Harriet Miers Bows Out of High Court Bid

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NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams talks with Farai Chideya about Harriet Miers withdrawing her nomination to the Supreme Court. Miers said in a letter that her high court bid was becoming a distraction for the Bush White House.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Today President Bush's embattled nominee for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, withdrew her nomination. For more on that story, we're joined by NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

Welcome, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good to be with you.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me just ask you this. This is a big development today. Harriet Miers had never been a judge. Some people thought that she had adequate conservative credentials. Obviously, a lot of conservatives didn't think so. Did the president have a choice in this matter, in whether or not he accepted her decision to withdraw?

WILLIAMS: He did have a choice, Farai. The thing for the president is he is so weak at this moment. You're looking at a president who's on the ropes. And the problem that he faces is that so many, in terms of the conservative intellectual leadership, sort of movement conservatives, were opposed to Harriet Miers because they didn't know her, didn't feel that she had a sufficient track record on issues of importance to them, in specific abortion rights, but I could keep going. Affirmative action is another. They felt that they were getting an unknown quantity and they were saying, `Why don't you get someone who is a known brand-name conservative off of a deep federal bench?' They're looking to take control of the Supreme Court. They feel, the argument being that the court has been dominated by liberals for too long, in their mind, and they were looking for someone who was more reliable. They want to avoid the possibility of having something of a cypher appear there to their mind, a repeat of David Souter, who was appointed by the first President Bush, and who at times has turned out to be either a moderate or a liberal vote on the court.

CHIDEYA: Now the court this term is looking at issues that will, you know, reverberate for years, including abortion coming up, once again, issues about union rights. Do the conservatives who want a litmus test on issues like abortion have a chance of getting an nominee in who is a straight party-line conservative when the Democrats are much more likely then to toughen their opposition?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's the dynamic that will come into focus shortly. At the moment, all the talk is about who might the president nominate to replace Harriet Miers with the conservatives now saying that he must nominate someone that they feel comfortable with. So what you're looking at are people like J. Harvie Wilkinson, Michael Luttig, even Miguel Estrada. You're going back to Janice Rogers Brown. This is the lineup that conservatives had said was really the list for the president to choose from previously when the Miers selection was made, which was a surprise to them, and, as we know now, very off-putting to them for a very--they consistently opposed it. And Miers didn't help herself by a poor performance in her visits with senators on Capitol Hill and even failing to properly fill out a questionnaire from the Senate about her positions. So when it comes to these other issues, I think what the conservatives are hoping is that you get someone who's strongly in their corner, and what Democrats now have to face is the possibility that they go back to having to form a strong line of opposition to this highly conservative candidate who might swing the Supreme Court to the right.

CHIDEYA: Now let me ask you one last question. You mentioned Janice Rogers Brown who--there was a huge fight over her even becoming a federal judge, African-American conservative. Is the president likely to nominate another woman or is the issue of getting a hard-line conservative in more important than whether or not the person who will replace Justice O'Connor be a woman?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it was important to the president and, if you'll recall, Mrs. Bush, his wife, the first lady, had voiced the sentiment that Justice O'Connor should be replaced by a woman, and there was some concern even that the person who come in possibly be a minority. There was a great deal of consideration given to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a Hispanic, because there is no Hispanic on the court. I think now, though, the problem for the White House is they're so embattled. Everybody is still waiting to see if there are going to be indictments in the case of a leak that revealed the identity of a CIA agent. There are still arguments being made over deficit spending, the war is very unpopular. For all these reasons, the president needs to rally his base of support, and so a lot of concern over whether it's a woman or a minority may go by the wayside as the president simply tries to deliver a hard-line conservative that will please his base.

CHIDEYA: Juan Williams is an NPR senior correspondent. Later in the show, you'll hear more from him on the week's news in Political Corner.

Thank you so much, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Farai.

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