- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Senate Democrats dismissed an offer by Republicans yesterday to resolve the standoff over the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, offered to put Mr. Estrada before a second Judiciary Committee hearing to answer additional questions. In exchange, Democrats would end their filibuster of the nomination and allow a vote on Mr. Estrada by the full Senate.
"What offer?" replied Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, when asked about the Republican proposal as he left the Democrats' policy lunch yesterday afternoon. "It's not much of an offer."
Mr. Schumer said it is the "overwhelming consensus" of Democrats to reject Mr. Frist's offer unless Mr. Estrada elaborates on the answers he has provided the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"If the transcript of a new hearing is the same as the first hearing, then we won't change our position," Mr. Schumer said.
Democrats said Mr. Estrada did not fully answer senators' questions about his legal views during his committee hearing last year.
Born in Honduras, Mr. Estrada is a lawyer and a former federal prosecutor who has tried 15 cases before the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association says he is "unanimously well qualified" to serve as a judge.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has called Mr. Estrada's record "vacuous" and said his nomination will not receive a vote by the full Senate until he turns over internal reports from his work as a solicitor general.
"We expect that to be part of any agreement before we allow the vote," Mr. Daschle said.
Democrats last week began a filibuster to prevent a vote by the full Senate on Mr. Estrada's nomination.
Republicans have threatened to end the stalemate by calling for votes on other contentious nominees. That would leave Democrats facing the prospect of maintaining concurrent filibusters, opening themselves to accusations of obstructionism.
Mr. Frist's offer came at the end of two hours of debate over the Senate's intended role in judicial nominations.
"The issue before us today is about much more than Miguel Estrada," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. "It's about the essential nature of our government. It's about the core values of the Senate."
Mr. Kennedy argued that the Founding Fathers almost gave full authority to the legislature for selecting judges.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, countered with passages from the Federalist Papers. "There will, of course, be no exertion of choice on the part of the Senate," said Mr. Hatch, quoting from Alexander Hamilton's Federalist No. 66.
President Bush, who watched the proceedings closely, wrote a letter to Mr. Frist and Mr. Daschle asking them to "come together to end the escalating cycle of blame and bitterness and to restore fairness, predictability and dignity" to the judicial-nomination process.
He also asked that the Senate adopt permanent rules to ensure "timely up or down votes on judicial nominations."
But the fight is likely to get more contentious as Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen appears later this week before the Judiciary Committee. Mr. Bush renominated her in January after Judiciary Committee Democrats killed her nomination in September.
Bill Sammon contributed to this report.

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