Published on Friday, September 5, 2003 by OneWorld.net
Activists Claim Victory With Estrada Withdrawal
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON -- Prominent civil-rights groups claimed victory here Thursday after attorney Miguel Estrada, nominated by President George W. Bush to a key judgeship two years ago, announced he was withdrawing his name from consideration.
Bush and Republican lawmakers reacted to the announcement angrily. Bush said the Democrats' efforts to prevent a vote on his nomination were "disgraceful."
"Despite his superb qualifications and the wide bipartisan support his nomination," Bush said in a written statement, "these Democratic senators repeatedly block an up-or-down vote that would have led to Mr. Estrada's confirmation. The treatment of this fine man is an unfortunate chapter in the Senate's history."
But the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), Wade Henderson, applauded the Democrats' unexpectedly strong resistance to the nomination. "It is unacceptable to force the U.S. Senate and the American people to approve stealth judicial candidates and those who subscribe to a 'state rights' philosophy' that curtails Congress' power to enact critical civil-rights legislation," he said.
The director of People for the American Way (PFAW), Ralph Neas, echoed Henderson. He charged that Estrada, the first Latino to be nominated to serve on the influential Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, had refused "to answer many legitimate questions about his record and judicial philosophy."
Civil-rights groups and Democrats had charged that Estrada was a "far-right stealth nominee" who had deliberately avoided making public statements or publishing his views in order to make himself less controversial. His professional associations and work in the Justice Department under Attorney-General John Ashcroft, according to his critics, suggested strong ideological views, suspicions compounded by the Department's refusal to provide access to his work records.
Estrada similarly refused to answer many questions about his views during his confirmation hearings. Asked, for example, whether he disagreed with any of the Supreme Court's decisions over the last 40 years, the Honduran native and Harvard Law School graduate, said he was not in a position to give such an opinion. He repeatedly refused to be drawn out on his positions on civil-liberties issues.
Nor did his reputation for arrogance, sometimes bordering on rudeness, help his cause. In courtesy calls to some civil-rights groups, Estrada was reported to be disdainful, in one case calling the questions put to him by the president of a respected Puerto Rican group "boneheaded."
Such behavior fueled opposition to his nomination from Democrats, 45 of whom vowed to filibuster his nomination when it came to the floor. The nomination was also opposed by several major national Latino rights groups.
Supported by all Senate Republicans, Estrada's confirmation would have been assured on an up-and-down vote that would have required a simple majority of votes. To end a filibuster, however, at least 60 votes are required, and Republicans repeatedly fell short of that bar. In the last vote to close the debate in July, Republicans found they could muster only 55 votes.
"For a lifetime appointment of such a controversial nominee to such a key court, 60 votes is a reasonable threshold--and we urge senators to hold every questionable nominee to this standard," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which also opposed the nomination.
She described Estrada's withdrawal as a "huge" victory. "Two years ago, it was hard to find anyone in Washington who would touch the f-word--filibuster. But as the Bush administration continues its relentless campaign to hijack the federal courts with right-wing nominees, the tide has started to turn," Gandy said.
Democrats have filibustered or threatened to filibuster a number of other judicial nominees with what they consider to be far-right philosophies and have charged that Bush and Ashcroft are trying to pack the federal bench with like-minded jurists. In addition to Estrada, Texas judge Priscilla Owen, Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering, California judge Carolyn Kuhl, and Alabama Attorney-General Richard Pryor--all nominated to appeals courts--have been the most prominent.
The filibusters have been assailed by Republicans and the administration as divisive and undemocratic insofar as they prevent floor votes on the nominees. But Democrats point out that more than twice as many of Bush's judicial nominees have been confirmed than those nominated by former President Bill Clinton at a comparable point in the two presidents' terms.
PFAW said Thursday that the administration's most recent nominees to the District of Columbia appeals court--Brett Kavanaugh and Janice Rogers Brown--may also provoke filibusters. "Estrada's withdrawal will shift the focus to these and other Bush nominees who have extremely troubling records of ideological extremism and right-wing judicial activism," said Neas.
"These nominees reflect the Bush administration's intention to pack the federal appeals courts with judges who would turn back the clock on civil rights, privacy and reproductive rights, environmental protection, religious liberty and much more," he said.
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