Posted 9:50pm September 11
by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
After two years of partisan wrangling over his appointment, Miguel Estrada, the Bush administration’s nominee for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, withdrew his nomination last Thursday.
Estrada stated in a letter to President George W. 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.”
President Bush shunned Democrats for their “disgraceful treatment” of the nominee and stated that his appointment was blocked for “purely political reasons.”
Estrada, age 42, would have been the first Latino appointed to such a position. A Honduran immigrant, Estrada came to the United States at age 15. Two years later he gained entrance into Columbia College as well as attending Harvard Law. Following his education, Estrada clerked for Amalya L. Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York and Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Estrada proceeded to work as the assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York until his promotion to Deputy Chief, Appellate Section in the same office. Estrada then served as the Assistant to the Solicitor General of the United States until he became a partner of the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm in Washington, D.C.
Throughout his career as a lawyer, Estrada tried cases in relation to drug trafficking, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and the execution of business operations. He played a pivotal role in defining the ways in which courts could interpret the construction of decreed statutes.
Estrada has been described by the Independent Judiciary, an organization that pursues the alliance for justice, as being “a conservative ideologue who is unable or unwilling to distinguish his personal views from what law requires.”
Although the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee approved his nomination in a 10-9 vote, Democrats filibustered his appointment on a variety of grounds. The most important among them was the fact that Estrada had refused to answer questions posed to him during his confirmation hearing regarding such controversial issues as abortion and affirmative action.
Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, told the press, “We simply want Mr. Estrada to follow the law, to follow the Constitutional obligation he has to provide us with all 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.”
Democrats also claimed they were unable to find a “paper trail” regarding his views on other major legal issues. This was compounded by the White House’s decision not to provide the Democrats with memos Estrada had written while serving in the solicitor general’s office. Without them, the Democrats claimed, they could not properly evaluate Estrada as a candidate.
Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, told the press “By remaining silent, Mr. Estrada only buttressed the fear that he’s a far-right stealth nominee, a sphinx-like candidate who will drive the nation’s second-most important court out of the mainstream.”
Democrats also pointed out that Estrada had never served as a judge and lacked the keen political and legal experience to serve as one. The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit often provides a stepping stone to appointment on the Supreme Court.
Estrada’s appointment and withdrawal illustrate much of the tensions regarding partisanship, morality, law and race in the United States. Surprisingly, the Hispanic community was divided in their support for Estrada. Many of his Hispanic supporters were unable to look beyond his ethnicity, while many of his Hispanic detractors were unable to look beyond his conservative ideology. For most, the key issue regarding Estrada’s appointment revolved around his race and not his qualifications.
Estrada’s appointment also illustrated the importance of race to the Democratic and Republican Parties. Bush’s decision to appoint Estrada was a means by which he could appeal to the vastly growing Hispanic vote for his reelection race in 2004. Bush’s pandering to the Hispanic community was called out by the Democrats, who were then labeled by the Republicans as being “anti-Latino.”
The appointment also illustrates the deeply emotional aspect of the American legal system. Because Estrada would not clarify his views on abortion rights and affirmative action, many assumed he would impart an “extremist” view on rulings regarding these highly important and controversial issues.
Currently the court seats eight judges, four of whom were appointed by Republican presidents and four of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents. Estrada would have tipped the conservative scale in favor of the Republicans, who already control the Senate and the Executive office.
The Senate vote to end the debate over the nomination and appoint Estrada was only five votes short of a victory for the Republican Party.