WASHINGTON – Conservatives and liberals alike battered White House counsel Harriet Miers during her 24-day rise and fall as a Supreme Court nominee.
Critics questioned her experience, her judicial beliefs and her grasp of constitutional law.
Now, preparing to leave the White House more than a year after the ordeal, Miers says she doesn't regret the experience. After being nominated, she heard from childhood friends. Strangers came up to her to say they were happy for her.
"Through the course of the nomination there were some ugly — I thought unjustified — comments," Miers said in an interview in her West Wing office. "There were many, many wonderful aspects of the experience that get lost because people don't focus on that."
Miers, 61, is being replaced by Fred Fielding, a lawyer in the Nixon White House and President Reagan's chief counsel who is viewed as better versed at handling the legal fights the new Democratic Congress is expected to have with the administration.
The president got high marks for choosing John Roberts as chief justice of the United States, his first high-court nominee. But on Oct. 3, 2005, when he announced he had picked Miers, his loyal legal counsel, to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the right wing of their own party skewered both Bush and Miers.
A little more than three weeks later, she withdrew from contention amid the unrelenting backlash, particularly from conservatives, who argued that there were far better candidates.
Miers' resume was filled with firsts: first woman president of the Dallas Bar Association, first woman president of the Texas bar, first woman president of her law firm.
She was Bush's personal lawyer in Texas, took on the thankless job of cleaning up the Texas Lottery when he was governor and followed him to Washington to serve as staff secretary. Bush appointed her White House counsel when Alberto Gonzales became attorney general.
Yet those eager for a nominee with conservative judicial decision-making experience joined other critics who noted that Miers had never been a judge and lacked credentials in constitutional law.
"There's some people who like to look for judicial experience in a nominee to the Supreme Court, but there's nothing that should require that, and historically there have been individuals who have been on the Supreme Court without judicial experience," she said. "So I think lawyers who haven't been part of the judiciary are as qualified and will be viewed as qualified in the future."
Many dismissed Miers as little more than a Bush insider.
"However nice, helpful, prompt and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn't qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on 'The West Wing' let alone be a real one," conservative writer Ann Coulter said in one of the more cutting comments.
Miers had vetted prospective candidates for the Supreme Court and the federal bench. "I had seen what had been done to people whom I had the utmost regard for in terms of their nominations being stalled, or things said about them that I thought were totally unjustified. So I went into the process, certainly, eyes-open, and well-educated about what the process was like."
Does she think she got a fair shake?
"Someone else is going to have to judge those things," she said. "It was my decision to withdraw when I did, and I did so believing that it was in the best interest of the White House."
At an afternoon send-off at Blair House across the street from the White House, Bush thanked Miers for her service and said she would always have a place in his family. Instead of seeking comfort from the staff after she withdrew her nomination, Miers became "the comforter," Bush said, according to a White House staffer who was at the party.
She's not sure what she's going to do now. Her old law firm in Texas has extended a welcome mat. There's been talk that she might run Bush's presidential library. The front-runner for the library is Southern Methodist University in Dallas, her alma mater.
Miers, who is single, said she plans to rest and spend time in Dallas with friends and family, including her 92-year-old mother.