At last, a GOP Senate leader has called a filibuster bluff and made Democrats flap their gums. As Democrats hamstring the Senate to hog-tie a court nominee, Republicans are poised to unravel the minority’s intransigence toward judicial appointees.
Until Tennessee’s Bill Frist became Majority Leader, Democrats routinely frustrated Republicans by merely threatening to filibuster controversial issues. With 60 votes needed to end debate, the Democratic minority often wielded virtual veto power. Frist’s control-oriented predecessor, Trent Lott (R., Miss.), repeatedly folded when Democrats simply warned they would filibuster such matters as Alaskan oil exploration and nuclear waste storage.
Now, Frist has told these Democrats to start talking. Finally, they will have to sweat to stymie Republicans. This time, they hope to scuttle Miguel Estrada, President Bush’s designee for a seat on the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
After the Senate spent 12 hours considering the Estrada nomination Wednesday, Frist summoned his GOP colleagues into the chamber at 9:00 P.M. “I look around the room now to see that practically every Republican desk has someone behind it, ready to vote,” Frist confidently observed. He generously proposed that both parties share six more hours of discussion, then vote on Estrada. Assistant Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada blocked that request, as well as Frist’s subsequent offers to vote on February 14, 21, or 28. Unflapped, Frist yielded the floor and let debate continue. The Senate could spend the next two weeks on Estrada.
Estrada’s critics claim he is extreme and even insufficiently Hispanic. Senator Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) says Estrada “is like a stealth missile — with a nose cone — coming out of the right wing’s deepest silo.”
ICBM or not, Estrada was not too rigid to serve President Clinton. Among his Democratic supporters, Estrada’s ex-boss — former Solicitor General Seth Waxman — calls him “a model of professionalism and competence.”
As for the slander that he is an ersatz Hispanic, Estrada’s critics would not be mollified even if he swapped his black robes for a serape and wore a sombrero on the bench.
“Being Hispanic for us means more than having a surname,” Rep. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) said February 5 at an anti-Estrada press conference that Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota attended. As NRO’s Byron York reported, Angelo Falcon of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund mocked the “concocted, invented Latino imagery” of Estrada’s life. He added: “It’s not good enough to simply say that because of someone’s genetics or surname that they should be considered Hispanic.”
Unlike many of his American-born Hispanic detractors who spoke English in Kindergarten, Estrada is a native Honduran who learned English after moving to New York at age 17. Vividly affirming all that America offers hard-working immigrants, Estrada graduated with honors from Columbia University and Harvard, where he edited the Harvard Law Review.
He then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and, as Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General from 1992 to 1997, argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court, winning 10.
A GOP counter-filibuster on Estrada’s merits will show long-winded Democrats that Republicans can give as good as they get. While Daschle and company stall America’s vital business to hammer this nominee, Estrada himself should appear on TV and radio, especially on Spanish-language channels, to demand that Democrats shut up and vote.
Republican senators should praise Estrada before Washington journalists and, more important, those in the home states of Democratic foot-draggers. They should encourage voters to ask their senators for the yeas and nays.
Meanwhile, conservative activists should orchestrate pro-Estrada press conferences, demonstrations, and other efforts.
This GOP strategy should unmask the true motives behind what Senator Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) calls Democrats’ “weapon of mass obstruction.” As the Judiciary chairman puts it: “The problem is that our friends on the other side just don’t want a conservative Hispanic, appointed by a Republican president, on that court.”
Peeling the duct tape from the mouth of another Bush nominee, Texas Supreme Court justice Priscilla Owen, would let her refute charges that she is a fringe pro-lifer. She could highlight her ruling favoring parental notification of teen abortions, a popular restriction even some pro-choicers endorse.
Similarly, Bush nominee Charles Pickering should be unleashed to dispel accusations that he is a closet racist. In reality, he testified in 1967 against Sam Bowers, the Ku Klux Klan’s Imperial Wizard, at his trial for the 1966 firebomb murder of black civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer. “Judge Pickering later lost his  bid for reelection because he dared to defy the Klan,” Charles Evers — brother of assassinated civil-rights leader Medgar Evers — has written, “but he gained my respect and the respect of many others as a man who stands up for what is right.” Republicans should fly Charles Evers and Pickering’s other black advocates to Washington to challenge his inquisitors.
A successful GOP counter-filibuster will teach Democrats what to expect when energized Republicans ungag nominees, engage reporters, and mobilize supporters. Dr. Frist’s prescription looks invigorating.
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.