WASHINGTON – President Bush's legal adviser, pressing the White House's case for Miguel Estrada, contended Sunday that the Hispanic lawyer was being treated differently from other federal judicial nominees.
Senate Democrats have held up a confirmation vote on Estrada for almost two weeks, saying they know little about his views, particularly on abortion rights. That makes it impossible, the Democrats say, for them to evaluate the Washington lawyer's qualifications to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, widely considered the country's second-most-powerful court.
"I'm not going to speculate on the motivation behind this," White House counsel Albert Gonzales said on Fox News Sunday.
"I will say that he is being treated differently. I think he's being held to a double standard," said Gonzales, who rarely appears on the Sunday talk shows but was brought out to defend the embattled Estrada nomination.
"There is ample information about Miguel Estrada," Gonzales said on ABC's This Week.
Bush used his weekly radio address Saturday to urge a Senate vote on Estrada, an immigrant from Honduras who would become the first Hispanic on the appellate court in the capital. "I call on the Senate Democratic leadership to stop playing politics," the president said.
The GOP has the 51 votes needed to confirm him, but not the 60 needed to stop a filibuster and end Senate debate to allow a vote.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus issued a statement Saturday noting that Republicans have rejected Democratic Hispanic nominees in the past and said lawmakers are right to want more information about Estrada's views.
"Republicans must realize that there are other highly qualified Hispanics, who are not ashamed to discuss their views," caucus chairman Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, said.
Democrats have complained that they know too little about Estrada's views to evaluate him.
They requested copies of confidential Justice Department memos Estrada wrote while working in the solicitor general's office, which represents the White House before the Supreme Court. The Bush administration has refused to release the memos.
Gonzales complained that 67 other former Justice Department employees have been appointed to federal courts, and they were not asked for internal memos.
"So it appears to us that Miguel Estrada is being held to a different standard. And I don't know why, because this person is very well qualified and should be confirmed quickly," Gonzales said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which sent Estrada's nomination to the Senate floor on Jan. 30, accused the White House of stonewalling. "If Mr. Estrada were a mainstream conservative, I would vote for him. Many others would. But we don't have any idea of how he feels on any issue at all," Schumer said on ABC's This Week.
Gonzales hinted that the matter could hurt Democrats politically with Hispanic voters.
"I think if the Hispanic community believes that Miguel Estrada is being treated differently or is being held at a different standard, I think that it may be harmful in the future," Gonzales said.