Back To The Drawing Board

President Bush listens as White House counsel Harriet Miers speaks from the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 3, 2005, in Washington, after he nominated Miers, the first women president of the Texas State Bar and Bush's former personal attorney, as is his choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day OConnor on the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Denied his first choice, President Bush is scrambling to find a new Supreme Court nominee who can calm a conservative rebellion and walk surefootedly through a Senate confirmation hearing.

That could point to a handful of federal judges believed to have been finalists when Mr. Bush made his doomed choice of Harriet Miers.

Some top contenders are believed to be federal appellate judges Samuel Alito, J. Michael Luttig, J. Harvie Wilkinson, Alice Batchelder, Priscilla Owen and Karen Williams as well as Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan.

CBS News White House correspondent John Roberts reports that Miers, as White House counsel, will help lead the search for her replacement, and the White House has not ruled out going outside the usual list of suspects.

"I don't know that it has to be a judge,"

, former RNC Chairman and current White House advisor. "I don't think we should abandon the principle that we could put somebody on the bench from off a lower court."

Mr. Bush could turn to a current or past senator, such as Republican John Cornyn of Texas, believing the Senate would be more likely to embrace one of its own.

Miers, a Texas lawyer and loyal Bush confidante who remains White House counsel, was criticized for having thin credentials on constitutional law and no proven record as a judicial conservative.

CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports that Miers' friends in Dallas said she deserved better treatment.

"I think she may have suffered and it's very unfair," said Linda Eads. "She would have made a terrific Supreme Court justice."

Read Harriet Miers' letter to the president (.pdf)

The criticism of Miers' credentials lessens the chance that Mr. Bush will pick someone else who has never rapped a gavel on a judicial bench. It also makes it less likely that the president will choose anyone who could be tagged a Bush crony, according to lawyers in regular touch with White House officials involved in the selection process.

Mr. Bush now finds himself in the awkward spot of finding a replacement for a candidate he had described as the most qualified person in the country. He also had said Miers brought a fresh approach because she had never been a judge.

Deeply disappointed by Miers' demise, Mr. Bush will be looking for a repeat of the Senate's 78-22 vote to confirm John Roberts as the 17th chief justice.

"I think that the president is likely to return to the short list of people that everyone left to right agreed are the most qualified," said Brad Berenson, a former staff member of the White House counsel's office in the Bush administration. "The lesson of the Roberts and Miers nominations taken together is that there's considerable safety and power in selecting people whose qualifications can't be questioned."

The White House said it was not the firestorm of opposition from Mr. Bush's right flank, but the Senate's demand for documents covered by attorney-client and executive privileges that forced Miers' withdrawal.

Both these reasons makes it unlikely Mr. Bush will choose Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, another Bush ally who has been on the candidate list.

As with Miers, senators would seek documents Gonzales handled when he was White House counsel, and the White House again would claim executive privilege in denying their release. Nominating Gonzales also would re-ignite the very opposition Mr. Bush is trying to dampen on his right from members of his own party who don't think Gonzales is a reliable conservative vote on abortion and affirmative action.