominee to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Among those who previously have been mentioned by news reports as possible nominees are: Samuel Alito of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals; Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Circuit; Raoul Cantero of the Florida Supreme Court; Alice Batchelder of the Sixth Circuit; Edith Clement of the Fifth Circuit; Maura Corrigan of the Michigan Supreme Court; Miguel Estrada, who withdrew as a nominee to the D.C. Circuit after a filibuster; Emilio Garza of the Fifth Circuit; Alberto Gonzales, U.S. attorney general; Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit; Michael Luttig of the Fourth Circuit; Maureen Mahoney, a Washington lawyer who has argued several cases before the high court; Michael McConnell of the 10th Circuit; Priscilla Owen of the Fifth Circuit; Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general and now general counsel of PepsiCo, and J. Harvie Wilkinson and Karen Williams, both of the Fourth Circuit.

“The president will no doubt move forward with another nominee in fulfillment of his campaign pledge to nominate strict constructionist, original intent jurists in whom he has full confidence,” Land said. “It is widely reported that prior to the announcement of Harriet Miers’ nomination, several extremely qualified candidates asked to be withdrawn from consideration because of the corrosive and bitter process that judicial confirmation has become. I hope that such potential nominees will change their minds and allow themselves to be considered by the president this time, but I fear that nothing that has occurred in the Harriet Miers nomination process will encourage them to do so.”

Many conservatives commended Miers for her decision to withdraw. She “has shown great respect and consideration by putting the needs of the American people and the judicial system above her own personal ambitions,” said Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, which came out in opposition to Miers the day prior to her withdrawal.

Barry McCarty, preaching minister at the conservative Dallas church where Miers has her membership, said in a statement on the church’s website her friends at Valley View Christian Church “are disappointed” in her withdrawal, but “we support her in that decision and are grateful that she will continue to serve the nation as White House legal counsel. As a respected member of the legal community, a public servant and a faithful church member, Harriet has embodied the principle of service above self.”

Miers was baptized at Valley View in 1979 shortly after becoming a Christian. McCarty has served as parliamentarian of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting for the last 20 years.

In her letter to the president, Miers cited the intention of some senators to request documents about her White House work as a reason for her withdrawal. Democrats and some Republicans had expressed such desires.

Miers said she has repeatedly argued for the independence of the White House and against the release of confidential documents. “I feel compelled to adhere to this position, especially related to my own nomination,” she wrote. “I have decided that seeking my confirmation should yield” to the interest of protecting the independence of the executive branch, she said.

Miers told Bush she was “greatly honored and humbled by the confidence” he had demonstrated in her.

Bush said in his statement, “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 demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers –- and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.”

The most recent news that raised concerns for conservatives about Miers was the 1993 speech in which she referred to several instances where law and religion mix, including the attempt in America “to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual women’s [sic] right to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion.”

That comment, first reported by The Washington Post, troubled some pro-life advocates, as well as a statement that followed in the text of her speech: “The underlying theme in most of these cases is the insistence of more self-determination. And the more I think about these issues, the more self-determination makes the most sense.”

Miers’ use of “self-determination” -– even 12 years before her nomination to the Supreme Court — appeared too close for many abortion foes to the concept of a woman’s right to choose touted by abortion rights advocates.

In addition to many individual conservatives, organizations that opposed Miers’ nomination included Liberty Counsel, Eagle Forum and Center for a Just Society. Some other conservative organizations had yet to take a position on her nomination.

When Miers was president of the Texas bar in 1993, she led an effort to convince the American Bar Association to return to a neutral position on abortion. Texas lawyers, including Miers, proposed the ABA hold a referendum on its stance regarding the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion, but the lawyers’ organization rejected it.

Valley View Christian Church advocates a strongly pro-life position, and some of Miers’ friends said she opposed abortion.

Conservative groups were not the only ones to question the Miers nomination. After her withdrawal, Lambda Legal, a homosexual activist organization, said her primary vulnerability was the “combination of her lack of judicial experience and her extraordinarily close connection” to Bush.

Miers was a pioneer for female lawyers in Texas, becoming the first woman in a prominent Dallas firm in 1972 and the president of the firm in 1996. She was president of the Dallas bar in the mid-1980s and was elected to a two-year term on the Dallas City Council in 1989. She was president of the Texas bar from 1992-93.

Bush named Miers to a six-year term on the Texas Lottery Commission in 1995.

O’Connor announced her retirement July 1 after serving 24 years on the high court. Bush named John Roberts to replace O’Connor but altered his plans after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died Sept. 3. The president then nominated Roberts as chief justice. The Senate confirmed Roberts Sept. 29, and he began overseeing oral arguments Oct. 3, the first day of the high court’s new term.