- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — A Senate committee Thursday forwarded the nomination of Miguel Estrada to a federal circuit court to the entire Senate, where it will face opposition from Democrats. The highly touted nomination — the administration is considering Estrada for a Supreme Court position — could face a Democratic filibuster on the Senate floor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination despite criticism from Democrats that Estrada, a Washington lawyer, lacks enough experience to join the federal circuit court for the District of Columbia. Republicans countered that Estrada was being smeared by the president's political opponents.

"One new obstacle that Hispanics face today is the attempt by some Washington political operatives to smear anyone who would be a positive role model for Hispanics and who might be a constitutionalist rather than a liberal judicial activist, or might be conservative or, perish the thought, Republican," said committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

But the panel's top Democrat countered that Estrada's ethnic background should be viewed neutrally when establishing the nominee's qualifications for a federal judgeship.

"The fact that a nominee is Latino should not be a shield from full inquiry, especially when a nominee's record is as sparse as is Mr. Estrada's," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.

Leahy and other Democrats worry that Estrada's lack of a record makes it difficult to vet his experience and position and have asked for more information from the nominee and more time from the majority in order to consider the nomination. Both requests were rejected and Leahy contrasted this with Hatch's decision to move two previous nominees who had been rejected last year by the Democrat-controlled Senate after more debate, while fast tracking the Estrada nomination.

"This is and has been a difficult nomination for this committee," Leahy said. "I said last week that many of us would like to have a record and a strong confidence about the type of judge he would be in order to be able to vote in favor of this nomination. Sadly, that is not the record before this committee and I do not have that confidence. I remain concerned that he will be an activist on that court, given what we have learned about him and given the insufficient record we have.

"I urged last week as I have for some time that Mr. Estrada be more forthcoming with this committee. Neither he nor the administration have shown any interest in doing so."

The Honduran-born Estrada has not excited many Latino-issue groups as a candidate for a judgeship. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund opposed his nomination in a letter to the committee released Thursday.

"After an extensive review of the public record that was available to us, the testimony that Mr. Estrada provided before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the written responses he provided to the committee, we have concluded at this time that Mr. Estrada would not fairly review issues that would come before him if he were to be confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. As such, we oppose his nomination and urge you to do the same," the letter says.

Although the nomination is not yet scheduled for a Senate vote, Democrats have threatened to filibuster the nomination and force Republicans — who hold the chamber 51 to 49 — to summon 60 votes to approve the nomination.

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