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Democrats Resist Pressure Over Estrada Nomination

Senate Democrats say they are holding out for more information about Hispanic judicial nominee Miguel Estrada before they consider his confirmation, although home-state pressure from conservatives has led one Democrat to oppose a filibuster.

Senators began their third week of debate Monday over President Bush's choice to become the first Hispanic to sit on the federal appeals court in the nation's capital.

Democrats said the Washington lawyer has not been forthcoming with them on his legal opinions.

"We have the right to speak on the Senate floor on this nomination as long as we want," Assistant Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

But conservative pressure, including some advertisements in his home state, led Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to announce that he would not support a filibuster of the Hispanic lawyer. Nelson "is leaning toward supporting Estrada," spokesman Dan McLaughlin said.

Nelson and Estrada met two weeks ago, McLaughlin said. The junior Florida senator will make his final decision "in the next couple of days," McLaughlin said.

Republicans still lack the 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to force Democrats to confirm Estrada.

Conservative groups aired commercials in Indiana, North Carolina and the Washington, D.C., area during the weeklong Presidents Day's break to nudge some of the 44 Democrats now opposing Estrada's nomination to allow a final vote.

Democrats promised to keep debating the nomination until Estrada answers more of their questions and hands over his memos from his work at the solicitor general's office during the Clinton administration.

The White House has refused to hand over the memos and Republicans have accused Democrats of treating Estrada unfairly because he is a conservative Hispanic. Bush made the Estrada nomination the focus of his weekly radio address.

"They cannot point to any evidence that Mr. Estrada will not be a fair and just member of the federal bench who will interpret the law as written, without injecting his personal agenda or political views," said Sen. John Cronyn, R-Texas.

A liberal group struck back Monday, issuing their own anti-Estrada television advertisements.

"Mr. Estrada has failed to meet the burden of demonstrating his qualification and suitability for this prestigious position," the Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary said, announcing its 30-second ad showing in the D.C. area.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is known as a gateway to the Supreme Court; Estrada has been touted as a likely Bush nominee to the nation's highest court.

GOP Rep. Mark Foley of Florida challenged the state's senior senator, Democrat Bob Graham, to support Estrada.

"Senator Graham can play a crucial role in this process," Foley said. "It's time he explains whether that role will be one of inclusion or obstruction."

Graham's office did not immediately respond. Graham is likely to run for the presidency, and might be sensitive to accusations of obstructing a Hispanic.

Republican senators say they may soon force Democrats to filibuster Estrada's nomination.

A filibuster means lawmakers take over the Senate floor and refuse to allow the Senate to go home or move to other business until they get their way. Stopping a filibuster requires 60 votes, which the Republicans now lack; but forcing a filibuster could play into Republican claims that the Democrats are obstructing the country's business.