- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

The fight to confirm President Bush's judicial nominees officially starts this week in the Senate Judiciary Comittee, with a judicial nomination hearing Wednesday and a vote on Miguel Estrada's nomination Thursday.
"I'm going to have to put my head down and just try to get this job done," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and panel chairman, said Friday.
The committee held its first meeting Friday. Mr. Estrada the president's pick to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was scheduled for a vote then, but Mr. Hatch held it over until this week at the request of Democrats, who complained that he has not answered questions that will let them know how he will rule.
"At his hearing last year, Miguel Estrada refused to answer question after question regarding his judicial philosophy and his views on Supreme Court cases of national interest," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and Judiciary Committee member, said in a statement Friday. "He gave senators no real insight into what kind of a judge he would be if confirmed."
"I am not convinced that he will not become an activist on that court," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the panel's ranking Democrat.
Mr. Hatch predicted the panel would approve Mr. Estrada, who is among a group of nominees who never received votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate last session and were renominated by the president earlier this month.
Also in that group are the three nominees scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday Ohio Supreme Court Justice Deborah L. Cook and Jeffrey S. Sutton, both nominated to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and John G. Roberts Jr., nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court.
Democrats also object to these nominations on ideological grounds, saying Justice Cook and Mr. Sutton have worked to limit civil rights and workers' rights rulings.
Mr. Hatch has also announced he will hold more hearings for two other contentious nominees Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen and U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr., both nominees for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court. Both had hearings last session but were voted down by the Judiciary Committee.
In their quest for more information on Mr. Estrada, Judiciary Democrats also want the Justice Department to release the legal memoranda Mr. Estrada wrote while serving as a lawyer in the Solicitor General's Office a request the department has repeatedly turned down, saying it "threatens the proper functioning of the Office of Solicitor General," and noting that all seven living former solicitors general agree.
The D.C. Circuit Court is considered the bullpen for Supreme Court nominees, having produced Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Republicans have said that Democrats are trying to keep Mr. Estrada from a possible slot on the Supreme Court.
The American Bar Association unanimously awarded Mr. Estrada its highest rating of well-qualified. "When confirmed, Mr. Estrada will be the first Hispanic ever to serve on the second most prestigious court in the United States," Mr. Hatch said.
Meanwhile, Judiciary Democrats also are complaining that Mr. Hatch is changing the panel's so-called blue slip process so that the objection of a senator to a nominee from his home state will not necessarily prevent that nominee from moving forward.
Mr. Hatch has said that under his chairmanship a home-state senator's negative blue slip, signifying opposition, will carry great weight but not be "dispositive," meaning it will not necessarily prevent the nomination from moving forward.
"If he now intends to follow different standards for President Bush's nominees than he did for President Clinton's nominees, the stark change unavoidably is going to have the appearance of playing partisan politics with the independent federal judiciary," Mr. Leahy said.
But Mr. Hatch's spokeswoman, Margarita Tapia, said her boss "has no intention of treating President Bush's nominees any better than Sen. Kennedy treated Reagan's nominees or [Mr. Hatch] treated President Clinton's nominees."
She added that Mr. Hatch, "will treat them better than they have been the last year and a half," referring to Mr. Leahy's time as chairman of the panel.

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