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GOP Fails to End Democratic Senate Filibuster on Bush Court Nominee - 2003-03-07

Republicans in the U.S. Senate failed in their effort to hold a confirmation vote on a conservative Hispanic judge whom President Bush nominated to the U.S. appeals court two years ago. It is the first major defeat for President Bush since Republicans took control of the Senate in November elections.

Republicans Thursday failed to win the 60 votes necessary to end a Democratic filibuster, or delaying tactic, aimed at blocking a confirmation vote for judicial nominee Miguel Estrada.

President Bush, in a written statement, called the Democrats' tactic 'a disgrace', but said he would stand by Mr. Estrada until he is sworn in as a judge. Mr. Bush called on the Senate to move forward with an up or down vote on the nomination. With Republicans holding a slim majority over the Democrats, Mr. Estrada would likely win confirmation.

Republicans hope to schedule another vote on the nominee next week.

But Democrats question whether the 41-year-old politically-conservative Mr. Estrada has enough experience and qualifications to serve on the federal bench.

Senator Ted Kennedy, who is on the Judiciary Committee, said "we want to know that a judge is open-minded and fair. I am not persuaded that Mr. Estrada possesses the key qualities of moderation, openness and fairness required of our judges."

Democrats accuse Mr. Estrada of trying to hide his views on sensitive legal issues to ease his way through the confirmation process, noting he avoided answering a number of questions during his confirmation hearing last year.

Republicans have a different view. Majority Leader, Senator Bill Frist, said "the American Bar Association has deemed him well-qualified."

If Mr. Estrada, a 41-year-old Honduran immigrant, is ultimately confirmed, he would become the first Hispanic on the appeals court in Washington. Republicans hope the battle over the nominee will help the party win Hispanic votes in the 2004 elections.

Mr. Estrada graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and worked at the Justice Department. He currently works at a Washington law firm.