- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

America essentially governs itself by simple majority rule, but not in the Senate where Miguel Estradaneeds 60 votes to be confirmed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Constitution gives President Bush the power to nominate judges to the federal courts "with the advice and consent" of the Senate. It says nothing about requiring judicial nominees to win a supermajority of 60 votes to be confirmed. It says nothing about requiring nominees to reveal their views on specific issues that may come before the court.
Yet, these tyrannical criteria are what Senate Democrats have been lording over this Honduran immigrant, a man with an unblemished record of public service and the American Bar Association's highest approval rating.
The reason: A gang of ultraliberal Democrats, which includes Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Charles Schumer of New York, do not want Mr. Estrada confirmed. They say he is too conservative, so they are filibustering his nomination to prevent an up-or-down majority roll call vote a vote that he deserves.
If that vote were held, Mr. Estrada would sail through the Senate with as many as 55 votes, including up to three Democrats. Getting 60 votes in the narrowly divided Senate is almost impossible.
What, specifically, do these Democrats not like about Mr. Estrada? There is no clear answer because they do not say, at least not explicitly. They complain he has not answered their questions fully. That is to say, he refuses to say how he will vote on controversial issues.
Of course, if Mr. Estrada even hinted how he would vote on such issues, he would be abandoning his solemn responsibility to deliver justice impartially and without prejudice.
Mr. Schumer, one of the ringleaders in the filibuster, says, "Just rubber-stamping the president's ideological choices wasn't what the Founding Fathers intended." No, but the Founding Fathers did not intend the Senate to block a nomination for no substantial reason, either. Nothing in Mr. Estrada's past experience has been found to be illegal, unethical or out of bounds in any way. On the contrary, this is an exemplary American with an extraordinary record of achievement.
Mr. Estrada came to America from Honduras at age 17, able to speak little English. He graduated from Columbia University and then Harvard Law School, where he became the editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.
After serving as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, he was named an assistant U.S. attorney in the first Bush administration. President Clinton, who also liked him, appointed him as an assistant solicitor general. He went on to argue 15 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 41-year-old Mr. Estrada is now working in the Washington law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.
If there is one thing that Senate Democrats are good at, it's obstructing. Mr. Bush nominated Mr. Estrada about four months after taking office, and they've been blocking him ever since. He renominated him after the Republicans regained control of the Senate.
For now, Republicans are willing to let the Democrats pursue their little filibuster because it is causing a furor among Hispanic leaders nationwide.
One reason Democrats lost the Senate and several more House seats last year is that Republicans boosted their share of the Hispanic vote to 39 percent, a record in a midterm election. Mr. Bush is hoping to capture an even larger share of their vote in 2004. To this end, the White House is promoting Mr. Estrada's story with everything they've got in the Hispanic community.
Early evidence suggests the administration's campaign is beginning to pay off, at least politically. The Democrats' obstructionist tactics are stirring bitter resentment among Hispanic voters, according to officials at the more than 70 organizations that are supporting his nomination.
Especially at the nation's largest Hispanic organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Senior LULAC officials told me they are hearing growing complaints at their grass roots about the Democrats' relentless attacks on Mr. Estrada. "Why are they beating up one of our own?" is the common refrain heard from what is one of the nation's largest minority voting bloc.
Surprisingly, the National Council of La Raza in Washington is neutral on Mr. Estrada, though La Raza officials privately say there is discord in their ranks over this fateful decision.
"This is a huge political blunder by Daschle and the Democrats and they are going to pay for it in next year's elections if they succeed in killing this nomination," an administration adviser told me.
Some top Democrats acknowledge that Republicans are making inroads among black and Hispanic voters, so Mr. Daschle's decision to filibuster Mr. Estrada may be one of the worst political decisions that his party has made in the last 50 years.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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