- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Senate Democrats, saying yesterday that they have enough support for a filibuster, are blocking a vote on the judicial nomination of Miguel A. Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals until they get more information from the Bush administration.
"Until that information is provided, we will not be in a position to allow a vote to come to the Senate floor," Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said yesterday.
Democrats sent a letter to President Bush yesterday, asking the Justice Department to release legal memorandums Mr. Estrada wrote while serving as a lawyer in the Solicitor General's Office a request that has been denied by the department thus far and opposed by the seven former solicitors general still living. Democrats also want Mr. Estrada to answer questions about his political views and legal philosophy, which they say he refused to do during his hearing last year.
The lack of information on Mr. Estrada, they say, only bolsters Democratic suspicions that he will be a conservative activist judge.
"There is a shroud of secrecy around this nominee that is very disconcerting," Mr. Daschle said. "Either this nominee knows nothing, or he feels he must hide something."
Mr. Bush issued a statement yesterday urging the Senate "to act quickly and allow for an up or down vote on this worthy candidate."
Republicans say Mr. Estrada is well-qualified and that the Democrats are playing politics.
"He certainly has all the qualifications necessary," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. "The fact of the matter is there is a different standard being used against Miguel Estrada, and I suspect it's not because he's Hispanic, but because he's a Hispanic Republican who may be conservative."
Mr. Hatch said Democrats are afraid Mr. Estrada is on the fast track to the Supreme Court and are trying to "damage" him to prevent such a nomination. The D.C. Circuit Court is considered the bullpen for Supreme Court nominees.
Mr. Estrada, 41, was first nominated by Mr. Bush in May 2001. He is a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association unanimously rated him well-qualified to be a federal judge.
Republicans say it would set a terrible precedent to defeat an appeals court nominee through a filibuster which has never been done before.
Mr. Daschle said yesterday that Democrats have the 41 votes necessary to filibuster by defeating Republican cloture attempts. Invoking cloture requires 60 votes and limits debate, forcing a final vote.
But Republicans want a straight up-or-down vote on the nomination. There must be a unanimous consent agreement to have such a vote in the Senate, which requires a simple majority of 51 votes.
Late yesterday, Mr. Hatch tried to get a unanimous consent agreement to set a vote after an additional 50 hours of debate, but Democrats objected to it.
"It's apparent now that we're in the middle of a filibuster," Mr. Hatch said.
Early yesterday, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said Republicans will not file cloture on Mr. Estrada's nomination because that would set a precedent that all judicial nominees need 60 votes to pass the Senate.
But later in the day, however, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said that "there has been no decision made as to whether to file cloture or not."
Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he wants to allow enough debate this week, but he also wants Democrats to agree to an eventual up-or-down vote.
"If they want to stay through the weekend, we'll stay through the weekend," said Mr. Frist, who also threatened to cancel the President's Day recess scheduled for next week.
At least three Democrats have broken ranks from their colleagues. Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia have said that they would support Mr. Estrada and oppose a filibuster.

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