- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Washington lawyer Miguel A. Estrada, the first Hispanic nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, withdrew his name from consideration yesterday after more than two years of debate over his nomination.

An eight-month Democratic filibuster prevented a Senate vote on the Estrada nomination, which took 16 months to get a hearing by the Judiciary Committee.

“I believe that the time has come to return my full attention to the practice of law and to regain the ability to make long-term plans for my family,” Mr. Estrada wrote in a letter delivered to President Bush yesterday.

Calling it a “political hate crime” and an “American nightmare,” Republicans and a handful of Democrats lashed out at the 45 Senate Democrats who led the filibuster against Mr. Estrada.

“Mr. Estrada received disgraceful treatment at the hands of 45 United States Senators during the more than two years his nomination was pending,” Mr. Bush said in a written statement. “The treatment of this fine man is an unfortunate chapter in the Senate’s history.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay went further: “The Democrats’ character assassination of Miguel Estrada was a political hate crime. We have witnessed the Democrats at their ugliest.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and an architect of the filibuster against Mr. Estrada, defended his efforts as being completely within the bounds of the Constitution.

“The Founding Fathers did not want the Senate to be a rubber stamp,” he said, referring to the Senate’s “advice and consent” responsibility dealing with judicial nominees.

Specifically, Democrats say they opposed Mr. Estrada because they didn’t know enough about him and his legal work. They demanded that his legal writings be turned over from his days as a lawyer in the Solicitor General’s Office in the Clinton administration.

The White House refused, arguing that any such documents would be privileged. Republicans also trotted out four Democratic solicitors general who concurred and said it would be a dangerous precedent to release Mr. Estrada’s writings.

Mr. Schumer remained insistent on the point, saying yesterday that “the White House thumbed its nose at the constitutionally prescribed role of the Senate in the nominations process.”

Republicans offered a more sinister explanation for the Democratic blockade.

Born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Mr. Estrada arrived in the United States as a teenager speaking no english and with no apparent prospects. In time, he earned a law degree from Harvard University, argued cases before the Supreme Court and joined a successful law firm.

Naming Mr. Estrada to the appeals court and, possibly one day, to the Supreme Court could provide significant bragging rights for Mr. Bush among Hispanics, the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States.

“Democratic leaders wanted to take him down now so that the president could not have the first Hispanic-American appointee to the Supreme Court,” Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said yesterday. “This is one of the darkest and lowest points in Senate history.”

News of Mr. Estrada’s withdrawal was leaked to the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial pages, which responded yesterday by criticizing Republicans because “they still haven’t decided to make judgeships a fighting issue.”

Though one Republican senator said he had been given “an inkling” of Mr. Estrada’s decision on Wednesday, Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, appeared in the dark yesterday morning when asked by reporters about the editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

“If he withdraws his name, it’s a disservice to the American people and it shows a shortcoming in this body,” he said.

Though Republicans were unified yesterday in blaming Democrats, some had previously grumbled that Mr. Frist and other Republican leaders were not moving aggressively enough to force Mr. Estrada’s nomination through to confirmation.

Asked yesterday if he would now resort to more drastic measures to dislodge three other filibusters Democrats currently have against judicial nominees, Mr Frist said he would continue to consider them.

But, he added, “I am very hopeful that this will be a sufficient message to our Democratic colleagues” to surrender on their other filibusters.

Meanwhile, Democrats were hardly in a surrendering mood.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, called the news of Mr. Estrada’s withdrawal “a victory for the Constitution, for the nation’s judicial system and for the American people. This decision reflects a clear recognition by Mr. Estrada — and hopefully this White House — that under the Constitution, the Senate has shared power over judicial nominees.”

That view was not shared by all Democrats.

“Miguel Estrada has become the latest victim of Washington’s partisan, obstructionist politics,” said Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat. “This hardworking, highly qualified immigrant came to this country to pursue the American dream. For the past 28 months, he has been caught in an American nightmare.”

Many Republicans warned that Mr. Estrada’s plight will be remembered during next year’s elections. And several even held out hope that he may surface once again as a nominee to the federal bench, possibly the Supreme Court.

Even Mr. Estrada himself seemed open to the idea.

“I remain indebted to you for offering me the opportunity to serve my adopted country, which has been so welcoming and generous to me and my family,” he wrote to Mr. Bush. “I profoundly hope that, at some time in the future, I may be called again to serve my country in some capacity.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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