Senator Reid on Miguel Estrada

Date: Feb. 6, 2003
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. REID. Mr. President, because of the statements made by my friends on the other side of the aisle relative to Mr. Estrada, I would like to take a few minutes and rebut some of what they have stated during today's session of the Senate.

It is true there is a conflict in our country as to whether or not he should be approved by the Senate. We have newspapers saying yes, newspapers saying no. My friend from Pennsylvania, the junior Senator from Pennsylvania, who stated he could not understand why there was a filibuster, first has to understand there has never been a statement on the floor to the effect there is a filibuster. A decision has not been made by the leadership on this side as to whether or not there will be a filibuster. But let me just say I think something as controversial as this nomination should have some consideration.

We just started this process at 2:45 p.m. yesterday. There was good debate on Wednesday. We had a memorial service for the Columbia this week in Houston. We had another one this morning. Many Senators attended the two services. There is no session this afternoon or Friday because of the majority being engaged in a retreat. There is nothing wrong with having a retreat. We are going to have one in May. We will have to take some time off.

But we should not rush to judgment. There will be a decision made as to whether or not there will be a filibuster, but that decision has not been made, to my knowledge.

Let me say there are people who care a great deal about our country who oppose this nomination. There are people who care a great deal about our country who favor this nomination. That is the reason our Founding Fathers established the Senate of the United States.

We do not live in a dictatorship. President Bush is President Bush, not King George. He knows that, I hope, and I am confident he does.

Take, for example, the New York Times which said, among other things:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on Miguel Estrada, a nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Estrada comes with a scant paper trail but a reputation for taking extreme positions on important legal questions. He stonewalled when he was asked at his confirmation hearings last fall to address concerns about his views. Given these concerns, and given the thinness of the record he and his sponsors in the administration have chosen to make available, the Senate should vote to reject his nomination.

Mr. President, this is the New York Times. It is a newspaper that has circulation not in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands but in the millions.

Among other things, this editorial states:

Mr. Estrada has put few of his views in the public record. One way to begin to fill this gap, and give the Senate something to work with, would be to make available the numerous memorandums of law that Mr. Estrada wrote when he worked for the solicitor general's office, as other nominees have done. But the White House has refused senators' reasonable requests to review these documents.

Mr. Estrada, now a lawyer in Washington, also had an opportunity to elaborate on his views, and assuage senators' concerns, at his confirmation hearing, but he failed to do so. When asked his opinion about important legal questions, he dodged. Asked his views of Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion case, Mr. Estrada responded implausibly that he had not given enough thought to the question. Mr. Estrada's case is particularly troubling because the administration has more information about his views, in the form of his solicitor general memos, but is refusing to share it with the Senate.

Finally, the article says:

The very absence of a paper trail on matters like abortion and civil liberties may be one reason the administration chose him. It is also a compelling—indeed necessary—reason to reject him.

It is not as if the objection to this man is out of nowhere. We have editorials and newspapers that are transmitted to millions of people every day that take the position this man shouldn't be confirmed as a circuit court judge. We can't discount those opinions, or think there are some left-wing kooks who have decided for reasons which are not substantive not to go with this man.

I would also say that there have been a number of Senators talking about how unusual it is—how unusual it is—that we are talking about a judge's qualifications. I think if there is anything in the extreme, all we need to do is look at the newspaper of today—the Roll Call: "GOP Calls on K Street to Boost Estrada."

What this is all about is getting the lobbyists involved—to put pressure on Senators to move forward on this nomination and approve him. This Roll Call story documents special interests being told by members of the Republican leadership that they have a stake in this nomination process.

I think if there is anything untoward, it is the pressure being put on these people.

I also note that one of the Senators in the majority complained today about vacancies in the Federal court system. We are talking about the D.C. Court of Appeals. We Democrats tried to fill those. We were not allowed to do so. Why? Among other reasons, we were told by the majority that the D.C. Court of Appeals was too big and the people we wanted to put on would be just unnecessary baggage; that it wasn't necessary to fill those vacancies.

What our friend on the other side of the aisle complained about was OK, but he failed to explain that the vacancies on the two courts he mentioned—the D.C. Court of Appeals and the Sixth Circuit—were caused by the Republicans' failure to act, or their success in blocking nominees to the DC court.

Allen Snyder, who was a nominee voted qualified by the ABA, was never given a hearing, and never had a committee vote for a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit.

Elena Kagan, a well-respected law professor, was never given a hearing and was never given a committee vote for her nomination to the District of Columbia Circuit Court.

On the Sixth Circuit, Kathleen McCree Lewis—I am only giving you examples—waited for more than a year, was never given a hearing, and was never given a committee vote on the Sixth Circuit.

Kent Markus—no hearing and no vote; Helene White waited 4 years—no hearing and no vote.

We have said here—Senator Daschle when he was majority leader and I have said—that this isn't get even time for when we were in the majority. We tried to treat the minority then as we wanted to be treated when we were in the minority. We expect to be treated as we treated the minority when we were in the majority for approximately 18 months. That is what we are asking.

Mr. President, the majority leader is on the floor. I would be happy to yield to the majority leader and then would retain the floor when the majority leader completes his statement.