WASHINGTON – Harriet Miers (search) withdrew her nomination to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice Thursday in the face of strong criticism from President Bush's most conservative supporters, who say she doesn't have the qualifications or experience necessary to serve on the nation's highest court.
Miers, who President Bush had nominated in the beginning of the month to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, notified Bush on Wednesday night about her decision and delivered a letter to him dated Thursday.
In her letter, she blamed her withdrawal on Senate demands for release of internal White House documents in advance of her confirmation hearings.
"I have been greatly honored and humbled by the confidence that you have shown in me, and have appreciated immensely your support and the support of many others. However, I am concerned that the confirmation process presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country," Miers wrote.
"As you know, members of the Senate have indicated their intention to seek documents about my service in the White House in order to judge whether to support me. I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy," she wrote.
"While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain executive branch materials and information will continue," Miers wrote.
The White House has rejected calls for the release of White House documents, saying they are protected by executive privilege. Bush said he stood behind Miers, who will stay on as White House counsel, and reluctantly accepted her decision to withdraw.
"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," Bush said.
"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."
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who was not a fan of Miers, told FOX News he agreed that the document requests were the root of the problem.
"We felt like to do our job in the process of advice and consent, we needed information, and the White House was saying we cannot give it to you ... More of us were demanding the documents, and that's the risk you take by nomininating a nominee like this," Brownback said.
In a press conference, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the document scuffle was nothing more than "pretext."
"The White House offered a nominee who had no record except for the documents, and then said, 'We won't give you the documents.' ... The president kept saying, 'the more you learn about Harriet Miers, the more you'll like her,' and then said, 'I'm not going to let you learn about her,' " Schumer said.
The Senate's two Republican Texas senators — John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison — offered support for Miers, who also is from the Lone Star State.
"Clearly, I think there were some on the right and the left who were critical of this nomination because of their own individual agendas," Cornyn said. "To me, this was a fundamentally unfair process because people prejudged this nominee without getting to know her. ... She was denied the opportunity to even have a hearing, and I think that's a shame."
"I have to say I am disappointed in that decision, because I know she would have been a superb justice. She would have been a strict constructionist. She would have been a judge who knew the place of a judge, not to make law ... but she would have been a justice who looked at, and interpreted the law," Hutchison said.
Hutchison backed the right of executive privilege, as well as Miers' decision regarding it, but also said that Miers' nomination would have been good for diversity.
"You know, if we didn't want diversity of experience in making these important decisions, we could have one justice on the Supreme Court. We wouldn't have to have nine," Hutchison said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who would have chaired the Miers' confirmation hearing and who had insisted on getting documents from the White House, noted the cacophony of opposition to her, which he said unfairly derailed the talented lawyer's nomination.
"I acknowledge the rights of everyone to express themselves as they see fit, but that should have not have precluded Ms. Miers from getting basic due process. There was a decisive imbalance in the public forum with the case for Ms. Miers not heard because of the heavy decibel level against her," Specter said.
Miers' confirmation hearings were set to begin in less than two weeks. She had been making the rounds of Senate offices, visiting 28 senators since her nomination in early October. Throughout, she had been criticized for being vague about her judicial philosophy. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking minority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said responses in her 57-page questionnaire sent by the committee to learn about her had been incomplete to the point of being insulting.
On Thursday, Leahy issued a statement saying he looked forward to working with Bush on a third nominee to replace O'Connor. Her first replacement nominee, John Roberts, was moved up to be considered for chief justice after William H. Rehnquist died. Roberts won wide support during his confirmation.
According to a FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken Oct. 25-26, the public was also divided over Miers' nomination. Twenty-four percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of Miers, while 23 percent had an unfavorable opinion. Another 31 percent weren't sure and 22 percent had never heard her name.
The poll also showed that the nominee had lost some support. In an Oct. 11-12 poll, 37 percent said they would vote to confirm Miers, but the most recent numbers showed only 35 percent would do so. This week's poll also showed that 38 percent would vote against her, and 27 percent weren't sure.
Conservatives, who had led the cries of opposition to Miers, expressed relief that the president's White House counsel and confidante had backed off her pursuit for the court seat. Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, who helped muster opposition to Miers, said he was "grateful" and "revitalized" that Miers made the decision to step down.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers also said Miers did the right thing.
"I think that the opposition from conservatives had an impact, but that is not what influenced what I had to say and my own thinking" about Miers, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., told FOX News.
"Among moderates and those on the left, she wasn't winning any friends, either," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Both lawmakers said they were concerned about Miers' qualifications, judicial philosophy, demeanor and confidence.
Lott added that the issue of executive privilege would have presented a real problem for the president during the confirmation hearings since Miers does not have a background in constitutional law. Instead, she would have had to discuss her work in the White House to justify her confirmation to the court.
"I think she deserves credit that she realized her nomination was going to cause a real problem for the president, for the Senate," Lott said. "The president, in my opinion, made a bad choice here. ... He has dealt with it. She has dealt with it admirably."
Kristol said he hoped the White House wouldn't wait long to name a nominee, and the president could make an announcement next week of his intent to name someone conservatives would find more palatable.
"There are plenty of distinguished people to choose from," Kristol said. "I think a lot of Democrats will object, but that's a good fight for the president right now."
But Democrats say they hope the president doesn't give in to conservatives who they say want to stack the court with ideologues.
"In choosing a replacement for Ms. Miers, President Bush should not reward the bad behavior of his right wing base," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who had suggested to Bush that he consider nominating Miers.
"He should reject the demands of a few extremists and choose a justice who will protect the constitutional rights of all Americans."
Among the names floated to replace Miers have been appeals court judges Michael Luttig, Edith Jones, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, all prized by conservatives but who could face significant opposition by Democratic senators who appeared willing to give Miers a shot.
FOX News' Sharon Kehnemui Liss and Greg Simmons contributed to this report.