Setting up what could be the boldest challenge yet to the Bush administration’s drive to pack the nation’s courts with conservative judicial activists, Senate Democrats have signaled that they will mount a filibuster to block a Senate vote on the nomination of Bush favorite Miguel Estrada to serve on the powerful U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The administration and Republican operatives in Washington and around the country have waged a fierce campaign to win Senate approval for Estrada, a former solicitor general who is a favorite of movement conservatives and is widely viewed as a likely contender for a future nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. As recently as Tuesday, as the Senate entered the third day of deliberation on the nomination, the White House issued a statement from Bush demanding a quick “up or down vote on the Senate floor.” When he learned of the decision by Democrats to filibuster, Bush grumbled about how “a handful of Democrats in the Senate are playing politics with his nomination, and it’s shameful politics.”
But it is not just “a handful of Democrats.” Senate Democratic leaders say that more than 40 members will join efforts to block a vote. The delay, Democrats say, will extend at least until the White House releases information regarding Estrada’s legal views. That information was repeatedly requested by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to the panel’s 10-9 vote in late January to recommend approval of Estrada. The committee vote split along party lines, and was one of the first indicators that the new Republican leadership of the committee and the Senate would seek to force votes on even the most controversial judicial nominees.
Some Democratic senators have indicated that they would be inclined to vote against the Estrada nomination based on what is already known regarding the former solicitor general’s right-wing positions on civil rights and corporate power issues. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Dacshle, D-South Dakota, said the primary focus of any filibuster would be to force the administration to release memoranda that the nominee wrote while he worked in the office of the solicitor general in the Justice Department.
“Until that information is provided, we will not be in a position to allow a vote to come to the Senate floor,” Daschle told reporters after a mid-day meeting with Democratic senators at which a decision was made to try and block a vote on Estrada’s nomination. “It is critical that the administration recognize the importance of this information and the importance of the constitutional obligation (to review judicial nominations) that we hold very seriously.”