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What drove Harriet Miers to withdraw?

Barnett, Zelizer, Roberts weigh in

President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, who was tapped to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, withdrew her nomination yesterday amid criticism from both Democrats and Republicans and questions from senators and the media about her level of qualification. Miers, Bush’s top legal advisor, says she withdrew because releasing the White House documents requested by the Senate confirmation committee would jeopardize the confidential relationship between president and advisor. Miers has never been a judge. BU Today asked three BU professors to weigh in on the forces that drove her to withdraw and its possible effects on the political future of the Bush administration.

Randy Barnett, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Law, School of Law, and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court:

“Like the demise of Dan Rather, the withdrawal of Harriet Miers’ nomination is a tribute to the power of the new media — especially the blogs — where information and opinions were swiftly exchanged, leading to a consensus among knowledgeable persons of all political views as to her lack of qualifications. Once this conclusion could not credibly be contested, the President made the right decision to accept her resignation. To his credit, the President acted more rapidly than did CBS.”

CAS History Professor Julian Zelizer, a political historian and author of On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and Its Consequences, 1945–2000 (2004):

“When a president nominates someone for the Supreme Court who does not have an enthusiastic constituency behind them, events can go one of two ways. The person can divide the opposition and sail through the hearings. Otherwise, the person can draw so much opposition, from a variety of sources, that it creates an intense coalition of strange bedfellows that destroys the confirmation. In this case, Harriet Miers angered the right and the left, thereby adding to a disastrous week for an imperiled president.

“Today Harriet Miers joins a long list of failed nominees, such as Robert Bork, Douglas Ginsburg, Harold Carswell, and many others, that dates back to the withdrawal of William Patterson on February 28, 1793. In the past, failed nominations become explosive material for opponents to criticize broader problems with a presidential administration. In this case, the failed nomination of Harriet Miers will play into two central charges — in the post-Katrina and post–CIA leak world — that this is an administration plagued by incompetence and cronyism.”

Dana Robert, Truman Collins Professor of World Mission, School of Theology:

“Harriet Miers’ personal religious faith became an issue because she is a woman. Conservatives needed the assurance that she was virtuous and pious enough to be trustworthy — i.e., not a feminist liberal in disguise. Liberals worried that as a woman and an evangelical Christian, she would be unable to separate her personal, spiritual, and emotional side from her professional obligations. If she had been a man, people would have assumed her capable of taking professional distance from her personal faith. But because she is a woman, and we have an intensely patriarchal political culture, people questioned her intellectual integrity. The way her nomination was handled is a blow to every professional woman in this country, especially those like Miers who sacrificed the possibility of family life in order to have a career in a ‘man’s world.’”