Pro-Life Activists Vow Not to Forget Estrada Debacle

WASHINGTON — After 28 months as a nominee for the federal District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, Miguel Estrada withdrew his nomination Sept. 5.

Senate Democrats labeled the Catholic, Washington, D.C., lawyer an “extremist” for his pro-life and conservative views. Senate Republicans had tried seven times to end a Democratic filibuster of Estrada's nomination on the Senate floor but could not get the 60 votes needed for cloture to end the filibuster.

“Mr. Estrada received disgraceful treatment at the hands of 45 U.S. Senators during the more than two years his nomination was pending,” President Bush said of the end of the Estrada fight. “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.”

By all accounts, the White House, which was on the forefront of the Estrada fight, did not ask for Estrada to drop out.

Estrada dropped out so he and his family could move on from nomination limbo. In a letter to the president, he said, “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.”

The Estrada withdrawal comes after the beginning of the filibuster of another judicial nominee, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, who has been opposed by Senate Democrats because of stated concerns that his religious beliefs — he's Catholic — would cloud his work as a judge. The Committee for Justice, a Republican group, subsequently launched a “No Catholics Need Apply” ad campaign.

The end of the Estrada battle seems to confirm the “No Catholics Need Apply” message, some say.

At Estrada's confirmation hearing in September 2002, New York Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer — who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees judicial nominations to the federal bench — called Estrada “a stealth candidate, flying under the radar, heading for landing” on the D.C. circuit court.

“I'm scared of what will happen if he is confirmed,” Schumer said.

Some liberal groups had declared Estrada “Hispanic in name only” for his ideological conservatism. At a gathering earlier this year organized by Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a speaker said of Estrada: “It's not good enough to simply say that because of someone's genetics or surname that they should be considered Hispanic.”

Some on the left disagree with that contention, however.

“Misleading reports have made Mr. Estrada's heritage and political ideology the center of the debate without sound reasoning,” said Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which opposed the nomination.

Despite the color of the rhetoric coming from those who opposed his nomination, though, Estrada is considered well qualified by American Bar Association ratings. The ratings have long been an accepted standard for rating lawyers.

“Miguel Estrada was bullied and brutally campaigned against for over two years by Senate Democrats because he would not commit to support abortion,” said Raimundo Rojas, Hispanic out-reach coordinator for the National Right to Life Committee. “It is a travesty that Miguel Estrada, a Honduran who graduated from Harvard Law School, has been prevented from serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals because of the Democratic Party's blind loyalty to pro-abortion groups.”

The Estrada withdrawal, though a defeat for conservatives, could be a political opportunity, some analysts and activists say.

Raul Damas, director of operations at Opiniones Latinas, a bilingual polling firm, said there is “real potential for the Estrada nomination to be a critical ‘wedge issue’ in the 2004 election. However, it will only be as effective as Republican candidates are determined to bring this issue front and center.”

“The onus falls on Republicans to keep asking Democrats, ‘Where were you when Miguel Estrada's vote came to the Senate floor?’” Damas said. “The ultimate prize for Republicans — and Democrats' ultimate fear — is that Estrada's opponents will have to explain why they felt it necessary to destroy a pro-life nominee ‘for the sake of’ an overwhelmingly pro-life community.”

Many activists say they are ready for the battle.

“We move forward with the clear understanding that the left has thrown down the gauntlet with the shameful treatment of Miguel Estrada through the course of his nomination,” said Kay Daly, spokes-woman for the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary. “As an immigrant and a devout Catholic, Estrada, along with millions of immigrants and believers like him, have just been told that you can work hard and achieve much in this great country, but if you are a person of faith and conviction, you need not apply.”

“Most folks may not know the difference between a federal court and a tennis court,” Daly continued. “But one need not be a legal scholar to understand that it is judicial activists armed with a leftist social agenda that are to blame for the Ten Commandments case and the Pledge of Allegiance case — not to mention Roe v. Wade. And Ted Kennedy [D-Mass.], Hillary Rodham Clinton [DN.Y.], Tom Daschle and Chuck Schumer will not rest until the entire federal bench is riddled with judicial activists that agree with them.”

“It is time for all people with ‘deeply held personal beliefs,’” she said, “to pick up the phone and call their senators, write letters to the editor, call in to their local talk-radio shows to express their outrage at the judicial nominations process.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor of National Review Online.

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