Republicans Lose Bid to End Filibuster on Judge
By David Stout
New York Times
Thursday 6 March 2003
WASHINGTON, March 6 - Senate Republicans lost a fight today that they had not expected to win, falling five votes short of ending a filibuster against President Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada to a federal appeals court.
Supporters of Mr. Estrada came up with 55 votes in favor of ending the long debate over his nomination and moving to a confirmation vote. Sixty votes are required to end a filibuster.
"The fight for justice is just beginning," Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader, said after the vote.
Democrats have resisted Mr. Estrada's nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They say Mr. Estrada's positions - at least to the extent he is willing to make them known - reflect an "extreme" and "ultra far-right" point of view," as Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic minority leader, put it today.
President Bush immediately put out a statement calling today's vote "a disgrace."
"The Senate has a responsibility to exercise its constitutional advice and consent function and hold an up or down vote on a judicial nominee within a reasonable time," Mr. Bush said. "Some senators who once insisted that every appeals court nominee deserves a timely vote have now abandoned that principle for partisan politics. Their tactics are an injustice and unfair to the good man I have nominated, and unfaithful to the Senate's own obligations."
"I will stand by Miguel Estrada's side until he is sworn in as a judge," the president said. "I call on the Senate Democratic leadership to stop playing politics, and permit a vote on Miguel Estrada's nomination. Let each senator vote as he or she thinks best, but give the man a vote."
Mr. Bush and his Republican Senate allies had not expected to win today's vote on ending the filibuster. But they fully expect to capitalize politically on the Democrats' resistance to an Hispanic nominee whose candidacy has been endorsed by the American Bar Association.
The administration has resisted the Democrats' attempts to obtain confidential memorandums that Mr. Estrada wrote as an assistant solicitor-general.
Forty-three Senate Democrats and one independent, James Jeffords of Vermont, voted against ending the filibuster. Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who is recovering from heart surgery, did not vote.
The four Senate Democrats who crossed the political aisle to join the 51 Republicans today were Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Zell Miller of Georgia and John Breaux of Louisiana. They are relatively conservative, often side with the administration and had said they would back the nominee.
The battle is seen as a possible dress rehearsal for Mr. Bush's first Supreme Court nominee, who could be Mr. Estrada if he wins the appeals court seat. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is considered extremely important, as it often resolves disputes between the executive and legislative branches and rules on the constitutionality of federal laws and regulations.
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