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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) today made the following floor statement after Miguel Estrada’s announcement to withdraw his name as the judicial nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia:
“Mr. President, this morning the White House announced that Miguel Estrada, whom the president nominated 29 months ago, has asked that his name be withdrawn from further consideration by this Senate. I expect that many on the other side of the aisle will be glad of this. Our Democrat colleagues blocked the entire Senate from having an honest up or down vote for 29 months, well over two years.
“Today is a shameful moment in the history of this great institution. The United States Senate has denied the right to confirm or reject a brilliant and qualified nominee because of the obstruction of a few. And a hard working, honorable, immigrant American who has excelled in his pursuit of the law and risen to the top of his profession, has been turned away because of the rankest political partisanship.
“In rising today I wish to take a moment to express my regret to Mr. Estrada and his family, and to express my regret to the American people who have been denied the service of an extraordinarily talented and accomplished man.
“The record, however, is clear. Miguel Estrada was and is well qualified to serve on the bench. He was, in fact, rated unanimously well qualified by the American Bar Association – a rating Democrats once called the “gold standard.”
“Estrada graduated with honors from Columbia University and then from Harvard Law School where he was editor of the Law Review. He went on to public service, including years of service in the Clinton administration. No one can claim that this man is not qualified to serve on the federal judiciary and I fully expect that someday he will stand for a vote by this Senate again.
“Mr. President, as you know, earlier this year the Senate engaged in an unprecedented month-long debate on the Estrada nomination. This debate continued for months thereafter and before the August recess we took the 7th cloture vote to end debate and to allow the Senate a simple up or down vote as the Constitution requires. No nominee has ever had this many cloture votes.
“As a result of the Estrada debate, the Senate has had the opportunity to consider the proper nature of the advice and consent role of the United States Senate and to question the propriety of the filibuster as applied to judicial nominees. That self-examination is far from over. The fact is that the use of unprecedented filibusters to deny the Senate the freedom to give advice and consent has done great harm to the Senate and to the public discourse.
“Mr. President, let me review the lengthy saga of Miguel Estrada’s confirmation. Miguel Estrada was nominated by President Bush on May 9, 2001, over 29 months ago. He was among the first nominees to be sent to the Senate for consideration as the Constitution requires, for the Senate’s ‘advice and consent.’ It is worth noting that since the time Miguel Estrada was nominated, our country has fought two wars, and changed the regimes of two nations.
“For the first 505 days of the Estrada nomination, Democrat leadership refused to hold a hearing. They defended this delay by arguing that they knew nothing about the candidate, as if a hearing were not the usual manner to resolve this concern. In truth, there was more in Mr. Estrada’s record than in the records of many judicial nominees Democrats had comfortably confirmed in previous years. Opponents also argued that Estrada lacked judicial experience, despite the fact that this was not an impediment to Clinton nominees who had never served on the bench – nominees, it should be noted, who went on to serve on the very same court to which Estrada was nominated. In fact, Earl Warren, William Rehnquist, William Douglas, Lewis Powell, and Thurgood Marshall – none of these great jurists had any judicial experience when first nominated to a federal court.
“But no matter, our Democrat colleagues continued their obstructionist tactics. Then, after finally giving Mr. Estrada a hearing one year ago, they announced that it was too late in the year to give Mr. Estrada a vote in the Judiciary Committee. After Republicans won the majority in 2002, and Democrats no longer controlled the calendar or the committee, opponents moved to plan B: to level baseless charges.
“First came the accusation that Mr. Estrada had ‘refused’ to answer ‘a single question’ at his hearing. This was at best hyperbole. In truth, Mr. Estrada answered over 125 questions. The transcript from Mr. Estrada’s seven-hour hearing weighs nearly three pounds. Admittedly, the transcript is heavy with questions my colleagues knew full well Mr. Estrada could not answer. They knew he could not answer, and also maintain his respect for the independent judiciary and abide by the code of judicial ethics.
“We learned through the course of the lengthy debate that, in truth, some nominees of President Clinton answered fewer than 20 questions. One nominee answered only three questions, and he was smoothly confirmed by a Republican-led Senate. In truth, Mr. Estrada answered more than twice as many questions as all three of the former President’s appointees to the same Circuit Court were asked at their hearings – combined.
“Such facts as these naturally raised the serious question as to why our Democrat colleagues imposed a double standard on this particular nominee, with his particular background. In fact, the only questions Mr. Estrada declined to answer, as previous nominees had similarly declined to answer, involved how he would rule on cases that might come before him. During his hearing, Mr. Estrada explained why. He told the Committee members that he prizes the independence of the judiciary, that he believes a judge must put aside his personal views and maintain impartiality. In my mind, rather than being a cause for opposing his confirmation, his integrity only strengthened the case for supporting him.
“Since that hearing, Democrats had almost 12 months to ask any further questions of him. Any at all. Repeatedly, the White House offered Mr. Estrada to answer any written question posed to him. To my knowledge, only one Democrat Senator took up the extraordinary offer. Additionally, the White House offered Mr. Estrada to meet with any Senator. To my knowledge, very few Democrat Senators took up that offer. But unlimited availability in writing and in person was not enough. Mr. Estrada’s opponents continued the partisan drumbeat, and continued to obstruct a simple up or down vote by their colleagues. At the end, when all the false arguments were exposed, our Democrat colleagues fell back on one last carbuncle. They denied Mr. Estrada a vote, they said, because the Justice Department refused to hand over to them Mr. Estrada’s work papers from his years in the office of the Solicitor General in the Clinton administration. This was their asking price despite the fact that every living Solicitor General, both Democrat and Republican, told the Senate that such a release of documents would create a harmful new precedent against the interests of the American people.
“But, Mr. President, all this has now passed. What the American people now deserve is an explanation of why. I suspect that many know the answer. The saga of Miguel Estrada is a tale of rank and unbridled Democrat partisanship and the American people, sadly, are the losers.
“Mr. President, in the course of the Estrada debate, I observed and I listened. And I have reached my conclusion. I do not believe that anyone in the Senate would block a nominee based solely on ethnicity. I do not believe any of my colleagues harbor this kind of rank bigotry. I do believe, however, that what happened with Mr. Estrada was due to base politics.
“To date, the President has nominated a greater percentage of Hispanic nominees to the federal bench than any President before him. And the President has made clear that he shares the aspiration of the American people to see a Latino serve on the Supreme Court. I believe Miguel Estrada’s incredible abilities and special talents would have, eventually, led him down this path. I believe, as many do, that given his strong credentials, he would be a superb candidate should there be an opening on the court. Many Democrats and hard-left Washington special interests fear that possibility. They do not want this President to have a Hispanic nominee of Miguel Estrada’s extraordinary abilities to name to the Supreme Court should a vacancy arise. And I believe that when all is said and done, the American people, who are sensible and fair, will reach a similar conclusion about this sorry chapter.
“But the fight is not over. We will continue to press for an up or down vote for the President’s nominees. We will continue to press for fairness. We will continue our fight to put qualified men, women and minorities on our courts. We fight the obstructionist tactics of the Democrats and the liberal special interest ideologues that drive them. Mr. President, I yield the floor.”