- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

CRAWFORD, Texas The Senate must "stop playing politics" on his federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada and "give the man a vote," President Bush said yesterday.
"I submitted his nomination in May of 2001, and Miguel Estrada has been waiting ever since," the president said in his weekly radio address. "That's almost two years, and that's a disgrace."
If approved, Mr. Estrada, 41, would be the first Hispanic on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which often decides important government cases and is considered the second-most powerful court in the nation after the Supreme Court.
With the Senate returning to work this week and a third week of debate on the nomination Mr. Bush sought to pressure the Senate to act on one of his most controversial nominees to date. Mr. Estrada is a Harvard Law School graduate who served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a federal prosecutor in New York and assistant to the solicitor general of the United States, but Democrats claim he is unqualified for the federal bench.
Liberal senators, such as Democrats Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, contend Mr. Estrada's refusal to answer questions about specific cases, including abortion rights, during his confirmation hearing precludes him from the post.
"Mr. Estrada will not answer basic questions about his judicial philosophy, yet he is asking the Senate to confirm him to a lifetime job on the second-highest court in the land," Mr. Leahy said.
Mr. Kennedy urged Mr. Bush to give senators "the information necessary on which to base a vote."
But the president said the Senate is holding up a floor vote on his nominee for purely political reasons.
"It is the Senate's responsibility to conduct prompt hearings and an up-or-down floor vote on all judicial nominees," Mr. Bush said, "yet a handful of Democratic senators, for partisan reasons, are attempting to prevent any vote at all on highly qualified nominees."
Since taking office, Mr. Bush has put forward 34 nominations for the federal courts of appeals. So far, just half have received a full Senate vote, and 12 of the remaining 17 nominees have been waiting more than a year for such a vote.
"These delays endanger American justice. Vacant federal benches lead to crowded court dockets, overworked judges and longer waits for Americans who want their cases heard," Mr. Bush said. "I call on the Senate Democratic leadership to stop playing politics and permit a vote on Miguel Estrada's nomination. Let each senator vote as he or she thinks best, but give the man a vote."
Democrats want copies of confidential Justice Department memos Mr. Estrada wrote while working in the solicitor general's office, which represents the White House before the Supreme Court. They said those writings would reveal how Mr. Estrada would think as a judge.
The Bush administration has refused to release those memos, and seven former solicitors general, both Democratic and Republican, have backed that decision.
The Republicans have the 51 Senate votes needed to confirm him, but lack the 60 votes needed to stop a threatened filibuster.
"Democrats are stalling Miguel Estrada's nomination, while they search in vain for a reason to reject him," Mr. Bush said. "Their tactics are unfair to the good man I have nominated and unfaithful to the Senate's own obligations."

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