- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The Senate gridlock over a federal appeals court nominee showed little sign of easing Monday, even as supporters continued to press for approval. Democrats are refusing to allow the Senate to vote on Miguel Estrada's nomination because of claims he has refused to properly detail his legal beliefs.

President George W. Bush nominated Estrada, 42, in May 2001 for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

After new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., brought the nomination to the floor earlier this month, Senate Democrats said they would filibuster the nomination because of what they said were unanswered questions by Estrada, who has never been a judge.

Although Republicans control the Senate with a 51 to 49 majority, they lack the 60 votes necessary to end debate on most legislation and nominations — leaving Estrada's nomination up in the air.

Republicans — who are infuriated by the delay — have vowed to force the Democrats into an actual filibuster, where a continuous series of speakers repeatedly refuses to yield the floor until the nomination is withdrawn, or Estrada agrees to release more information on his legal views.

An actual filibuster is rare — one hasn't been seen in more than 15 years — because the side lacking the 60 votes needed to end one usually acquiesces.

The current, quasi-filibuster only continues while the Senate is actually in session, allowing Senators to leave the Capitol at the end of each day.

Despite the stalemate, top Republicans continued to call upon the Democrats to allow a final vote on Estrada's nomination. If he is approved, he would be the first Latino named to the federal appeals bench.

Bush used his national radio address this weekend to complain about vacancies on the federal bench and lambaste Democrats for not acting on more of his judicial nominees.

"It is my responsibility to submit judicial nominations," he said Saturday. "It is the Senate's responsibility to conduct prompt hearings and an up or down floor vote on all judicial nominees. Yet a handful of Democratic senators, for partisan reasons, are attempting to prevent any vote at all on highly qualified nominees."

Only one Democratic Senator — Zell Miller of Georgia — has indicated he would vote for Estrada or to end the filibuster of his nomination.

Although Estrada has never been a judge, he has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court and had an impressive legal career. Bush highlighted his personal story as being even more impressive.

"Miguel Estrada is an exceptional nominee for the federal bench. He also has a remarkable personal story," he said. "He came to America from Honduras as a teenager, speaking little English.

"Within a few years, he had graduated with high honors from Columbia College and Harvard Law School. Miguel Estrada then served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, as a federal prosecutor in New York, and as assistant to the Solicitor General of the United States."

But his refusal to answer the questions of Senate Democrats — who fear that Estrada holds extremely conservative views — has hobbled his nomination. Democrats claim they would release the nomination if Estrada would clarify his legal views — or reveal them at all.

So far, he and the administration have refused to discuss his stance on any controversial issue.

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