October 27, 2005 09:00 AM

Amid widespread criticism from both sides of the political spectrum regarding her qualifications and questions regarding her ideological stances on abortion and affirmative action, Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination Thursday to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

Miers, who was scheduled to begin her senate confirmation hearings on Nov. 7, reportedly informed President Bush she was withdrawing at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Her announcement took the capital by surprise, yet as soon as the news broke legislators and political talking heads on TV diplomatically applauded her move.

In a letter dated Thursday, Miers – the White House chief counsel and formerly Bush’s personal attorney in Texas – stated that she feared her confirmation process “would create a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.” Her concerns, she said, had to do with having to produce records regarding her service to the administration.

“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.”

Bush, after weeks of insisting he did not want Miers to withdraw, blamed the Senate for her nomination’s demise.

“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 shortly before leaving for Florida to assess hurricane damage on Thursday.

Bush also issued a statement in which he accepted Miers’s decision with regret and praised her “extraordinarily legal experience.”

“Harriet Miers’s decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers – and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her,” the president said. Bush also said he planned to announce a new nominee “in a timely manner.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he expected a replacement within days and wants to hold hearings by Christmas.

Only seven of 150 Supreme Court nominations have been withdrawn in the history of the highest court in the land, and Miers’s stunning move comes on a day that Washington is awaiting other major news: the possible indictment of senior White House aides in the CIA leak case.

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