- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

More Democrats are breaking ranks and opposing a filibuster of federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada's confirmation, even as one Democrat says his party's opposition is driven by liberal special interest groups.
Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said yesterday that he will vote for Mr. Estrada.
"Based on my conversation with him, and those who know him well, I believe he respects and will honor his moral and legal obligation to uphold the law impartially," he said.
Mr. Nelson joins Democratic Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia, who already have said they will support Mr. Estrada and vote with Republicans if they try to invoke cloture, a procedural move that requires 60 votes to limit debate and force a final vote.
Mr. Miller said his party's opposition to Mr. Estrada is "all political" and can be attributed to pressure from outside interest groups.
"The groups run everything around here," the conservative Democrat said Monday.
Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, said she would like more information from Mr. Estrada but has not publicly revealed how she would vote on cloture. Some Democratic aides expect that she will vote with Republicans.
If she does, Republicans would have 56 votes, four less than the 60 required.
Democrats say Mr. Estrada has not answered their questions about his views and insist that the Justice Department release legal memos he wrote while working there.
"The fundamental rights of the American people are too important to be entrusted to a person about whom we know so little," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.
Groups such as People for the American Way have urged Democrats to block Mr. Estrada, nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, because they believe he is too conservative.
NARAL Pro-Choice America wrote a letter to all senators in January urging opposition to Mr. Estrada and stressing "the vital importance of confirming only judges who are clearly committed to protecting a woman's right to choose."
Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, said Democrats such as Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Mr. Kennedy "got out in front on this a long time ago." He said most Democrats oppose Mr. Estrada because of one or more of the following reasons cited by his group: Mr. Estrada is "the darling of the right wing"; he has been "stonewalling" the Senate, and a filibuster is "the only way" to get President Bush to work with Democrats in choosing nominees.
Republicans and conservative groups, meanwhile, recently have stepped up their pro-Estrada efforts to get more Democrats to join them, with press events nationwide and ad campaigns by conservative groups in key states.
Florida was a target of conservative pressure recently, but Mr. Nelson's spokesman, Dan McLaughlin, insisted that had nothing to do with the decision of his boss. Mr. Nelson met with Mr. Estrada on Feb. 10 and shortly thereafter told Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle that he would not support a filibuster and is likely to back Mr. Estrada's confirmation, Mr. McLaughlin said.
Republicans have not yet filed for cloture because they have insisted on an up-or-down vote on Mr. Estrada requiring a simple majority of 51 votes. But Democrats object whenever Republicans try to get the unanimous consent needed to have such a vote.
"I haven't heard one good reason why Miguel Estrada should not have a vote up and down," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, adding that he thinks Republicans will file cloture "soon enough."
The Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary, which includes NARAL, People for the American Way and several other liberal interest groups began running 30-second television ads in Washington on Monday, accusing Mr. Estrada of "stonewalling the Senate and the public."
Republicans will continue applying pressure today, setting up a "radio row" in the Capitol, where senators can easily pick up a telephone and defend Mr. Estrada on radio shows across the nation. The pro-Estrada ads are running in several states, including California, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

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