One of the dangers of playing politics in Washington, D.C. is that the reputations and livelihoods of outstanding citizens can become twisted in the game's web of rhetoric and half truths. For an example, one need look no further than President Bush's judicial nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Miguel Estrada.
Mr. Estrada embodies the American dream. He came to this country at the age of 17 from Honduras, speaking only a little English, and within a few years he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. From there he served as a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Chief of the Appellate Section in Southern New York, and Assistant to the Solicitor General under both Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
He has worked hard for his clients, whether they were individual citizens or the federal government as a whole, and is widely considered one of the country's best appellate lawyers. His exceptional abilities were recognized by President Bush, and his name was submitted for constitutionally-required advise and consent to the U.S. Senate on May 9, 2001. Nearly two years later, Mr. Estrada continues to be held hostage by Senate Democrats determined to snuff this particular American dream.
They have fought him the whole way, from simply allowing his nomination to languish in the Judiciary Committee for a ridiculous amount of time when they held the majority last Congress, to the recent unprecedented threat of filibustering his nomination on the Senate floor. Their sole purpose for this tomfoolery is to check the President's ability to appoint someone whose politics disagree with theirs to a bench that serves as a stepping stone to the highest court in the land.
It is not the job of the Senate to rubber stamp every Presidential nominee, but it is irresponsible to gum up the nominations for political reasons. The Constitution gives the Senate a role in the process of confirming judges, and I believe that means at a minimum an up or down vote, and not filibustering to a stalemate.
As for how I will vote: throughout my Senate career I have applied a three-pronged test of character, competence and judicial philosophy to any judicial nomination. Clearly Mr. Estrada passes those tests. He is highly respected as a person and lawyer by his peers, and has received strong endorsements from those who know him well, including a bipartisan group of fourteen former colleagues in the Office of the Solicitor General. He is more than competent to serve as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court, the same court that currently has five judges who held no prior judgeships before ascending to the bench. He has argued fifteen cases before the Supreme Court, and the American Bar Association unanimously gave Mr. Estrada its highest possible rating of "well qualified."
Judicial philosophy deals with what the nominee thinks the judge's proper role is. It is my strong view that judges should not act as substitute legislators, but interpret the laws of this land and follow the precedents set before them. In the case of Mr. Estrada, I am confident he will approach each decision with the law in mind, not politics.
If Miguel Estrada is confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first Hispanic ever to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. My Democrat colleagues are anxious to assure America that their opposition to him is not based on race, but it seems to me that he only offends those who have a cookie-cutter mentality that members of the Hispanic community should adhere to a certain profile. To that political elite, because he is Hispanic, he must think, talk and act like a liberal in order to get their support for his nomination. This is fundamentally wrong, and should not be tolerated.
Former Congressman Herman Badillo (D-NY), the first Puerto Rican native to be elected to Congress, has said "He [Estrada] will be a role model not just for Hispanics, but for all immigrants and their children. His is the great American success story." While I agree with Rep. Badillo, I think Mr. Estrada's story serves as an inspiration for all Americans that hard work and character does pay off. His nomination should be given the fair chance in the Senate that he deserves, and I will do all I can to ensure just that.