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GOP fails once again to stop filibuster on Miguel Estrada

WASHINGTON (BP)–Senate Republicans again failed to muster the votes necessary to end a filibuster against federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada March 13.

The Senate voted 55-42 to invoke cloture but fell five votes short. If the GOP had gained 60 votes, it could have brought Estrada’s name to the floor for a confirmation vote. All 51 Republicans, as well as four Democrats, voted in the majority.

The Republican majority made no gains over the 55 votes it achieved in a first cloture vote on Estrada’s nomination March 5. The majority failed to add a vote it had hoped for from Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.). Graham voted against cloture after missing the first vote while recovering from heart surgery.

President Bush, who nominated Estrada in May 2001 to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, again bemoaned the filibuster.

“I call on the Senate to end the delays, stop holding Miguel Estrada to a double standard and live up to its responsibility to hold an up-or-down vote on this highly qualified nominee,” Bush said in a written statement. “As I said before, let each senator vote as he or she thinks best, but give the man a vote.”

Fearing Estrada will vote for opinions favored by conservatives, Democrats have called for him to be more forthcoming on his views on specific issues, including the right to abortion granted by the Supreme Court in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee has said he would push for future cloture votes in order to gain a floor decision on Estrada’s confirmation. The Republican leadership appears to be prepared to battle the stalling tactics on Estrada by bringing other nominees to the floor, thereby challenging Democrats to filibuster other conservative jurists as well.

“These judges are coming,” said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), chairman of the Republican Conference, according to The Washington Times. “We’re going to report them out of committee, and we’re going to report them to the floor, and [the Democrats] have to make the decision whether to filibuster or not.”

One of those nominees, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, received a hearing March 13 before the Senate Judiciary Committee after being rejected by the panel last year when it was controlled by Democrats. Abortion-rights organizations have led the opposition to Owen because of her vote to uphold a state parental notification law.

Bush renominated her to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this year, along with federal judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi. The Judiciary Committee also refused to forward Pickering to the Senate last year.

Some Democrats are expected to oppose at least three appeals court nominees approved this year by the committee. They are, according to The Times, John Roberts to the D.C. Circuit Court and Deborah Cook and Jeffrey Sutton, both to the Sixth Circuit Court.

The Senate confirmed three nominees March 13. The vote for Ninth Circuit Court nominee Jay Bybee of Nevada was 74-19. Senators approved Daniel Breen and Thomas Varlan to federal judgeships in Tennessee without opposition.

On Estrada, the Democratic senators who have voted for cloture are John Breaux of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida.

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. ERLC President Richard Land has called for the Democrats to stop their delays, saying, “These senators appear not willing to live with the will of the people who spoke during the 2002 elections and removed their party from power in the Senate. The Constitution says the U.S. Senate is to provide advice and consent, or dissent, not advice and obstruction.”

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