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Divided Senate committee approves judicial nominee

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate Judiciary Committee has cast another 10-9 vote on a judicial nomination, but this time the majority on the deeply divided panel supported the nominee.

The committee approved Miguel Estrada’s nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia 20 months after his recommendation by President Bush. The party-line decision Jan. 30 marked the first vote on a judicial nominee since the Republicans regained the majority in November’s election. The Democratic-controlled panel held a hearing in the last congressional session on Estrada but declined to hold a vote.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will confirm Estrada, who would be the first Hispanic to serve on the D.C. circuit court. Some Democrats have threatened to filibuster his confirmation. It would require 60 votes to end a filibuster. Republicans have 51 senators.

Estrada’s delay in the last session proved to be better than the fate of two other Bush nominees. With Democrats in the majority, the committee rejected on 10-9 party-line votes last year two nominees to the Fifth Circuit. The panel refused to forward, even with negative recommendations, Mississippi Federal Judge Charles Pickering and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

Democratic members have heeded the criticisms of Estrada by abortion-rights and civil-right organizations, as they had in the campaigns against Pickering and Owen. Some Democrats criticized Estrada for refusing to proclaim his views on certain issues, including abortion rights.

“If we confirm Miguel Estrada, we’re ratifying a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy for judicial nominees,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., a Judiciary Committee member, according to CNSNews.com. “By remaining silent, Mr. Estrada only buttressed the fear that he is a far-right stealth nominee.”

Committee chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah said of the criticisms, according to CNSNews.com, “What really offends me is this attitude that you’ve got to agree with them ideologically or there’s something wrong with the nominee. Their ideology, by and large, is very, very far left. Most people in America don’t agree with their ideology.”

Estrada, a former assistant U.S. solicitor general, is considered a potential nominee to the Supreme Court.

He is one of 30 federal judicial nominees sent back to the Senate in early January by Bush. All 30 were either rejected or blocked by the Judiciary Committee in the last session.

The confirmation of pro-life judicial nominees is a priority in this session for many pro-life/pro-family organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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