WASHINGTON (BP)–Embattled federal appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada has withdrawn his nomination, saying he wants to focus his attention on his law practice and on his family.
President Bush nominated the 41-year-old Estrada to a spot on the Washington, D.C. court of appeals, but Senate Democrats, who are in the minority, prevented a vote on his confirmation seven times. Each time, Estrada had more than enough votes for confirmation but fell short of the 60 votes necessary to stop the Democratic filibuster. In the last attempt to break the filibuster Estrada gained 55 votes.
Democrats said Estrada was withholding his views on certain issues — specifically on abortion.
Estrada would have become the first Hispanic to serve on the Washington, D.C. court of appeals. National pro-choice groups helped lead the opposition to his nomination.
“The time has come to return my full attention to the practice of law, and to regain the ability to make long-term plans for my family,” Estrada wrote in a letter to Bush that was published in The Wall Street Journal Sept. 4.
Estrada originally was nominated two years ago and was re-nominated after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2002.
In a statement Sept. 4 Bush criticized the Senate tactics.
“Mr. Estrada received disgraceful treatment at the hands of 45 United States Senators during the more than two years his nomination was pending,” Bush said.
“Despite his superb qualifications and the wide bipartisan support for his nomination, these Democrat Senators repeatedly blocked an up-or-down vote that would have led to Mr. Estrada’s confirmation. The treatment of this fine man is an unfortunate chapter in the Senate’s history.”
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press that Estrada is the type of justice that would prevent unpopular rulings like those of recent years. As examples, Land pointed to court of appeals rulings against reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools and against the Ten Commandments display in Montgomery, Ala.
“We have a runaway federal judiciary that is attempting to impose its liberal and secular bias on our society,” Land said.
Land also criticized Senate Democrats.
“The idea that Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer and Tom Daschle would deny Miguel Estrada the vote which would lead to his confirmation — since he does have more than 50 votes — is a tragedy both for the nation and for Miguel Estrada,” he said.
Speaking on his radio program Sept. 4 Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, called Estrada’s withdrawal a “major setback.”
“I’m very, very concerned about this development,” Sekulow said. “I am a tremendous advocate for Miguel Estrada. I think he would have been an exceptionally great court of appeals judge. This is the reason why this process is absolutely broken, and [why] we cannot let this continue.”
Sekulow and the ACLJ are pushing for Senate Republicans to change the Senate rules, thus preventing judicial nominees from being filibustered. The rules could be changed by a simple majority of 51 votes, the ACLJ argued recently in a position paper.
The ACLJ has collected more than 110,000 online signatures in support of the rule change, Sekulow said.
Land is supportive of such a move by Republican Senators.
“How many Miguel Estradas are going to have to be sacrificed on the altar of liberal, secular, judicial inquisition before the Republican majority in the Senate decides to take off the gloves and before it understands that the Senate minority is using the gentlemen’s rules of the Senate to engage in a cultural guerilla war against the will of the people of the United States?” he asked.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a press conference that under the Constitution the Senate and the White House have “shared power over judicial nominees.”
“This should serve as a wake-up call to the White House, that it cannot simply expect the Senate to rubber stamp judicial nominees,” Kennedy said, adding that Bush has previously looked for “extreme ideologues.”
The debate on both sides of the issue surrounds Article II of the Constitution, which reads, in part, that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States…”
Conservatives say that the Constitution is specific when a super-majority vote is needed — such as when ratifying a treaty. Because the Constitution says nothing about a super-majority for judicial nominees, filibusters on judges are unconstitutional, conservatives say.
“The Senate’s role is to advise and consent by confirming or to deny by refusing to confirm presidential judicial nominees,” Land said. “Never before in the history of our country have Senators engaged in an unconstitutional advice and obstruct in which they require 60 votes to break a fillister before a judicial nominee can receive a vote.”
Three other appeals court nominees, Priscilla Owen, Bill Pryor, and Carolyn Kuhl, also are being filibustered by Senate Democrats.