Politics & Policy

Masters of Obstruction

The Estrada roadblock continues.

Senate Democrats’ opposition to a first-rate Hispanic’s judicial nomination should come as no surprise given the Democratic party’s long history of obstruction on issues of race and equal opportunity. This statement may seem bold — the Democrats are constantly advertising themselves as the party of minorities — but the facts surrounding Miguel Estrada’s nomination leave room for no other conclusion.

For two years, Democrats have played political games, offered racial insults, and finally resorted to the favorite parliamentary tool of past equal-opportunity obstructionists — the filibuster.

Miguel Estrada, nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is a proud example of the American dream. He came here as a high-school student speaking little English. Before ascending to his current position at a leading Washington law firm, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, clerked for both a Supreme Court justice and a Court of Appeals justice, argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court, and served as assistant to the solicitor general under presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Estrada’s impressive resume includes more experience than those of many past nominees. Indeed, five of the eight judges currently on the D.C. Circuit had had no prior judicial experience. And the American Bar Association, which routinely rates judicial picks, gave Estrada their highest rating.

Now, despite having enough votes to be confirmed, Estrada is blocked — because Senate Democrats absolutely refuse to allow his nomination a vote, as the Constitution requires. Estrada has the support of 55 of senators, but 60 votes are required to break the filibuster. This month, Democrats succeeded for the sixth time in blocking a cloture motion — which would stop debate and allow a vote — and so continued the first filibuster of an Appeals court nominee.

Democrats claim that Estrada has no support in the Hispanic community — even though not one membership-based Hispanic organization opposes Estrada. The racial attack peaked when Rep. Bob Menendez sneered that Estrada isn’t Hispanic enough.

“Being Hispanic means for us much more than having a surname,” Menendez said — although he failed to list the official requirements for Hispanic-ness. If Menendez has such a list, perhaps he should send it to the Honduran-born Estrada.

For the Left’s racial demagogues and self-appointed thought police, all minorities must think alike. Of course, the only views considered acceptable are those backing policies that keep minorities firmly under the thumb of government programs the Left controls.

Currently, the “substantive” anti-Estrada argument rests on two assertions: first, that he hasn’t answered enough questions, and second, that the administration will not release memos he wrote while serving as assistant to the Solicitor General.

Because the Solicitor General represents the government, the memoranda in question fall under attorney-client privilege. Every living SG agrees that releasing them would do long-term harm to the Justice Department (of the seven SGs, four are Democrats, and three are Republicans). Tellingly, producing such documents has not been required of past nominees.

Clinton SG Seth Waxman, one of Estrada’s former bosses, wrote that he has “great respect both for Mr. Estrada’s intellect and for his integrity” and that Estrada is “a model of professionalism and competence.”

The lack of credible opposition to Estrada and the flimsy arguments, thinly-veiled racial epithets, and political tricks are all just a continuation of Democratic party opposition to equal opportunity.

In the 1930s, Democrats filibustered to death a federal anti-lynching bill that passed the House several times. Civil-rights litigation was repeatedly derailed in the 1950s by Democratic filibusters or threats thereof. Democrats filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 74 days, and in 1963, Democratic governor George Wallace physically blocked the schoolhouse door to prevent two black students from entering the University of Alabama.

Today, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is blocking the courthouse door, refusing to give a vote to a nominee who would be the first Hispanic on the D.C. Circuit Court.

If the Democrats were forced to filibuster the old-fashioned way — by being required to speak continuously — perhaps they would take their place alongside brethren like ex-Sen. Strom Thurmond. As an opponent of desegregation — and a Democrat — Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

Could Thurmond’s record be broken? Given the contempt fueling opposition to a fair vote for Miguel Estrada, it is possible. At any rate, past Democrats would certainly have been proud of the party’s obstructionist success so far.

Mario H. Lopez is a writer and communications consultant in Arlington, Va.


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