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President to Face Conservative Pressure on Next Court Nominee


President Bush must find a new nominee for the Supreme Court in the wake of the withdrawal of White House Counsel Harriet Miers, who faced strong criticism from some of the president's conservative supporters.

The president had confidence in Harriet Miers because of her distinguished record as a lawyer and her longtime service to him, first as Texas governor and then president.

But from the start, the Miers nomination appeared to be in trouble. Some conservative leaders began to grumble almost immediately that they would have preferred that Mr. Bush nominate any one of several other, better-known conservative jurists, many of whom had served as federal judges, something Ms. Miers had not done.

The president then found himself in the unusual position of defending a nominee to some of his most loyal conservative supporters.

"I do not have to guess and speculate about Harriet," said Mr. Bush. "I know her character, I know her strength, I know her talent and I know she is going to be a fine judge."

But the president and his aides were not able to quell the mini-rebellion on his right flank. One conservative group, Americans for Better Justice, even took the unusual step of running a television advertisement urging that the Miers nomination be withdrawn.

AD NARRATOR: "Even the best leaders make mistakes. Conservatives support President Bush, but not Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers."

Supreme Court appointments are for life and all nominees must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate.

Hopes for confirmation seriously began to fade when some Senate Republicans began to question both Ms. Miers' qualifications and the extent of her conservative ideology, even before she had a chance to testify at confirmation hearings.

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is one of the Republicans who had growing doubts about Ms. Miers.

"I have been uneasy just for a lot of reasons," said Me. Sessions. "The nomination never really took off like you thought it would have."

Opposition Democrats said relatively little about her nomination, preferring to let Republicans debate her fitness for the high court. They were preparing to question her closely at confirmation hearings that never came.

Jamin Raskin is a law professor at the American University in Washington, D.C.

"The Republicans abandoned her very quickly and the right was going after her in a pretty harsh way," said Mr. Raskin. "And the Democrats did not see any reason to bail her out. I mean, I think the Democrats held their fire and they wanted to hear what she had to say, after all she may be the best they could have hoped for. But in the final analysis, the base of President Bush's party deserted him very quickly on her nomination."

The president issued a statement that said he reluctantly accepted Harriet Miers' decision to withdraw her nomination. But Mr. Bush said her withdrawal had more to do with a looming impasse between the White House and members of the Senate from both parties over documents the lawmakers had requested about Ms. Miers' tenure as White House Counsel.

Some Democrats are urging the president to nominate a centrist to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Justice O'Connor has been a judicial moderate and a critical swing vote on several important high court decisions during her time on the bench.

New York Democrat Charles Schumer is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel that will hold confirmation hearings on the president's next choice for the high court.

"The president now should take his time," said Mr. Schumer. "When we do it again, the president should do it right, slowly, deliberately, carefully."

But analysts say the president will also face intense pressure from conservative leaders to nominate a well-known conservative jurist to the court as well as someone whose qualifications would not come into question.

Carl Stern is a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and a guest on VOA's Talk to America program.

"The true believers are astonished that the Republicans have named all but two of the justices that went on the Supreme Court over almost 40 years and have been unable to achieve their objectives with respect to rolling back certain Supreme Court decisions on abortion, on affirmative action, on separation of church and state and so on, and they ask themselves, 'How did this happen?"' he noted.

The White House says the president will move forward in a timely fashion to choose his next nominee.

Some Republicans are hoping his choice will be someone like Chief Justice John Roberts, who easily won Senate confirmation when nominated to replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Justice O'Connor announced her intention to retire months ago, but has agreed to remain on the nine-member court until her successor is confirmed.

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