- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

The Senate will resume debating the federal appeals court nomination of Miguel Estrada today after a weeklong recess, and Democrats who oppose the nomination say they still have at least the 41 votes needed to prevent a final vote.
Republicans, however, are hoping their stepped-up efforts to build support for Mr. Estrada nationwide, beginning last week during the break and continuing this week, will pay off and that some Democrats will peel away from the filibuster effort.
"Nothing has changed as far as our numbers," a Senate Democratic aide said.
"We're going to have to wait and see," countered a Senate Republican aide close to the process. Democrats are "saying that, but obviously with all the pressure being exerted out in the districts, the leadership is hopeful that we can induce some Democrats to come over to our side."
Democrats object whenever Republicans try to get unanimous consent to allow a final vote on Mr. Estrada, nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Democrats say Mr. Estrada has dodged their questions and could be a conservative activist judge, and that they want the Justice Department to release legal memos he wrote while he worked in the Solicitor General's office. The request has been repeatedly denied by the department and is opposed by all seven living former solicitors general.
Republicans stepped up their defense during the break last week, with pro-Estrada events across the nation, including in South Dakota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York and Louisiana. Conservative groups ran ads defending Mr. Estrada. President Bush defended him in a Feb. 19 interview with the Spanish-language Telemundo channel.
"I'm upset because Miguel Estrada is a very good man and I believe he is being treated unfairly," the president said in the interview.
The president also made it the main topic of his radio address Saturday, saying, "Democrats are stalling Miguel Estrada's nomination while they search in vain for a reason to reject him."
Alberto Gonzales, White House legal counsel, suggested yesterday that Democratic opposition to the Estrada nomination would generate a backlash from Hispanic voters.
"I think if you look at the growing Hispanic population, it's hard to come to any other conclusion but that in the future the Hispanic vote is going to become more and more important," Mr. Gonzales said on "Fox News Sunday."
"And I think if the Hispanic community believes that Miguel Estrada is being held to a different standard, I think that may be harmful [to Democrats] in the future."
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said Democrats will pay a high political price either by dragging out the process or by stopping Mr. Estrada's nomination. "That's a pretty good campaign slogan: 'This is the person who stopped Miguel Estrada from becoming a judge,'" Mr. Kyl said.
Republicans have not tried to force a final vote by cloture, a procedural move requiring 60 votes. They say the nomination would pass in a straight vote, because Mr. Estrada has the support of 51 Republicans and 3 Democrats. A Senate Republican aide said Republicans would probably decide midweek whether to file cloture.
Today there will be a pro-Estrada press conference in Miami led by Florida Republican Hispanic members of the House and a candlelight vigil supporting Mr. Estrada in San Francisco, which will include Hispanic groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens.
A White House official said Mr. Estrada has met with 10 Democratic senators: Mary L. Landrieu and John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Dianne Feinstein of California, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware.
The Latino Coalition will start running pro-Estrada radio and print ads today in New Orleans and in Washington, and later in the week in Arkansas and Florida.
The ads cite Mr. Estrada's qualifications and argue that "Senators have supported other non-Hispanic judicial nominees with less qualifications and experience. So the only difference here is that they can't support an independent-minded and well-qualified Hispanic."
Mr. Estrada, 41, a native of Honduras, has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court and was unanimously rated well-qualified to be a federal judge by the American Bar Association.


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