- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

Senate Republicans remain unwilling to openly embrace drastic measures to force confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees, even in the wake of losing the high-profile battle over Washington lawyer Miguel A. Estrada.

Asked if he would support using parliamentary procedures to force confirmation of filibustered nominees in the future, Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, gave only murky responses.

“We still have many options,” he said. “We’ll be talking among ourselves as we go forward.”

And even as Democratic senators gloated over the demise of Mr. Estrada’s nomination, Mr. Frist said, “I am very hopeful that the Democrats will realize that this disservice is inexcusable and simply change behavior.”

Among those options Mr. Frist skirted is the so-called “nuclear option,” where a bare majority of 51 Republicans could force a change in Senate rules to eliminate the filibusters Democrats waged against Mr. Estrada and continue to wage against two other federal court nominees.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also gave only tepid support Friday for such tactics.

“Everything is an option sooner or later,” he said. “This problem has to be resolved.”

Many Republicans simply hope that the country’s growing number of Hispanic voters will punish Democrats in the next election for spiking Mr. Estrada’s nomination to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“They will be held accountable,” Mr. Frist said of the 45 Democratic senators who filibustered Mr. Estrada’s nomination for more than eight months until he withdrew his name from consideration Thursday. “But it will be in future elections.”

Mr. Estrada was nominated more than two years ago and heralded as an American success story. Born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Mr. Estrada arrived in the United States as most immigrants: essentially illiterate in a daunting new world.

He eventually graduated from Harvard Law School, held various prestigious jobs and argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court while working for the Clinton administration’s solicitor general’s office.

When Mr. Estrada appeared before the Judiciary Committee for his hearing, Democrats had little to scrutinize since the nominee had never been a judge and thus hadn’t written opinions that could be critiqued.

Rep. Charlie Gonzales, Texas Democrat and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Republicans who hope to make a political issue out of Miguel Estrada will be disappointed.

“I don’t think there’s any political capital to be gained,” he said.

He and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with Mr. Estrada more than a year ago to interview him.

“We felt that he sorely lacked what we though would be the appropriate qualifications for any nominee but especially a Latino nominee to the second most powerful court in the United States,” Mr. Gonzales said.

In addition, said Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat, the Hispanic Caucus had interviewed and endorsed many of Mr. Bush’s Hispanic nominees to other federal courts.

“When you nominate a guy and say he’s the most qualified in the D.C. area to serve on the bench, you’ve got to have something to go on,” he said. “If he’s the best qualified, then prove it.”

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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