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Hispanic Solons: End Filibuster
May 15, 2005
Four years ago this week, President George W. Bush nominated an extremely talented group of judges to help address the growing problem of judicial vacancies nationwide.
Among the nominees were Miguel Estrada, who was nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Priscilla Owen, nominated to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Unfortunately, the past four years have seen an unprecedented strategy by Senate Democrats to obstruct the president's judicial nominations. Despite having stellar credentials, Mr. Estrada's nomination was continually filibustered.
After Democrats forced him to wait more than two years for a fair vote, the mild-mannered nominee asked that his nomination be withdrawn so that he could get on with his life. An American dream was crushed by Democrats' partisan bickering.
This radical tactic by the left was the first time in more than 200 years of congressional history that a judicial nominee was derailed by a filibuster. The filibuster is a Senate parliamentary maneuver that allows a minority of senators to prevent a vote on an issue even if a bipartisan majority approves of the measure, as was the case of Mr. Estrada's nomination.
In the past, Democrats have used the filibuster to prevent votes on Civil Rights legislation and to keep laws requiring segregation on the books. So it may not be surprising that strategy memos produced by Senate Democrats and left-wing organizations specifically mentioned Mr. Estrada was "dangerous... because he is Latino."
Hispanic Democrats in the House of Representatives rushed to agree with their Senate cohorts, and immediately claimed the Honduran-born Mr. Estrada was "Hispanic in name only."
Sadly, Democratic Party obstruction of the president's judicial nominations continues, and if anything, has worsened thanks to their ongoing efforts to deny judicial nominees a fair vote.
Senate Democrats have blocked a fair vote on Priscilla Owen's nomination four times. There is little doubt she, too, would be confirmed in a fair vote. She was re-elected to the Texas Supreme Court with a whopping 84 percent vote. Every major Texas newspaper endorsed her. She unanimously received the American Bar Association's highest recommendation.
Janice Rogers Brown, a current nominee to the D.C. Appeals Court, is another highly qualified nominee whom Democrats deny a fair vote. Justice Brown is the first African-American woman to serve on the California Supreme Court, and was re-elected with 76 percent of the vote.
The daughter of sharecroppers, Justice Brown attended segregated schools and grew up under the injustice of Jim Crow laws in the South -- laws , ironically enough, once defended by Democrats.
The Democrats' fascination with preventing fair votes for nominees who routinely enjoy the bipartisan support of a majority of senators illustrates a desire to put their own petty partisan desires above the good of the nation. When asked how many hours Democrats needed to debate Priscilla Owen's nomination, Democratic Leader Harry Reid said, "There is not a number in the universe that would be sufficient."
It is the president's duty and constitutional right to nominate people for judicial openings. And the Senate has the constitutional duty to "advise and consent," that is, to vote.
Make no mistake. If any U.S. senators see fit to vote against a nominee, ultimately that is between them and their constituents. However, preventing a vote for judicial nominees is an affront to democracy and fairness, plain and simple.
The Democrats' partisan political game on judicial nominations is becoming a staple of their larger obstructionist policy on a host of issues vital to our nation's interest. Democrats refuse to put forth any proposal of substance on Social Security, for example. Instead, they choose to deny there is a problem and resort to scare tactics and misinformation about reform.
In fact, both House and Senate Democrats have publicly said their goals are to obstruct the president's agenda no matter what that agenda entails.
It is time for Democrats to abandon their "Just Say No" strategy and put the good of the nation ahead of their own partisan zeal. President Bush has nominated sensible, highly qualified judicial nominees who enjoy bipartisan support and who will abide by the Constitution. Democrats should abide by that same Constitution and allow every judicial nominee a fair up or down vote. Justice demands no less.
Puerto Rico Republican.
The authors are members of the U.S. House of Representatives and of the Congressional Hispanic Conference.