- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the nomination of Miguel A. Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, setting up the first floor fight of the year on judicial nominations.
"The president is pleased," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Progress is being made. The logjam in the Senate is now breaking."
The president nominated Mr. Estrada in May 2001, but the nomination never received a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Senate Republican leaders hope to bring the nomination to the floor next week, said an aide to Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and Judiciary panel member, said it is too early to say whether Democrats will filibuster the Estrada nomination on the floor.
"We're going to take stock, meet and see," he said yesterday after the panel's 10-9 party-line vote. "But there are strong feelings on this committee."
"There has never been a successful filibuster of an appeals court nominee," said White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee. "Talk of this kind of unprecedented action is very disappointing."
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 when he was 17 and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School, clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and serve in the Clinton administration as an assistant to the solicitor general.
But Democrats said Mr. Estrada did not answer their questions about his political views and legal philosophy during his hearing last year.
Mr. Schumer said he repeatedly asked Mr. Estrada to name any Supreme Court case he was critical of, and Mr. Estrada declined.
"We know Mr. Estrada has thoughts on the subject. He just refused to share them," Mr. Schumer said. "By remaining silent, Mr. Estrada only buttressed the fear that he's a far-right stealth nominee … who will drive the nation's second-most important court out of the mainstream. I don't know if that's true … but I'd like to know what he thinks."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said Mr. Estrada did not answer her questions regarding abortion law.
"He didn't answer any single question that would have given us the opportunity to understand what his thought processes were," she said.
Panel member Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, called the Democrats' criticism of Mr. Estrada partisan politics.
"It is clear on the merits that Miguel Estrada is qualified for the position," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and panel chairman.
Democrats asked the Justice Department to release the legal memoranda Mr. Estrada wrote while serving as a lawyer in the Solicitor General's Office. The department has repeatedly turned down that request.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, noted that Mr. Hatch in 1997 stressed how important it was to ascertain the jurisprudential views of President Clinton's judicial nominees.
"Sauce for the goose, Mr. Chairman, is sauce for the gander," Mr. Leahy said.
But Republicans called Democrats' arguments baseless excuse-making.
"We know as much about him as we have known about any nominee," Mr. Hatch said. "The interest groups are simply upset that they haven't found anything bad to defeat him."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said accusations that Mr. Estrada is "some kind of right-wing ideologue" who cannot be trusted to interpret the law are "pure fabrication" and "have no basis in fact."
Mr. Hatch said Mr. Estrada has a wide array of supporters, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Hispanic National Bar Association and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and added that some groups seem to want all Hispanic judges to act one way. "I am concerned by the obstacles they seem to face if they don't agree with the liberal interest groups, as if they cannot think independently," he said.
"The left has tried to attack Miguel Estrada, but it's all smoke and mirrors failing to produce anything," said Tom Jipping, senior fellow in legal studies for Concerned Women for America. "Members of the left would love Miguel Estrada if they thought he was liberal. But the left can't tolerate minorities with independent opinions."
Groups opposing the nomination include People for the American Way, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Marisa J. Demeo, the D.C. regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Mr. Estrada "comes with a predisposition to view claims of racial discrimination and unfair treatment with suspicion and doubt instead of with an open mind."
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is often considered a training ground for Supreme Court nominees, and Republicans have said that Democrats are trying to keep Mr. Estrada from a slot on the Supreme Court, which has never had a Hispanic member.

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