Miers' Pullout Creates Political Fallout

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What is the fallout from White House counsel Harriet Miers' decision to withdraw from consideration for a Supreme Court post? What's next in the nomination process?

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

President Bush reacted to the indictment of White House official Lewis Libby Friday, saying Mr. Libby had sacrificed much in the service to this country. But then the president moved on.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I got a job to do, and so do the people who work in the White House. We got a job to protect the American people and that's what we'll continue working hard to do. I look forward to working with Congress on policies to keep this economy moving. And pretty soon I'll be naming somebody to the Supreme Court. Thank you all very much.

WERTHEIMER: President Bush, speaking Friday on his way to Camp David. Mr. Bush is hoping to refocus attention to his priorities, which include the other major story of the week. He must find a new nominee for the US Supreme Court. White House counsel Harriet Miers withdrew from consideration on Thursday. She said Senate requests for documents relating to her work at the White House would impinge on executive privilege. But Ms. Miers' nomination had been criticized for weeks by conservative groups. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg joins us to talk about that. Nina, hi.

NINA TOTENBERG reporting:

Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now Ms. Miers' nomination was apparently doomed by anxiety among Mr. Bush's most conservative supporters. They allege that she was not their brand of conservative. Who are her most powerful critics and what would be their influence on choosing the next nominee?

TOTENBERG: Well, you know, there are probably in this context two brands of conservative critic, the intellectuals--the George Wills, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Bork, Bill Kristol--who wanted someone who would lead the intellectual charge to move the Supreme Court to the right, and even if you assume that Harriet Miers was the conservative George Bush said she was, she wasn't a constitutional scholar ready to leap into the debate and move fellow justices right off the bat. And the second group of Miers detractors were the leaders of the cultural conservative movement, who just thought that they couldn't count on her vote. They weren't sure. And they're frank to say they're paranoid. They think they've been betrayed before and they wanted somebody they were sure of.

WERTHEIMER: So, Nina, where are these folks now?

TOTENBERG: Well, the people who have the real political machinery to gin up support and opposition and actually grind out money, campaign money essentially, are groups and--you know, the Family Research Council, the Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family. I could go on and on. And those are the folks who have the political machinery. And these are folks who, after all, remember, were not thrilled with John Roberts. They thought he wasn't conservative enough for them either, but they knew they were having another nomination soon 'cause at that point the chief justice was very ill and they knew there was going to be a second nomination. So they sort of swallowed their reservations. This time, they want a true believer.

WERTHEIMER: Now the Gallup Poll shows that even though conservative groups led the charge against the Miers nomination, more liberals were actually happy about her withdrawal than conservatives were. Fifty-seven percent of liberals said they were glad about it. Only 34 percent of conservatives were. How could that be?

TOTENBERG: I think a lot of evangelicals don't and didn't agree with their leadership. I was listening to "The Rush Limbaugh Show" a couple of days ago--yes, I do that.

WERTHEIMER: OK.

TOTENBERG: And evangelicals were calling in very disappointed that one of their own, for the first time appointed to the court, had withdrawn. They were feeling very sad about that.

WERTHEIMER: The Miers withdrawal keeps Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the court for the foreseeable future. Is she now expected to rule on the very cases that evangelicals were hoping to have a more conservative justice rule on?

TOTENBERG: She can rule on them as long as she's sitting there when the decision is handed down. If she's not sitting there, then her vote doesn't count. And if it's an evenly divided court, it probably would be re-argued if it's an important case.

WERTHEIMER: So looking ahead, what's the timing? Is the president likely to name a new nominee quickly, as early as next week?

TOTENBERG: Well, the president, indications are, will name somebody Monday or Tuesday at the latest. Now I got to tell you, the Senate Republican leadership is very unhappy about that. They are not planning to have confirmation hearings until January. And they really do not want to be hammered to have them earlier. They're leaving town. And they want to do this in an organized way and that's January.

WERTHEIMER: So who's on the top of the list?

TOTENBERG: I don't know for sure anything, but the flavor of the week, flavors of the week, seem to be Judge Sam Alito from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, very conservative judge, and another very conservative judge, Karen Williams, from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, who is often reversed by the Supreme Court, including a number of decisions that reversed her written by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, one of the most conservative members of the court.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg. Nina, thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Linda.

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