Senate Debate on Estrada Begins; Democrats Consider Filibuster

A divided Senate began floor debate yesterday on President Bush’s nomination of Miguel Estrada to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle noted that there is “overwhelming opposition” to Estrada on his side of the aisle, according to Fox News. Meanwhile, efforts to block confirmation by denying a cloture vote continued to grow, with civil rights, women’s rights, disability, lesbian and gay rights, Latino, and labor groups working to get the 41 necessary votes.

While Republicans assailed Democrats on the Senate floor yesterday for the proposed filibuster strategy on a lower court nominee, several Democrats – including Daschle, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) – questioned how they could approve a nominee who refuses to disclose his viewpoints on critical issues. “If he cannot provide informed consent, I do not see how we can provide our consent at all,” Daschle said as reported by the Washington Post.

With the Republicans in control of the Senate, a filibuster or a no vote on cloture, is perhaps the most effective way to stop Estrada’s nomination to what is widely regarded as the second highest court in the land. “This is the first test of whether Democrats can block a right-wing nomination who refuses to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee any of his views on crucial issues,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “Have we learned nothing from Clarence Thomas?”

During his hearing before the Judiciary Committee last month, Estrada refused to answer questions about his position on abortion rights or basic civil rights. Estrada was asked whether he thought Roe v. Wade and Romer v. Evans (the case that struck down Colorado’s anti-gay rights measure) were correctly decided. He declined to answer, stating that he had not read the briefs, listened to the arguments or researched the issues. He gave a similar answer when asked about Supreme Court cases in the areas of environmental protection and labor rights.

A number of Democrats as well as the Feminist Majority and a large group of progressive organizations believe that Estrada is the latest attempt by President Bush to stack the courts with far-right extremists. “The new Senate Republican majority is ushering in an era of conveyer-belt confirmations of Bush administration judicial nominations,” reads an editorial in the New York Times. “Mr. Estrada, a conservative lawyer with almost no paper trail, refused to answer senators’ questions on crucial issues like abortion. Meanwhile, the White House refused to hand over memos Mr. Estrada wrote as a government lawyer that could have shed light on his beliefs.”

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Washington Post 2/6/03; New York Times 2/6/03, 2/6/03; Associated Press 2/6/03; Newsday 2/6/03; Fox News 2/6/03; Washington Times 2/6/03

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