Republicans Push Hispanic Court Nominee

Republicans rallied outside the Capitol Wednesday for President Bush's nominee to the D.C. Court of Appeals, whose confirmation hearing has been held up in the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee.

"We just came from a meeting with the president of the United States. He wants Miguel Estrada to have a hearing and be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He should get that hearing, he should be confirmed. Viva Estrada!" Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said.

Supporters call Estrada's story the American dream. Born in Honduras, he came to the United States in his teens barely speaking English. He attended Columbia University and Harvard Law School and later clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Estrada served as assistant solicitor general for the first Bush administration and then for President Clinton. He has argued 15 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Estrada is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the firm that represented President George W. Bush at the Supreme Court during the post-election legal fight.

One of the more conservative selections, admirers call Estrada one of the smartest and ethically rigorous lawyers they know. He favors gun control, but believes in the conservative judicial model of reading the "plain language" of a law or of the Constitution, joining the philosophical ranks of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Republicans say that the confirmation is being held up because if confirmed, Estrada, 41, will be the first Hispanic ever appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and in a position to move to a higher bench.

"The real reason [the Democrats] are against him is because he is likely to become the first Hispanic American ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court," charged Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

"I don't care if a nominee is white, black or Latino or anything else if they're in the mold of Scalia or Thomas. I am not going to be stampeded into voting for them," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Schumer acknowledged that the committee has not acted on eight of the 11 nominees Bush named when Estrada was nominated, but said he has been promised a hearing this year.

No such promises have been made to any other nominees.

Schumer accused Republicans of resorting to "playing the race card" to get a hearing on the judges, and said Estrada's record on choice, civil rights and federalism are so far from the mainstream that he is not a good candidate for the federal bench.

"I haven't taken a position one way or the other because I want to hear the hearings. I want to hear him in his own voice as to what he has to say," Schumer said.

But Republicans say Democrats again are playing the ideological card.

"To apply that sort of inaction to Miguel Estrada and to other minorities, men and women, is indefensible," Lott said. "They do not want capable conservative judges on the circuit courts."