- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

Top Senate Democrats met Hispanic leaders at the Capitol one day last week to reaffirm the party's bond with the minority group.
It was also day 407 without a confirmation hearing for Hispanic judicial nominee Miguel Estrada.
"It's a joke," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I don't want to impugn their sincerity on wanting to help Hispanic people. But it goes both ways. Take Estrada you'd have to look the world over to find anybody more intelligent and more capable. They haven't got a thing they can find fault with, other than that they think he's conservative."
Mr. Estrada, nominated to the D.C. Court of Appeals, is one of 22 appellate court nominees awaiting action by the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee. President Bush nominated him May 9, 2001.
A spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy said the Vermont Democrat has pledged to hold a hearing for Mr. Estrada before the end of this year, though the panel has not scheduled a date.
There are 87 federal judicial vacancies nationwide, a relatively high number, though by no means the most in the past 10 years. Judicial vacancies reached a high of 146 under President George Bush in 1992, and there were 131 open seats on the federal bench under President Bill Clinton in 1993.
The Senate confirmed 45 percent of the president's judicial nominations during his first year in office, compared with 56 percent in the first year of Mr. Clinton's presidency.
Republicans say Democrats are deliberately stalling on Mr. Bush's judicial nominations, especially on candidates for appeals courts, which are one step below the Supreme Court.
Democrats say their record of approving nominees is better than that of the Republicans, saying they confirmed more nominees 57 in 10 months than the Republicans did in any of the last four years of Mr. Clinton's presidency.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, have been negotiating for several weeks on an agreement to confirm more judges. But both leaders reported late last week that they had yet to reach a deal on what Mr. Lott said would be likely to involve 11 or 12 judges, among them appeals court nominee D. Brooks Smith.
"Most of them are not controversial at all, district judges," Mr. Lott said, adding that the slow-moving talks are "like osmosis, kind of oozing around."
"We've made substantial progress," Mr. Daschle said of negotiations during the past few weeks, including a meeting Thursday with White House officials.
He said he hoped an agreement could be completed tomorrow for voting on nominations throughout this week before the Senate takes a weeklong July Fourth holiday.
The talks apparently do not include a proposal to confirm Ellen Weintraub, who is Mr. Daschle's choice to fill a seat on the Federal Election Commission. She is a lawyer at Perkins Coie, the firm that represents Mr. Daschle's political action committees as well as other Democratic PACs.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has said he will block her confirmation until Democrats agree to confirm more judicial nominees.
Mr. Lott said part of the delay on judges was a "very unfortunate requirement" by Mr. Leahy to hold recorded floor votes "on each one of them."
"That could take a lot of time," Mr. Lott said.
Mr. Leahy said he has "enormous respect" for Mr. Daschle and would abide by whatever agreement the leaders reach.
Leahy spokesman David Carle said most judicial nominations get recorded votes but that Mr. Leahy "would certainly defer" to Mr. Daschle on that matter.
The committee has scheduled a nomination hearing for this week on three candidates, including Judge Dennis Shedd of South Carolina, nominated to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Shedd served for 10 years on the staff of Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican.
The National Abortion Rights Action League said it has "concerns" about Judge Shedd's nomination because he lacks a "proven record" of supporting the pro-choice position.
Mr. Hatch said there are 31 vacancies on the 11 federal appeals courts, a situation he called "disastrous."
"I'm getting complaints from judges all over the country that they can't get their work done; there's too much pressure on them," Mr. Hatch said.
He said he doubted that the talks between Mr. Lott and Mr. Daschle would do much to ease the crisis.
"I think [the talks] are serious, but we don't see much give on their part," Mr. Hatch said. "I think Leahy's doing whatever Tom wants him to do."
Republicans have charged that Democrats do not want to confirm Mr. Estrada because they fear that Mr. Bush would eventually nominate him to the Supreme Court, making him the most visible example of Republicans' efforts to court Hispanics.
"Their whole goal is to keep these guys off until at least the end of this year, and then that puts it into April or May of next year, when everybody feels there will be a retirement from the Supreme Court," Mr. Hatch said. "And it makes it more difficult for them to be put up for the Supreme Court."

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