CBSN

Embattled Bush Nominee Pulls Out

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.
AP
Miguel Estrada, President Bush's embattled nominee for a federal appeals court judgeship, has withdrawn his name from consideration, ending a bitter battle with Senate Democrats who blocked his nomination, administration officials said Thursday.

"I write to ask you to withdraw my pending nomination," Estrada said in a letter to President Bush. "I believe that 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 was one of a handful of federal judicial nominees named by Mr. Bush who became lightening rods during the Senate confirmation process.

"Mr. Estrada received disgraceful treatment at the hands of 45 United States senators during the more than two years his nomination was pending," Mr. Bush said in a statement.

Estrada, nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, waited for months for a confirmation vote. But Republicans fell short at least seven times of the votes needed to stop a Democratic filibuster and proceed to a vote.

Democrats said they wouldn't let Estrada have a confirmation vote until he answered more questions and the White House released memos Estrada wrote while working for the Justice Department. Democrats said they feared Estrada would be an extreme right-wing judge if placed on the court and wanted more information about him.

Republicans said Democrats were treating Estrada unfairly because he is a conservative Hispanic, and their filibusters were unconstitutionally keeping Mr. Bush's judicial nominees off the federal appeals bench.

The months-long battle came to head in July when Senate Republicans mounted a weeklong effort to get the nominations through. Democrats successfully filibustered that attempt.

"One of the lessons here – and there are many – is that judicial candidates for these types of very powerful positions have to be willing and able to share their legal philosophies in fairly significant detail with senators," says CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

Estrada's failure to do so "caused Democrats in the Senate to dig in, and this news means that they won and that Estrada and President Bush lost," Cohen says.

Mr. Bush aggressively tried to get the Senate to approve Estrada early this year, but has been silent on the issue in recent months.

Estrada is a Honduran immigrant who graduated from Harvard Law School, served in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration and practices law in Washington, D.C.

Other Bush judicial nominees to the appeals court who have run into opposition over the last few years include Mississippi jurist Charles Pickering, Texas judge Priscilla Owen and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor.

Apart from Estrada, Senate Democrats are filibustering two other nominees, claiming they are too conservative to serve on the appeals court. They are Owen and Pryor.

Additionally, Democrats have raised objections to Pickering, named to the appeals court, and California State Supreme Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl. Republicans have yet to seek votes on either of the two on the Senate floor.

Republicans sought to make political use of Estrada's Hispanic heritage during the battle for his nomination, an effort that continued even with the withdrawal.

"At root, base politics drove the Democrats' decision to deny the president the chance to someday name the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court. That is what it was all about," said C. Boyden Gray, a former White House legal counsel and now chairman of the Committee for Justice, a conservative organization that worked for Estrada's confirmation.

"They did not oppose Estrada because he was Hispanic. They opposed him because he was President Bush's Hispanic," Gray said.

But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a strong critic of the nomination, said, "We feel we have no regrets about what we've done."