Republicans able to get past judicial roadblock

Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 30, 2003 at 9:54 p.m.
WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans on Thursday broke a Democratic logjam that has prevented President Bush from installing conservatives in important federal judgeships, putting Miguel Estrada on a path that eventually could make him the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.
In a sign of the GOP's newfound power from last year's midterm elections, the president and his Republican supporters were able to force a conservative vehemently opposed by the Democrats past the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time since Bush took office in 2001. The committee sent Estrada's nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to the full Senate on a 10-9 vote. All Republicans voted for Estrada and all Democrats opposed the nomination.
Democrats complained that Estrada, 41, has never served as a judge and might be an ultraconservative trying to hide his views because he refused to answer their questions about his legal thinking. But they did not try any procedural maneuvers to hold up his nomination in committee.
The GOP - which took control of the Senate in last year's election to go along with the White House and the House - cheered the day's progress, which bodes well for them if a Supreme Court vacancy comes open during Bush's presidency.
"The committee has spoken, progress is being made, the logjam in the Senate is now breaking," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Republicans, who hope for a vote as early as Tuesday, hold a two-vote advantage in the Senate, where a filibuster is the only likely option for Democrats to stop a presidential nominee. "It'll be an intensive debate, and they'll fight against him, but I think in the end we'll be able to get Miguel out," said the committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Democrats say they are not giving up their efforts to reject nominees such as Estrada, who they say refused to answer questions about his thoughts on specific Supreme Court cases and precedents.
"I have to tell you it was sort of reminiscent of Clarence Thomas telling America that he had never discussed Roe versus Wade and had no views on this case whatsoever," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "It's just not credible. It's not believable that this nominee has no critical views on any Supreme Court case."

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