WASHINGTON – Dear Senator Frist: [Dear Senator Daschle:]
The Senate is debating the nomination of Miguel A. Estrada to be a Jjdge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Miguel Estrada's life is an example of the American dream.
He came to this country from Honduras as a teenager barely speaking English and went on to graduate with honors from Harvard Law School. He has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States and served in the United States Department of Justice under Presidents of both political parties. The American Bar Association has given him its highest rating. When appointed, he will be the first Hispanic ever to serve on the D.C. Circuit.
I submitted Mr. Estrada's nomination to the Senate on May 9, 2001. But his nomination has been stalled for partisan reasons for nearly 2 years in which the Senate has not held a vote either to confirm or to reject the nomination.
The Senate has a solemn responsibility to exercise its constitutional advice and consent function and hold up or down votes on judicial nominees within a reasonable time after nomination. Senators who are filibustering a vote on Miguel Estrada are flouting the intention of the United States Constitution and the tradition of the United States Senate.
The filibuster is the culmination of an escalating series of back-and-forth tactics that have marred the judicial confirmation process for years, as many judicial nominees have never received up or down Senate votes. And now, a minority of Senators are threatening for the first time to use ideological filibusters as a standard tool to indefinitely block confirmation of well-qualified nominees with strong bipartisan support.
This has to end.
The judicial confirmation process is broken, and the consequences for the American people are real. Because of the Senate's failure to hold timely votes, the number of judicial vacancies has been unacceptably high during my presidency and those of President Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush.
The chief justice has warned that the high number of judicial vacancies, when combined with the ever-increasing caseloads, leads to crowded courts and threatens the administration of justice. When understaffed, the Federal courts cannot act in a timely manner to resolve disputes that affect the lives and liberties of all Americans.
The courts cannot decide constitutional cases promptly, which harms people seeking more to vindicate and protect their rights, and the courts cannot rule on commercial cases efficiently, which hurts the economy, businesses, and workers.
Our system of equal justice under law administered fairly and efficiently is at risk. The American Bar Association in 2002 accurately described the situation as an "emergency."
My concern about the state of the judicial confirmation process is not new. In June 2000, I proposed timely votes for all nominees, stating that the confirmation process "does not empower anyone to turn the process into a protracted ordeal of unreasonable delay and unrelenting investigation."
In May 2001, when I announced my first judicial nominations, I urged the Senate to rise above the bitterness of the past and again asked that every judicial nominee receive a timely up or down vote. In October 2002, after nearly two additional years in which too many nominees did not receive votes, I proposed a specific, commonsense plan involving all three Branches that, among other steps, would ensure that all judicial nominees receive an up or down Senate vote within 180 days of nomination.
Over the years, many Senators of both political parties have publicly agreed with the principle that every judicial nominee should receive a timely up or down Senate vote. Similarly, the Federal Judiciary, speaking through the Chief
Justice in his 2001 Year-End Report, has stated that the Senate should "schedule up or down votes on judicial nominees within a reasonable time after receiving the nomination."
I ask Senators of both parties to come together to end the escalating cycle of blame and bitterness and to restore fairness, predictability, and dignity to the process. I ask that the Senate take action, including adoption of a permanent rule, to ensure timely up or down votes on judicial nominations both now and in the future, no matter who is president or which party controls the Senate. This is the only way to ensure that our Judiciary works and that good people remain willing to be nominated to the Federal bench.
All Senators should have a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted. All presidents should have their judicial nominees considered and voted upon in a reasonable time. All nominees should have the certainty of an up or down Senate vote within a reasonable time. All judges should have the assurance that vacancies on their courts will not persist for years. And all Americans should have the assurance that the federal courts will remain open and fully staffed to resolve their disputes and protect their rights and liberties.
As I stated last October, the current state of affairs in the United States Senate is not merely another round of political wrangling. It is a disturbing failure to meet a responsibility under the Constitution. Our country deserves better, the process can work better, and we can make it better. The Constitution has given us a shared duty, and we must meet that duty together.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
George W. Bush