- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

Senate Republicans and Hispanic leaders yesterday accused Democrats of discriminating against circuit court nominee Miguel Estrada and blocking the nomination for nearly a year because the candidate is conservative and Hispanic.

"What you are seeing here is an assault by the Senate Judiciary Committee on anyone who is a conservative," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.

"This is Clarence Thomas all over again. This is complete discrimination," Mr. Santorum said during a Capitol Hill news conference that included numerous Hispanic groups waving signs in support of Mr. Estrada. During his contentious 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Clarence Thomas charged that he was the victim of a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks."

"The fact of the matter is, the bar is raised if you are a conservative minority," Mr. Santorum said.

Mr. Estrada has been nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and is being touted as a possible Supreme Court contender.

President Bush has submitted 29 circuit court nominations to the Democrat-controlled Senate; seven have been approved. During the first two years of the Clinton administration, 22 nominees were submitted and 19 approved. In the same period of the elder Bush's administration, 22 out of 23 nominees were confirmed, and the Reagan administration saw 19 of 20 confirmed.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, told those gathered he wanted to "let the people of Hispanic descent know that we are here for you, regardless of your thoughts and views."

"We will not discriminate against you because you don't agree with us, as some of the other side appear to be doing," Mr. Hatch said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the accusations "don't pass the laugh test." He said the remarks "were absurd, laughable, and demeaning to our process."

"It is a smoke screen and a diversion, and it will not work. We will not be stampeded or bamboozled by the cheap-shot argument made today," he said.

Mr. Schumer's comments were made during a separate Capitol Hill news conference originally called by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, to discuss Mr. Estrada's nomination. Mr. Leahy was unable to attend because of a conference meeting on the farm bill, and sent Mr. Schumer instead.

Mr. Leahy's office later issued a written statement calling the Republican claims "pure partisan bunk."

"Most offensive of all is the insinuation that Mr. Estrada has been treated unfairly and that his Hispanic heritage is the reason," Mr. Leahy said.

"To contend that Mr. Estrada, a young attorney with no judicial experience, is the only Hispanic who could be a nominee to a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States does a disservice to the many outstanding Hispanic judges serving in our federal and state courts," Mr. Leahy said.

Democrats are concerned that Mr. Estrada's views are "way out of the mainstream." Mr. Schumer said he questioned Mr. Estrada's stances on civil rights and abortion.

Mr. Estrada will get a hearing and a vote sometime this year, but Mr. Schumer could not provide a specific month. Mr. Schumer said he is still studying Mr. Estrada's record and has not decided whether he will vote for him.

Supporters call Mr. Estrada an American success story. Born in Honduras, he immigrated to the United States as a teen-ager who barely spoke English, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College in New York, and Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. He is currently a partner in a Washington law firm.

"What is it about Miguel that liberal Senate Democrats do not like?" asked the Rev. Martin Garcia, executive director of La Amistad, a coalition of Hispanic churches.

"The fact he taught himself English or that he is the picture of the American dream an immigrant who studied hard and became successful? Mr. Estrada does not think the way liberals believe Hispanics should think therefore he is unacceptable," Mr. Garcia said.

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