- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

President Bush, surrounded by a dozen top Hispanic officials from his administration, yesterday charged that Senate Democrats are holding up the judicial nomination of a conservative Hispanic lawyer "for purely political reasons."
Addressing the Latino Coalition at a White House event, Mr. Bush said the Senate's two-year delay in voting on Miguel Estrada his nominee to become the first Hispanic on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a "travesty."
"The senators are applying a double standard to Miguel Estrada by requiring him to answer questions that other judicial nominees, over time, have not been forced to answer. And that is not right, and that is not fair," the president said.
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 act 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.
While Republicans have the 51 Senate votes needed to confirm Mr. Estrada in a floor vote, the party lacks the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster, which Democrats have threatened in order to kill the nomination. Democrats say they have 44 senators lined up against Mr. Estrada.
But Mr. Bush said some Democrats in the Senate are flouting "the intention of the United States Constitution and the tradition of the United States Senate itself."
While the Honduran-born Estrada is a Harvard Law School graduate who served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a federal prosecutor in New York and assistant to the solicitor general of the United States, Democrats say he should not get the post because, they maintain, he did not sufficiently answer their questions about judicial philosophy.
The Senate's most liberal members including Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont say Mr. Estrada has been evasive during three weeks of hearings, refusing to answer questions about specific issues, including abortion rights.
But yesterday, after the Latino Coalition began airing radio ads in Florida and a handful of other states in support of the 41-year-old Estrada, Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, announced he would support the nomination.
Liberals charge Mr. Bush with seeking to pack the judiciary with conservatives.
The judicial battle is viewed as a dress rehearsal for Mr. Bush's first U.S. Supreme Court nominee, who could be Mr. Estrada.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is considered the nation's second-most-powerful court because it often resolves disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government.
Three current Supreme Court justices once sat on it.
The Senate's top Democrat on Tuesday urged Republicans to drop the Estrada nomination.
"As this economy worsens, we spend our time on the floor totally consumed with one nomination having to do with a circuit court nominee for the District of Columbia," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
As the debate about Mr. Estrada continues, Republicans are trying to gain the support of Democrats from states with large Hispanic populations.
Yesterday, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez joined Senate Republican leaders and several other top Hispanic administration officials in urging a floor vote on Mr. Estrada.


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