- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) — President George W. Bush on Saturday used his weekly radio address to urge Senate lawmakers to "stop playing politics" and allow a vote on the nomination of his choice for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Miguel Estrada.

"Some senators who once insisted that every appeals court nominee deserves a vote have abandoned that principle for partisan politics. Their tactics are unfair to the good man I have nominated, and unfaithful to the Senate's own obligations," Bush said.

Bush nominated Estrada last year and has blamed Democrats for holding up his confirmation vote. Democrats, however, say they want more information about Estrada's legal views. The dispute has escalated an already contentious relationship between the White House and Senate Democrats over judicial nominations.

Estrada, a Honduran immigrant and Harvard Law School graduate, would be the first Hispanic-American to serve on the court.

Democrats vowed a filibuster of Estrada's nomination until they received answers to the question they had about the Washington attorney. They said Estrada refused to answer questions on the death penalty, a woman's right to choose, and environmental protection.

"Many of us disagree on these contentious issues. Mr. Estrada was not required to answer in a way that would mis-characterize his own views, or try to cater to ours. He chose not to answer at all," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

The president said Saturday that the nation faces a vacancy crisis in the federal courts. Regional appeals courts have a 15 percent judicial vacancy rate, Bush said. He said that since taking office he has sent 34 "qualified, mainstream" federal courts of appeals nominees to the Senate, but only half of them have received a vote in the Senate and 12 of the 17 remaining nominees have been waiting more than a year for a floor vote.

Last year, Bush called on federal judges to give the president one year's notice of their intention to retire, whenever possible. He proposed that presidents submit a nomination to the U.S. Senate within 180 days of receiving notice of a federal court vacancy or a judge's intention to retire.

He called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to commit to holding a hearing within 90 days of receiving a nomination to ensure that nominees are promptly considered. And he asked the full Senate to commit to an up-or-down floor vote on each nominee no later than 180 days after the nomination is submitted.

So far, no action has been taken on his proposal.

Daschle, earlier this month, accused Estrada of having "the thinnest record of anyone ever to be nominated for a circuit court judgeship."

"From his performance in front of the Judiciary Committee, and his unwillingness to share even the most basic information, you can draw one of two conclusions: Either this nominee knows nothing. Or he feels he needs to hide something. Neither is acceptable when it comes to a lifetime position on the second highest court in the land," Daschle said.

Senate rules dictate that a nomination cannot be brought to vote if the Democrats can provide at 41 votes to sustain their filibuster.

The nonprofit group Committee for Justice led by C. Boyden Gray launched a campaign in support of Estrada with television ad campaign "Land of Opportunity" that calls the Democrats' actions an act of intolerance.

"I am amused by how thin-skinned the Senate Democrats can be. They use racially divisive code words to attack Mr. Estrada but cannot take any return fire," Gray said in a released statement.

Bush said Saturday that senators should vote "as he or she thinks best," but that they should "give the man a vote."

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