- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Democrats are suffering no political damage from three ongoing filibusters of judicial nominees, and Republicans say they may have to wait for the next election to break the deadlock.

“I think it’s probably most likely to be solved by the American people in the next election, given the difficulty of changing the rules here in the Senate,” Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said as the Senate began it summer recess last week.

Mr. McConnell and other top Republican leaders have rattled their sabers for months, threatening to alter Senate rules so that a simple majority would be needed to confirm nominees and essentially end filibusters against judicial nominations. Under current rules, 60 votes are required to end debate on a nominee so that a final vote on confirmation may be taken.

This change in tactics comes at a time when polls suggest that Americans are simply not tuning in to the high-volume debate on Capitol Hill about President Bush’s nominees to the federal courts.

People for the American Way, a liberal interest group influential among Democrats on the issue of judicial nominations, commissioned a poll that found only a third of Americans had heard anything about the filibusters.

“People just are not aware of it,” said Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the firm that conducted the poll in June.

Democrats are preventing final votes on three Bush nominees to the federal court and have indicated that they will filibuster more.

The most noted nominee stranded in the confirmation battle is Washington lawyer Miguel A. Estrada, nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Republicans, along with several Democrats, have voted seven times to bring Mr. Estrada’s nomination to the floor for a final vote. Each time, the effort has been turned by back by a group of 45 unwavering Democrats.

Republicans have tried making the plight of the Honduran-born Mr. Estrada into a rallying cry in Hispanic communities.

But most Hispanics, polling has found, have not heard of the filibuster and many of those who had were confusing Mr. Estrada with actor Erik Estrada, who was on the 1970s television police drama “CHiPS” and is now a popular Spanish-language soap opera star.

Also being filibustered is Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The block of 45 Democrats has voted three times to prevent a final confirmation vote on her.

A third filibuster began last week against Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, nominated to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democrats also have vowed to filibuster other nominees, including California Judge Carolyn Kuhl, nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. District Court Judge Charles W. Pickering of Mississippi. Judge Pickering is nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Still, Republicans say they intend to continue fighting with Democrats over the nominations, hoping their charges of obstructionism will stick to Democrats in the next election.

“We’re going to make them vote over and over and over again — obstruct, obstruct, obstruct, obstruct,” Mr. McConnell said. “And that’s what they’re doing. We’re going to give them an opportunity to demonstrate that in public on any and all nominations they will not allow to have an up-or-down vote.”

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