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Democrats begin filibuster against Estrada

High-stakes tug-of-war over Bush judicial nominee

Miguel Estrada, President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Miguel Estrada, President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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Senate Democrats say they will filibuster Miguel Estrada's confirmation to the federal appeals bench because they say he stonewalled them last year. CNNfn's Tim O'Brien reports (February 13)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Democrats used a filibuster into the early hours of Thursday against the nomination of judicial appointee Miguel Estrada, in a move President Bush called "shameful politics."

The Senate adjourned around 12:50 a.m. and will reconvene at 11 a.m. Thursday.

The Democratic senators believe Estrada's refusal to answer questions and provide other information during his confirmation hearing undermines their constitutional duty to advise and consent.

Estrada, 42, has been nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. To his supporters, he is an American success story.

"You look at his background growing up, coming over to this country, age of 17, not knowing any English and graduating with honors from Harvard Law and clerking for the U.S. Supreme Court, his distinguished record as an appellate lawyer," said White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Republicans have accused the Democratic opponents of playing politics.

"There is a different strategy being used against Miguel Estrada and I suspect it's not because he's Hispanic, but because he is an Hispanic Republican," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "The fact of the matter is, it's a different standard and it's one that we ought to be ashamed of."

President Bush said Estrada's opponents are "playing against the spirit of the United States Senate."

"Estrada is highly qualified, extremely intelligent, he has the votes necessary to be confirmed, yet a handful of Democrats in the Senate are playing politics with his nomination and it's shameful politics," Bush said Wednesday.

But it wasn't anything Estrada said that has offended the Democrats, it's what he didn't say during his confirmation hearing.

"Please tell us what three cases from the last 40 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence you are most critical of ... and just give me a couple of sentences as to why for each one," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, asked Estrada.

"I'm not even sure that I could think of three that I would be ... that I would have a sort of adverse reaction to," he replied.

In a letter to the president, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, asked that Estrada answer questions more fully and that the Justice Department turn over internal memoranda he wrote while an assistant to the solicitor general.

"Without that information ... Miguel Estrada will never be a federal judge," said Minority Whip Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

The White House, so far, has refused to turn over the memoranda, saying doing so might prevent government lawyers from providing candid advice.

Estrada's confirmation hearing was marked by unusually testy exchanges over what senators were entitled to know, which spilled over to the Senate floor.

"He refused to answer a question about his views of any judge, living or dead," said Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina.

Democrats insisted their opposition had nothing to do with Estrada's judicial philosophy, but rather their inability to judge his fitness for the judicial seat.

"If this Senate decides that we cannot ask a nominee to the federal court a question as basic as his views on our Constitution, then we have been transformed into a rubber stamp," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois.

-- From CNN Financial News Correspondent Tim O'Brien

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