- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) — Senate Republicans failed to find enough votes Thursday to end the Democratic filibuster of the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The 55-to-44 vote to end debate on the nomination and move to a final vote fell short of the 60 votes needed, leaving the monthlong stalemate in place.

Democrats are using Senate rules to prevent Estrada from receiving an up-or-down vote — which he would win — because they are unsatisfied with the information he has given them on his judicial views. A former assistant U.S. Attorney, Estrada served the Clinton administration as assistant Solicitor General but has never been a judge.

Democrats admit that he is qualified but cite the importance of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia as the second-highest level of court in the land as requiring more answers to questions than Estrada has provided.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., decided to force Thursday's vote in the hope that making Democrats vote against the nomination of a qualified nominee would help weaken their resolve to continue the filibuster.

"The American Bar Association confirms his impressive qualifications," Frist said on the Senate floor. "Despite his obvious qualifications, (Democrats) have blocked a simple up-and-down vote."

Frist also said that his initial patience with the Democrats demand for more information has waned because Estrada has made himself available to meet with any member with questions.

"That's why I've tried to be patient before forcing the vote that we'll have in a few minutes," Frist said immediately before the vote.

But Democrats say their complaints cannot be resolved through simple meetings with the nominee, they want access to memos that Estrada wrote during his time at the Justice Department. The Bush administration has refused to provide those documents a move that apparently befuddles Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

"First of all, (we want) that he answer the questions and secondly, that he turn over the documents," Daschle said earlier this week. "And really, that's all we're asking. The administration mentioned the other day that they, themselves, have not looked at all the documents. Well, somebody ought to vet the documents before a nominee is confirmed for the second-highest court in the land. But I think it's critical that that information be shared. So, meeting is fine; we have no objection to meetings. But we do believe those documents are relevant and are very important and ought to be turned over."

The Senate — which has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Democrat-leaning Independent — with its close divisions makes breaking a filibuster impossible without significant defections from the opposition. On Thursday, four Democrats who had promised to support Estrada voted to end the filibuster. But that still left supporters five votes short of the 60-vote mark, which sets up a continued legislative logjam.

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