Senate Republican leaders yesterday tried to set a Monday vote on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, but Democrats said they needed more time for floor debate.
“Clearly this nomination deserves careful consideration, ample debate,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. “It is a controversial nomination.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, tried to set the vote. He said he did not consider the Democrats’ move to block the vote a filibuster but intended to keep pushing early next week for Democrats to agree to a time limit for debate and a final vote.
Mr. Frist said agreeing to a time limit would “express the real desire to have good debate … and then to allow an up-or-down vote on this nominee.”
The Senate will resume debating Mr. Estrada’s nomination Monday.
Democrats said they had not decided whether to block the nomination with a filibuster. Some have raised questions about that strategy, and Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, is opposing any filibuster attempt.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “Already a number of important Democrats are distancing themselves from the rare efforts of some in the Democratic Party to filibuster the naming of a judge who obviously has bipartisan support.”
Democrats need 41 votes to allow senators to continue talking and prevent a final vote. Republicans need 60 votes to “invoke cloture,” which limits debate and forces a final vote. Republicans have not yet tried that step.
Democrats have indicated they may have the 41 votes to defeat one cloture motion but may not be able to continue to block subsequent motions.
Democrats say Mr. Estrada has not answered their questions about his political views and legal philosophy.
“It appears he’s been groomed to be an activist appellate judge,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, noting that Mr. Estrada, in his committee hearing, declined to name one Supreme Court ruling with which he disagreed.
Mr. Estrada, 41, is a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association unanimously rated him well-qualified to be a federal judge.
A native of Honduras, Mr. Estrada came to the United States at age 17 and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Clinton administration as an assistant to the solicitor general.
“It is obvious the opposition to Miguel Estrada is not concerned with merit or intellect,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican. “They are more concerned with just plain partisan politics.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this week that the issue of abortion is underlying the whole fight over President Bush’s judicial nominees and that some senators privately have made it their standard that only pro-choice candidates be confirmed to the federal bench.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a pro-choice advocate, disagreed. She said “all kinds of things” are taken into consideration when evaluating nominees, including their views on civil rights and workers’ rights. She said Mr. Estrada was “stonewalling” the Judiciary Committee by refusing to answer its questions.