After months spent in judicial appointment limbo, on Wednesday Miguel Estrada will finally see his nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals debated by the full Senate. Aware that this debate will set the stage for future nomination battles, Democrats have threatened to filibuster. Such blatant obstructionism should not be allowed to derail the appointment of the first Hispanic judge to one of the most important courts in the nation.
Few are better suited to the position. A brief examination of Estrada’s record makes it clear why the American Bar Association unanimously rated him a “well qualified” judicial nominee, its highest possible rating. Arriving in the United States from Honduras at the age of 17, Estrada soon distinguished himself at Columbia College and then Harvard Law School, graduating with honors from both institutions.
He went on to a prestigious clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy before embarking on his professional career, first as a prosecutor in Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, and later as assistant to the solicitor general of the United States in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. A bipartisan group of colleagues from that office told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Estrada “would be a fair and honest judge who would decide cases in accordance with applicable legal principles and precedents.” Indeed, Seth Waxman, solicitor general under President Clinton, wrote that Estrada is a “model of professionalism and competence” and that he has “great respect both for Mr. Estrada’s intellect and for his integrity.”
During Estrada’s subsequent career as a partner in one of the nation’s preeminent law firms, he has built a reputation as one of the best appellate lawyers in the country. He has argued some 15 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one case involving the defense of a death-row inmate.
Faced with this impressive record, Democrats have spent the months since Estrada’s nomination searching for reasons not to confirm him. They have come up with nothing. No unfortunate misjudgments; no disgruntled clients; no public displays of private faults. Unlike so many others who have braved the nomination process, Estrada has failed to provide his political opponents with something to hang their hat on. And so they’ve fallen back on unfounded concerns that don’t bear even minimal scrutiny.
For instance, some have argued that Estrada doesn’t have the support of the Hispanic community. Yet the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the country’s oldest Hispanic civil-rights organization, has given Estrada its strong support, and its president has called Estrada “truly one of the rising stars in the Hispanic community and a role model for our youth.” Similar endorsements have come from the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Hispanic Business Roundtable, the Latino Coalition, and a host of other groups.
Democrats have also charged that internal memos written by Estrada while in the solicitor general’s office should be released in order to enable them to discern his views on various issues. This flies in the face of traditional legal practice, of course, which protects the confidentiality of such deliberations. Indeed, every living former solicitor general — Democratic and Republican appointees alike — signed a joint letter to the Judiciary Committee which said that revealing such information would have a chilling effect on the Department of Justice’s ability to represent the United States in court.
Least convincing of all is the claim that Estrada’s lack of judicial experience should prevent his confirmation. Five of the eight judges currently sitting on the D.C. Circuit had no previous judicial experience, including Chief Judge Harry Edwards, as well as two of President Clinton’s nominees. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist himself had no prior judicial experience when appointed to the Supreme Court. And of course Estrada’s abilities led the ABA to rate him well qualified to serve on the bench, a rating that Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer have previously referred to as the “gold standard” for determining judicial fitness.
Given Estrada’s outstanding record, his widespread support among both the legal and Hispanic communities, and the emptiness of his opponent’s objections, this confirmation should have been a smooth one. Instead, Democrats are poised to continue their opposition, even threatening to go so far as to filibuster the nomination. Their efforts to do so should be strongly resisted.
A filibuster would further poison the already-destructive nomination process. Indeed, even Senator Leahy has said “over and over again…that I would object and fight against any filibuster on a judge, whether it is somebody I opposed or supported.” Other Democratic senators, including Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer, have gone on record against filibusters on principle. Now is not the time for them to go back on their words.
Miguel Estrada is an outstanding lawyer and a role model for all immigrants. He has broad legal experience in both public service and private practice. He deserves the chance to take his seat as the first Hispanic judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Senate Democrats are all that stand in his way.
— Kim Daniels is an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center.