- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Miguel A. Estrada, whose nomination to a federal judgeship remains tied up in the Senate, is hailed by supporters as "an American success story" and opposed by activists who say they don't know his views but suspect the worst.
Senate Republicans are preparing today to force a vote aimed at breaking the deadlock on Mr. Estrada's nomination. But having only 55 of the 60 votes needed to pass a "cloture" motion, Republicans appear destined to fail in their attempts to have the full Senate consider the nomination.
With only four Democrats supporting the Republicans, the Bush administration yesterday offered wavering Senate Democrats another opportunity to ask questions of Mr. Estrada. But Democrats have not accepted the repeated offers for questions, despite complaining that he refused to answer a series of queries at a confirmation hearing in 2002, which they said has made him a "stealth nominee."
The Honduran immigrant, who quickly became a star student in college and at Harvard Law School, poses as many contradictions as his paper trail does.
Mr. Estrada, 41, was a prosecutor who occasionally went on defense. He became an assistant solicitor general in 1992 at the end of the first Bush administration and stayed on for more than half of the Clinton years.
He was on the winning side in 10 of 14 Supreme Court cases he argued for the government, including a 1994 interim victory of the National Organization for Women (NOW) against abortion protesters.
Mr. Estrada's nomination has remained stalled on the Senate floor since President Bush chose him 22 months ago. The Washington lawyer and the White House steadfastly have refused to break tradition by revealing strategy memos that Senate Democrats seek from his tenure at the solicitor general's office.
Forces fighting Mr. Estrada's confirmation to a lifetime judgeship on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia portray him as an enigma, but they also say he is too conservative. They cite as evidence his membership in the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called him "a far-right stealth nominee, a sphinx-like candidate." An ad hoc coalition of 35 organizations say Mr. Estrada is too young and lacks judicial experience.
But supporters disagree.
"Miguel Estrada is highly qualified, extremely intelligent," Mr. Bush said of his nominee, who was awarded the highest rating by the American Bar Association.
Mr. Estrada was born in 1961 in Tegucigalpa, where his father was a lawyer and his mother a banker. He emigrated at 17 to New York with his divorced mother, mastered English at the State University of New York and transferred as a junior to Columbia University. He is a 1986 graduate of Harvard Law School.
Supporters insist that Mr. Estrada has enough courtroom experience. He clerked one year for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, and another year for 2nd Circuit Judge Amalya L. Kearse. Mr. Estrada has appeared before the Supreme Court more often than most lawyers ever do and was a success in lower civil and criminal courts.
"Miguel is an incredibly talented lawyer and would make a superb judge who would decide cases on the basis of the law. It is unfortunate that he has become a political football," said Thomas Hungar, his law partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
One anti-Estrada coalition organizer, Ralph G. Neas of People for the American Way, indicated that opposition to Mr. Estrada represents a degree of payback for Republican reluctance to confirm Hispanics nominated by President Clinton.
"Unmentioned by Republican senators, of course, is their successful blocking of Hispanic Circuit Court nominees Jorge Rangel, Enrique Moreno and Christine Arguello, who were prevented from getting a hearing or a vote, and stalling of others, like Richard Paez, for four years," Mr. Neas said.
The deadlock over breaking the seal on internal documents from the solicitor general's office is being blamed for the standoff. Many Senate Democrats have said they need those documents to assess Mr. Estrada's views on a range of issues because he has refused to answer some questions about judicial cases in a committee hearing.
But all seven living former solicitors general four Democrats and three Republicans are unanimous that surrendering the documents would undermine the government's ability to defend U.S. interests in court.
Democrats have threatened to filibuster Mr. Estrada's nomination.
"We will filibuster. We will continue to debate this issue, and we will make a decision as to what's next after we get this information," vowed Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who said Mr. Estrada has stonewalled Democrats' questions.
White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said Democrats have applied "a new and shifting standard" in Mr. Estrada's nomination.
"We are informed that the Senate has not requested memos such as these for any of the 67 appeals court nominees since 1977 who had previously worked in the Justice Department, including the seven nominees who had previously worked in the solicitor general's office," Mr. Gonzales said.
If confirmed, Mr. Estrada would be the first Hispanic on a court whose influence is second only to the Supreme Court, and from which three present justices were elevated.
The League of United Latin American Citizens and the Hispanic National Bar Association have urged the Senate to confirm Mr. Estrada.
But the opposition Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary also lists as members four Hispanic groups. One focuses on Mexicans, one on Puerto Ricans and one on labor interests, and the fourth is the California La Raza Lawyers.
That coalition also includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose Anne Arundel County chapter defeated Mr. Estrada in March 2001 when he defended Annapolis' anti-loitering ordinance.
Perhaps his most unusual legal venture was when he worked for free on the Virginia death-row case of Tommy Strickler, who was convicted of crushing the skull of Leanne Whitlock in a carjacking. Strickler, a white man convicted of killing a black woman, was executed in July 1999, a month after the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Estrada's arguments.
The coalition against him includes the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which discounts his work on the 1994 NOW case in which he focused on using anti-racketeering laws to penalize abortion protesters.
"This absence of any proven record of commitment to a woman's right to choose, coupled with his ties to the previous Bush administration, which sought to overturn a woman's constitutional right to choose, is cause for concern," NARAL said.

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