A wise withdrawal

October 28, 2005

By pulling her nomination to the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers has wisely removed herself as another political liability for a White House that is already on the ropes. As George W. Bush suffers some of the worst approval ratings of his presidency, as support for the war in Iraq continues to erode and as some high-level White House aides face possible indictments, the mounting opposition to Ms. Miers' nomination was becoming more and more embarrassing and humiliating. But despite Mr. Bush's attempts to point fingers elsewhere, this nomination failed because Ms. Miers was, quite simply, the wrong person for the job.

Her long-standing professional and personal relationship with Mr. Bush was an important factor in her selection. But despite the president's own comfort level with her would-be judicial philosophy, there was scant evidence of how she would approach or analyze major constitutional issues. Her longtime career as a civil practice lawyer yielded few clues, leading both Republican and Democratic senators to seek guidance from her most recent tenure as White House counsel. While her withdrawal letter cited the potential tangle over executive privilege as too much of a "burden" for the White House, that was really a convenient way to escape a deepening hole. Next month's confirmation hearings were looming as an increasingly gargantuan hurdle.

Hard-line conservative groups that balked at the nomination from the beginning are trying to take credit for its collapse. And Mr. Bush might be sorely tempted to play to a narrow right-wing constituency as he picks the next candidate to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, a pivotal swing vote and more of a moderating influence than many conservatives want on the High Court. But he should keep in mind that the growing uneasiness, among senators and the public, with Ms. Miers' nomination centered on whether she had the kind of unassailable qualifications demonstrated by John G. Roberts Jr., recently confirmed as chief justice.

There are certainly many considerations that go into the selection of a Supreme Court nominee, including diversity. But an impressive intellect and suitable experience should be first and foremost.

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