The process of confirming judicial nominees is growing more partisan, if Thursday’s markup for Judge Miguel Estrada’s appeals court nomination is any indication.
The escalating rhetoric culminated in a party-line vote of approval for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia hopeful, whom many consider to be in line for a Supreme Court vacancy.
“I hate to see this committee again and again embroiled in partisan politics,” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said as the discussion over Estrada often seemed to have little to do with the Honduran immigrant himself.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) complained that the Bush administration has rolled back environmental and worker protections and wondered if Estrada would uphold Congressionally mandated protections, such as those overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, if named to the court.
“Each and every one of these protections are under attack and [I] want someone who will enforce the laws … Congress has passed,” Kennedy said.
Democrats were unhappy with what they cast as Republican efforts to hurry Estrada to the bench and complained that he had not fully answered their questions.
“It is ironic that while [Judiciary Chairman Orrin ] Hatch [R-Utah] has unilaterally decided that the nominations of Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi and Judge Patricia Owen of Texas require additional time and additional hearings, he is insistent that the committee expedite [Estrada’s nomination]. The chairman has shown no interest in compiling a more complete record on the Estrada nomination,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s ranking member.
“Accordingly, we confront a nominee with no judicial experience, no publications since a law school note and little relevant practical experience,” he added.
Estrada’s nomination was first put forth by President Bush in May 2001, and the administration has been awaiting confirmation since.
Leahy’s protestations were reinforced by the Congressional Black Caucus, which issued a statement to Hatch opposing the nomination.
“At the very least, we would regard it as offensive if Mr. Estrada is voted out of the Judiciary Committee without the complete examination required of other judicial nominees,” the CBC chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.
Ultimately, the committee sent Estrada’s nomination to the full Senate by a vote of 10-9.
By contrast, John Snow, Bush’s Treasury secretary nominee, cleared the Senate Finance Committee more easily as the panel approved him by voice vote in a Thursday markup.
“As I said at the nomination hearing two days ago, this committee has a bipartisan tradition of acting expeditiously on this nomination,” Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said before Snow, the chief executive officer of CSX Corp., was recommended.
His name was then sent to the full Senate for its approval. But Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are scheduled to meet with snow Thursday evening, according to a Harkin spokesman. After that meeting the Senators will decide whether they will place a hold on the nomination.
The aide also said that “initial reports” of a Harkin hold were “out of proportion.”
While he had an easy time of it Thursday, Snow was not so lucky Tuesday when Senate Democrats used his first hearing to pummel Bush’s proposal to eliminate taxes on corporate dividends.
Sara Faiwell contributed to this report.