- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Democrats are targeting for defeat Miguel Estrada's confirmation to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, angering Republicans who say he is being discriminated against for being a conservative minority.

"There is no question in my mind that anyone who fits the profile of a conservative minority the bar immediately goes up. On women and minorities, they have much more stringent rules," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.

Democrats promised in March Mr. Estrada would get a hearing this year set for tomorrow but have not committed to an up-or-down vote in committee, where two other conservative nominees of President Bush have been defeated.

With the clock ticking for Congress to adjourn the session in the next three weeks, the committee may simply run out of time to schedule a vote. No committee Democrat has voiced support for Mr. Estrada, a D.C. lawyer, and the nomination has been held up for more than 500 days.

Democrats set the tone yesterday with a hearing in the Judiciary subcommittee on administrative oversight and the courts, titled "The D.C. Circuit: The Importance of Balance on the Nation's Second-Highest Court."

"Instead of playing games, instead of playing 'gotcha' politics on both sides, we should be honest and say that ideology is what bothers us," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and subcommittee chairman.

The hearing reminded Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, ranking member and Utah Republican, of a required first-year college course nicknamed "Introduction to the Obvious."

"If the point of this hearing is to show that the D.C. Circuit currently includes four judges appointed by Democrats and four appointed by Republicans, then we hardly need to convene a Senate subcommittee to figure that out," Mr. Hatch said.

"If the further point is made that adding one Republican appointee will result in five Republican appointees and four Democrat appointees, then I still can't imagine the hearing being disrupted by reporters running from the room yelling, 'Stop the presses.'"

Mr. Schumer said he didn't want judges who were too far left or right, "I want judges who will be nonideological."

But Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said later that was not the case under the previous administration.

"I didn't hear a whisper of packing the 2nd and 9th Circuit Courts with liberals during the Clinton administration. They weren't concerned with ideological balance then. It was a one-way street," Mr. Kyl said.

The D.C. Circuit Court is considered the bullpen for Supreme Court nominees, having produced Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

While Democrats say they are concerned Mr. Estrada is too conservative, Republicans say the objection a thinly veiled attempt to prevent Mr. Estrada from advancing to the Supreme Court.

"This is totally about the Supreme Court. They would rather kill him on the Circuit Court level than oppose him as a Supreme Court nominee five years later. This is where they can put a 'glass ceiling' on women and minorities," Mr. Santorum said.

Mr. Estrada was ranked well-qualified by the American Bar Association. So was Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen who was nominated to the 5th Circuit Court, but her nomination was defeated in committee.

The Bush administration yesterday called on the Senate to put aside partisan issues and confirm Mr. Estrada.

"I join President Bush in calling on senators of both parties to rise above the bitterness of the past and to provide a fair hearing and a prompt vote on every nominee," Attorney General John Ashcroft told the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Mr. Bush has nominated 32 Circuit judges, and 14 have been confirmed. He has nominated 127 district judges, with 78 confirmed.

Meanwhile, a group of Hispanic leaders held a press conference on Capitol Hill asking Democrats to do away with "pinata politics."

"They are taking Estrada and beating him until he goes away," said Juan Henao of the Young Hispanic Republican Association.

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