- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003


Not every one of a president’s judicial nominees has the right to a straight up-or-down vote in the Senate, Democratic leader Tom Daschle said yesterday.

Democrats have blocked votes on two of President Bush’s picks, leading majority Republicans to propose last week a change in Senate rules to restrict the use of delaying tactics to obstruct nominations.

In theory and practice, senators should have the chance to cast direct votes on all nominees for the federal bench, said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

“That should be the rule, but sometimes there are … exceptions to the rule,” he said. “There are extreme cases when extreme judges deserve no more than a cloture vote, and these two cases fit that category,” he said, a reference to appeals court nominees Miguel Estrada, who is a Washington lawyer, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

Senate rules require 60 votes to “invoke cloture” and end a filibuster blocking final action on legislation or a nomination.

Republicans have failed to gather 60 votes in six cloture votes on Mr. Estrada and two on Justice Owen, both opposed by Democrats for what they call the nominees’ conservative judicial activism.

Democrats have asked Mr. Estrada to answer more questions and have urged the White House to release memos he wrote while working for the Justice Department.

The Bush administration has refused to release the memos. Republicans have accused Democrats of treating Mr. Estrada unfairly because he is a conservative Hispanic.

“We have made all kinds of offers to the administration on Judge Estrada. If he just fills out his job application, there would be no filibuster,” Mr. Daschle said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“He refuses to do it. You wouldn’t hire somebody that wouldn’t fill out their job application. It’s unprecedented that he would deny us the right to the information that so many of his predecessors have provided.”

Mr. Bush last week denounced the delays, saying the current Senate process was “a disgrace.”

Changing the Senate rules would take two-thirds of voting senators.

Democrats note that the Senate had approved 124 of Mr. Bush’s 126 judicial nominations that have reached the full Senate, and that Republicans prevented 60 of President Clinton’s nominees from coming to a vote.

While Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said he had not seen two simultaneous filibusters before, he added, “I’ve seen Republicans who have neglected to even have a hearing on nominees in the Clinton administration. It’s the same effect.”

Mr. Breaux said presidents are entitled to direct votes on their judicial picks.

“I think that what we’re trying to say is that, look, give us the information on the judges and we’ll have a record vote,” Mr. Breaux told “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Breaux said he thinks the Senate will get a chance to vote on Mr. Estrada’s nomination.

“And on nominees that you do not like their philosophy, and I think there’s a real argument on some of them, I think eventually you get to a vote,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said changes in the rules that have governed the Senate the past 28 years were the only way to resolve an issue that has disrupted other Senate business and intensified partisan discord in the body.

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