In a front-page November 4 article by reporter Scott Shane, The New York Times reported that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers "withdrew last month because of criticism of her credentials, not her views." In fact, while critics of all political stripes took issue with Miers's qualifications, many conservatives reacted angrily to reports that -- in several 1993 speeches -- Miers had embraced "self-determination" on abortion, among other things. Some even specifically cited Miers's 1993 remarks in announcing their opposition to the nominee.
As Media Matters for America has documented, a Washington Post report published one day before Miers withdrew herself from consideration for the court noted that, in a 1993 speech, Miers characterized the abortion debate as "surrounding the attempt to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual women's [sic] right to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion." The Associated Press also reported that day that Miers had expressed support for "self-determination" on abortion in the speech. The Post report also noted that, in a separate 1993 speech, "Miers said the public should not blame judges when courts step in to solve" problems such as poverty.
The day those speeches were reported, the conservative group Concerned Women for America -- which had not previously taken a position on Miers -- called for her nomination to be withdrawn, then attacked the speeches in a separate press release.
Other conservatives' displeasure with the speeches was widely reported the morning of Miers's withdrawal. For example, The New York Sun reported that the speeches "angered conservative groups that had been maintaining a wait-and-see approach to the nomination." The Washington Times reported that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) deemed the speeches "troubling" and that Family Research Council president Tony Perkins called them "very disturbing."
The day after Miers withdrew, New York Post Washington bureau chief Deborah Orin reported that according to "Republican sources," President Bush dropped his effort to appoint Miers partly because "conservatives were livid over a 1993 speech in which she sounded pro-choice on abortion." The Los Angeles Times also noted that day that Miers's 1993 speech on abortion may have been "[o]ne of the final straws" that doomed the nomination, and reported that Focus on the Family founder and chairman James C. Dobson, who had previously endorsed Miers, "said his group would not have been able to support her candidacy because of the speech."
From The New York Times article headlined "Ideology Serves as a Wild Card in Senate Debate on Court Pick," about the role of ideology in Bush's recent nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court:
Of the 156 Supreme Court nominees since the court was created, 35 have been rejected or withdrawn, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most of the 35 were clustered in times of turmoil like the Civil War and Reconstruction, when politics often trumped qualifications.
In 1869, more than a century before bloggers and cable pundits would turn up the heat on nominees, President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, widely considered one of the nation's top legal minds. After seven bitter weeks, the Senate voted him down, 33 to 24, in part because he had pressed for the selection of federal judges on the basis of legal talent rather than political allegiance.
No nominee has been voted down since Robert H. Bork, President Ronald Reagan's conservative nominee in 1987. Harriet E. Miers withdrew last month because of criticism of her credentials, not her views.