- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Republicans plan to respond to the stalled nomination of Miguel Estrada to a federal appeals court by calling for votes on other contested judicial nominees, leaving Democrats facing the prospect of conducting concurrent filibusters on multiple nominees.
"We're going to load that calendar with judges, and the pressure will build to move these judges, and that ultimately will come," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, last week after his party lost a cloture vote on Mr. Estrada.
"Estrada is not an endgame," Mr. Craig said. "It is a bump along the way that we can win."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, has promised to continue holding votes on Mr. Estrada, who has been nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
If Republicans add other contentious nominees to the list, Democrats would face the prospect of conducting simultaneous filibusters on multiple judges, a possibility they say they do not relish.
"These judges are coming," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. "We're going to report them out of committee, and we're going to report them to the floor, and [Democrats] have to make the decision whether to filibuster or not."
Mr. Santorum said his party has not decided who will be the next nominee brought to the floor or when this would happen.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats will use the filibuster selectively.
"We have to pick and choose our fights in order to keep our unity and make our point," he said.
A Senate Democratic aide said the party has not decided whether to filibuster other nominees beyond Mr. Estrada, but that such a move would be "pretty hard because we're so caught up with Estrada right now."
Today, the Senate will hold a debate for an hour and a half on the broader issue of whether the Constitution grants authority for a filibuster with regard to judicial nominees. Vice President Richard B. Cheney will preside over the Senate for the debate, and there will be a special message from President Bush.
Besides Mr. Estrada, five other circuit court nominees have been approved by the Judiciary Committee this year and are awaiting floor action.
Some Democrats oppose at least three of them 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 panel. A Senate Republican aide predicted that Mr. Sutton would be next to the floor.
The Judiciary Committee this week will consider the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen, whom the panel voted down in the last Congress, under Democratic control, but whom Mr. Bush renominated this year. Justice Owen, who will have a hearing Thursday, is a likely candidate for a Democratic filibuster.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, agreed that Democrats are likely to face multiple circuit court nominees on the Senate floor even as the fight continues over Mr. Estrada.
"I think it's going to happen," he said. "We can't just let them sit there."
Democrats and other liberal interest groups, meanwhile, say Republicans are bending and even breaking Senate rules to jam through as many disputed nominees as possible.
"The Republicans want the Senate to rubber-stamp President Bush's efforts to pack the judiciary with right-wing ideologues," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, who has advocated filibusters as the only tool Democrats have to force Mr. Bush into negotiations over judges.
Democrats particularly rail that Mr. Hatch did not allow them to delay votes on Justice Cook and Mr. Roberts in the Judiciary Committee last month.
In that instance, Democrats invoked a committee rule that requires at least one member of the minority party to vote with the majority to end debate on hotly disputed committee matters.
Mr. Hatch said the rule does not apply to nominations and called for votes on the two, over the objections of Democrats.
Democrats said this case was the latest example of Republicans changing the process.
"Even on the Estrada nomination, Senate Democrats were and are willing to vote if the normal process is followed," said David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "But if the majority is intent on bending, and now even breaking, the rules to jam through several controversial nominees at once, it makes it harder for the Senate to proceed."
Democrats say Mr. Estrada did not fully answer senators' questions about his legal views. They also say that Mr. Hatch held one hearing on three contentious nominees Mr. Sutton, Mr. Roberts and Justice Cook instead of having one nominee per hearing.
A senior Senate Republican aide said in private that some Republicans grumble that moving on to other nominees or legislation will strengthen Democrats' case against Mr. Estrada because they can say Senate business is continuing despite a filibuster.
But the aide disagreed with the complaints. "Their injustice to Estrada is not going to be lost," the aide said.

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