Bush Vows To Stand By Estrada

President Bush's nominee for a seat on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Miguel Estrada is sworn in at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing Thursday, Sept. 26, 2002 in Washington. Estrada promised senators he would have an open mind and follow the facts instead of his personal views as the first Hispanic on a federal appellate court that has served as a stepping stone to the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Bush on Wednesday called Democratic obstacles to a confirmation vote for judicial nominee Miguel Estrada "a travesty" and vowed, "I will stand by that man's side until he is sworn in as a judge," reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

The president gathered Hispanic political supporters in a White House auditorium as he aired his view that "no one can possibly call Miguel Estrada unfit" and exhorted them to demand that lawmakers clear the way for a vote.

"They're blocking the vote on this good man for purely political reasons," Mr. Bush said.

Senate Democrats have refused to allow a vote on Estrada's nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia until the White House provides material he wrote as solicitor general and until he answers questions he has refused to answer.

Republicans have not yet tried to force a vote, likely because Democrats have enough votes to maintain what is, in effect, a filibuster.

The White House offered Tuesday to send Estrada to meet with any Senate Democrat willing to talk to him.

In letters sent to Senate Democrats, White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales said Estrada was willing to come and talk to them one-on-one to answer "appropriate questions" about his record as he already has done with 10 Senate Democrats.

"Estrada remains available to meet with each and every single Democratic senator to answer appropriate questions about his nomination," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Many Democrats have not availed themselves of the opportunity that has already been offered to meet with Mr. Estrada. So this offer has been made once again."

Estrada has had some success in persuading Democrats face-to-face to support his nomination. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., announced Tuesday he supports Estrada after meeting privately with him two weeks ago.

"While I believe Mr. Estrada could have been more forthcoming in order to avoid this controversy, my conclusion is that he is qualified to serve on the D.C. Circuit," said Nelson. Asked Monday whether he would support a Democratic filibuster to kill the nomination, he said he would not.

Two other senators that Estrada met with also are supporting his nomination, Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and John Breaux of Louisiana.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is considered the second-most-important court in the nation. Three current Supreme Court justices once sat on it.

Estrada lacks the judicial experience to serve on that court, some Democrats contend; he has never served as a judge.

They also demanded copies of confidential Justice Department memos Estrada wrote while working in the solicitor general's office, which represents the White House before the Supreme Court. They said those writings would reveal how Estrada would think as a judge.

The Bush administration has refused to release the memos. In addition, Republicans have accused Democrats of treating Estrada unfairly because he is a conservative Hispanic.

Similar charges of discrimination by the parties have arisen before.

The last disputed Hispanic nominee, Mexican American Richard A. Paez, waited four years — longer than any other nominee in history — before being confirmed for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the Republican-controlled Senate in 2000.

Also in 2000, the Congressional Black Caucus accused Senate Republicans of being sexist and racist for not voting for Clinton's minority judicial candidates, including Roger Gregory, who eventually became the first black judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans denied the charge.

Only after President Bush took office and Democrats took over the Senate Judiciary Committee did Gregory get confirmed.

Republicans lack the 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to force Democrats to confirm Estrada.

Democrats urged Republicans on Tuesday to drop the Estrada nomination and move on other business like the economy.

"As this economy worsens, we spend our time on the floor totally consumed with one nomination having to do with a circuit court nominee for the District of Columbia," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said. "This is the third week we have been on it now. Now we can resolve this matter if Mr. Estrada will come forth with the information. But if he will not, let's move to something else until he does."

Judicial nominations have become increasingly contentious matters on Capitol Hill. Democrats are accusing the GOP of rushing conservative nominees through the process — earlier this year, a committee held confirmation hearings for three judges simultaneously.

When Democrats were in control, the GOP said they were delaying the president's picks. The Clinton administration made similar charges against the Republican-led Senate.