From the beginning, Harriet Miers had strong support from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., but faced strong criticism from a conservative coalition led by Frist’s former staff counsel, Manuel Miranda.

In the end, with many conservatives complaining about the Supreme Court nominee’s credentials _ and the Judiciary Committee’s chairman asking for records on her White House work for President Bush _ she and Bush decided to give up.

“The president now has an opportunity to make another selection,” Miranda said in an interview, “and the next selection can be perhaps a great force of unity for his party” and Democrats who back Bush.

Frist said he spoke with Miers, the White House counsel, on Thursday morning and found her “gracious and forthcoming, confident, and expressed appreciation” to senators and staff who had worked to broaden her support.

“I respect her decision,” Frist said, “and appreciate her service to our country.”

Glenn Reynolds, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Tennessee, said Miers may have gained more support had she been nominated before John Roberts. “I think she was implicitly compared to him from day one and I think that was really damaging for her.”

Bush does not necessarily have to nominate another woman to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor, Reynolds said, although he may.

“I think they are going to have to have somebody who in terms of credentials at least is going to be unassailable. I kind of expect them to nominate someone more ideological than Miers (and) not a stealth candidate” without much of a public record of legal expertise.

Miranda, a lawyer, formerly worked in Frist’s leadership office and advised him on judicial nominees. He now is chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of more than 150 conservative leaders hoping for a like-minded ally to fill O’Connor’s seat.

He said many conservatives since Oct. 3, the date Bush nominated Miers, have openly questioned whether she was a good choice. But Miranda said Wednesday was a milestone in Miers’ withdrawal because Concerned Women for America that day had urged Bush to withdraw her candidacy and many other conservatives would have echoed that call.

The conservative Concerned Women had called Miers “unqualified and her record troubling. Miers is not even close to being in the mold of (Justices) Scalia or Thomas as the president promised the American people.”

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