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Judicial nominee Estrada withdraws his name

Estrada would have been the first Hispanic to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Estrada would have been the first Hispanic to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Miguel Estrada, nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, withdrew his name from consideration Thursday after spending more than two years in limbo amid partisan wrangling over President Bush's nominations.

Estrada, 42, a Honduran immigrant, would have been the first Hispanic to sit on that court, which sometimes serves as a steppingstone to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated by Bush in May 2001, but Senate Democrats used a filibuster to block his approval.

"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 said in a letter to Bush.

"I remain indebted to you for offering me the opportunity to serve my adopted country, which has been so welcoming and generous to me and my family, and I profoundly hope that, at some time in the future, I may be called again to serve my country in some capacity."

Estrada, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and an assistant solicitor general during the Clinton administration, is currently a partner in a Washington law firm. He emigrated to the United States as a teenager.

Miguel Estrada
Supreme Court
Justice Department

His nomination divided Hispanic groups, with some voicing support for his nomination and others outlining their opposition.

One of the Republican senators who had pushed Estrada's nomination, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, called his decision to withdraw a "tragedy."

"All of us knew that we needed to get him confirmed soon or he will probably be forced to withdraw," Sessions said. "This is the first success that Tom Daschle and the filibustering Democrats have had, because he was the first nominee to be filibustered and now he will be the first one to be defeated by filibuster."

After a March filibuster, Senate Democrats said Estrada refused to answer some questions during his confirmation hearing.

"We simply want Mr. Estrada to follow the law, to follow the Constitutional obligation he has to provide us with all of the information regarding his background, his positions, so we can make an honest judgment about his qualification to serve on the second highest court in the land," said Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat and Senate minority leader, after the filibuster.

Estrada's supporters charged that the Democrats were unfairly blocking a well-qualified candidate because of his conservative views. The nomination had enough support to pass the Senate, which requires only a simple majority, but Republicans, despite repeated tries, could not muster the 60 votes needed to block the filibuster by Democrats.

Bush had called the Democrats' action a "disgrace" and vowed to fight until Estrada won approval.

Estrada's Democratic critics said he had not answered questions about several key court cases, including cases involving abortion and affirmative action. They also objected to a decision by the White House not to provide access to documents Estrada prepared when he was assistant solicitor general.

The dispute over Estrada is part of a larger and increasingly bitter struggle over Bush's judicial nominations in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats are under pressure from interest groups in their party's base to hold the line against Bush's conservative nominees. When they controlled the Senate earlier in Bush's term, Senate Democrats could block nominations in committee. But once Republicans took control after the 2002 elections, Democrats had to resort to the filibuster, a parliamentary maneuver, to thwart Bush's nominations.

Republicans charged that tactic was an abuse of the Senate's constitutional power to "advise and consent" on judicial nominations by, in effect, changing the requirement to approval to 60 votes rather than a simple majority.

CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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