Estrada Drops Out of Judicial Race

Twenty-eight months after being nominated and seven filibusters later, two-time judicial nominee Miguel Estrada (search) has withdrawn his name from consideration for a seat on the federal bench, opening the way for President Bush to nominate a less controversial candidate.

Bush, who had defended Estrada to the end, had been pushing the Senate to approve the Honduran-born attorney for a place on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Senate Republicans have failed seven times to get a vote on the confirmation, which Democrats blocked through a procedural method that prevented an end to debate.

"I write to ask you to withdraw my pending nomination," Estrada wrote in a letter delivered to the president on Thursday. "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."

In the letter, Estrada thanked the president and expressed hope that he will work for the government again. Estrada previously had been served in the Clinton Justice Department.

"I profoundly hope that, at some time in the future, I may be called again to serve my country in some capacity," he said.

Bush said he accepted Estrada's request "with regret."

"Mr. Estrada received disgraceful treatment at the hands of the 45 United States senators during the more than two years his nomination was pending," Bush said in a statement Thursday.

"Despite his superb qualifications and the wide bipartisan support for his nomination, these Democrat senators repeatedly blocked an up-or-down vote that would have led to Mr. Estrada's confirmation. The treatment of this fine man is an unfortunate chapter in the Senate's history."

In a statement released by Estrada later in the day, he thanked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (search), R-Utah, "for the many courtesies they have extended to me."

"I was deeply honored by this nomination and I will forever be grateful to the president for his steadfast support of my candidacy and for his many kindnesses toward me and my family," Estrada said in the statement.

Estrada was one of a handful of federal judicial nominees named by Bush who became lightning rods during the Senate confirmation process, where Democrats argued they were too conservative.

Democrats said Estrada's withdrawal and the infighting that preceded the move was the White House's fault, since the Bush administration didn't give senators information they requested about the nominee's tenure at the Justice Department.

"Mr. Estrada is an unfortunate victim of a White House process of not cooperating with the Senate and stonewalling the appointment of judges," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said during a press briefing with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., on Thursday.

"No American expects to be hired for a job after refusing to answer questions in an interview," Schumer added, vowing that "as long as the administration continues to do this," Senate Democrats will continue to block nominees they consider "not in the mainstream."

"The Senate will remain firm in not rolling over and not confirming them," he promised.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., noted that the Senate has confirmed 145 of Bush's judicial nominees.

"Clearly, when the president recommends qualified judicial candidates and they provide the necessary information, the Senate confirms them," Daschle said in a statement.

He added that it is "unfortunate" that the administration refused "allow him to complete his job application and provide the Senate with the basic information it needed to evaluate and vote on his nomination."

On July 30, Senate Republicans lost a seventh filibuster vote in their fight to make Estrada the first Hispanic on that court, falling five short of the 60 needed to cut off debate.

Estrada then had 55 votes for confirmation, but Republicans needed 60 to break the procedural block. Republicans control the chamber by a two-vote margin, with 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one independent senator, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who usually sides with the Democrats.

Democrats, who said they wanted more information on Estrada, insisted they would not allow a final vote until the Washington appellate lawyer answered more of their questions in a public hearing or until the White House released Estrada's working papers from his time at the Clinton Justice Department.

Estrada, who was on the Bush team in the Florida recount case that went to the Supreme Court, practices law privately in Washington.

The Bush administration has refused to release those memos. Republicans have accused Democrats of treating Estrada unfairly because he is a conservative Hispanic.

Republicans say they will continue to pressure Democrats to vote on the president's nominations.

The GOP has had a tough time getting several of the president's handpicked court nominees through the Senate.

With Estrada pulling out of the nomination process, that leaves Texas Supreme Court judge Priscilla Owen (search) as the Democrats' main target on the judicial picks issue.

Like Estrada, Owen was judged to be highly qualified by the American Bar Association, but Democrats have blocked a vote by the full Senate on her confirmation. She lost a third filibuster vote July 29 to be on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Democrats say Owen is an anti-abortion and pro-business judicial activist whose opinions and rulings are overly influenced by her personal beliefs. When they controlled the Senate in 2001, Democrats voted her nomination down in committee on a party-line vote.

Owen and GOP senators say Democrats misrepresented her positions, and that she would be a fair and impartial judge if confirmed by the Senate.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor (search) has been grilled by senators on a variety of subjects, not least of which is his stance on abortion, as he's tried to be confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Appeals Court.

Pryor has said that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 30 years ago, is "the worst abomination of the history of constitutional law."

On July 31, the GOP failed to push his confirmation through the Senate. Pryor only got 53 votes in the Senate. The only Democrats to vote for him were Sens. Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

The confirmation of California judge Carolyn Kuhl (search), nominated by Bush to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, was postponed by the Senate until this month after Democratic opponents suggested her record was too far to the right on privacy, civil rights and abortion.

Democrats have also blocked the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering (search) to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Democrats said he was too conservative — and hinted too racist — for the bench.

In March, Bush himself sent a testy letter to senators, chastising them for holding up Estrada's nomination for so long.

"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," Bush wrote.

"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."

Adding that the judicial nomination process is "broken," Bush said that "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."

Bush staged a series of public events last winter that cast Democratic opposition to Estrada as "purely political" and called Democratic refusal to approve him as a "travesty."

"Your personal involvement on my behalf has been a particular source of pride and comfort to me," Estrada wrote Thursday in a letter to Bush.

Fox News' Wendell Goler, Julie Asher and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.