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Politics: Miguel Estrada Nomination
With Jeffrey Mazzella
The Center for Individual Freedom

Thursday, March 6, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

On Tuesday Senate Republicans scheduled a "cloture" vote to end a month-long Democratic filibuster against Miguel Estrada's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Though it is unlikely that the Republicans have the 60 votes to shut off debate and force a vote on the highly contested nomination, the GOP has vowed to continue pressing.

Jeffrey Mazzella, vice president of legislative affairs at The Center for Individual Freedom, discussed the fight in the Senate over Estrada's nomination.

The Center for Individual Freedom is a non-profit organization that seeks to "protects individual freedom and individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution." The center is currently supporting Estrada's nomination.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.



Jeffrey Mazzella: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this online discussion on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. I will do my best to answer all of your questions on this important issue.


Tempe, Ariz.: The Democrats say they need more information about Miguel Estrada. What's wrong with taking more time to ask him questions?

Jeffrey Mazzella: More time? Miguel Estrada's nomination has been lingering in the Senate for nearly two years. He was one of the original 13 potential appeals court judges nominated by President Bush in May, 2001. Under the Democrat majority, he waited an astonishing 16 months before receiving a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At that 7 1/2 hour hearing back in September, Estrada answered some 125 questions -- in addition to the 25 he answered in writing. Those Senators obstructing his nomination have had more than enough time to evaluate Estrada and learn that he is more than qualified to serve on the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. If Senators in their heart of hearts truly believe he is not qualified, they should vote against him. But they should retreat from their current plan to not allow an up-or-down vote at all.

As Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch has said, Estrada's opponents "have been swinging at him for nearly two years and have yet to lay a glove on Estrada." They have not made one substantive argument as to why he should not be confirmed, or, as now is the case, why he shouldn't get a vote.


Bloomington, Ind.: Why won't the President release the work Estrada did at the Justice Department? Shouldn't the Senators be able to read those materials before they vote?

Jeffrey Mazzella: The Senators obstructing Estrada's nomination point to the Bush administration's refusal to produce memoranda that Estrada wrote when he was Assistant to the Solicitor General -- the majority of time, I would like to point out, which was served under President Clinton. But every living former Solicitor General, Democrat (4) and Republican (3)alike, have said that this request would have a debilitating effect on the ability of the Department of Justice to represent the United States before the Supreme Court. These documents are highly privileged! The release of these memoranda would set and awful precedent, as every government lawyer wouldn't be able to perform his/her job effectively without worrying what would be made public in the future. Worse, it would hinder government attorneys' ability to perform their jobs thoroughly if they ever have aspirations of becoming a federal judge.

Now, it is interesting to note that the White House has invited every United States Senator who seek more information on Miguel Estrada is submit their questions in writing. As of today, not one question has been submitted, not one. In addition, the White House has invited all Senators to call the current and former Solicitor Generals to ask them questions. To the best of my knowledge, not one Senator has made a call. So, this argument that they don't know enough about him is a bunch of bull. It's just another excuse to obstruct and delay.


Washington, D.C.: Do you believe it wise of President Bush to nominate judges that have no prior judicial experience? Wouldn't Miguel Estrada be better of as a district court judge before a Circuit judge?

Jeffrey Mazzella: The opposition that is making this claim is applying a partisan double standard on Mr. Estrada. 5 of the 8 judges currently serving on the D.C. Circuit had no previous judicial experience, including two of President Clinton's nominees -- Judge Merrick Garland and Judge David Tatel. Indeed two recent U.S. Supreme Court Justices had no prior judicial experience when appointed -- Byron White, nominated by President Kennedy, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. It is actually common that judges are nominated with "no prior judicial experience." This is just one of their many baseless excuses for holding up Mr. Estrada's nomination.

I think it is important to note that Estrada does have extensive experience. In addition to clerking for a Circuit Court judge and Supreme court Justice Kennedy, he has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. For all of you lawyers out there, you know that arguing in front of the Supreme Court is the equivalent of, to use a sports analogy, making the Super Bowl. Estrada did it 15 times!


Bethesda, Md.: Paul Bender, the supervisor of Miguel Estrada when he worked at the Justice Department, has said Estrada is unfit to be a federal judge. If his former supervisor is saying this stuff about him, why is it wrong for Senators to block Estrada's nomination?

Jeffrey Mazzella: Paul Bender's comments are not credible. This was established during Estrada's hearing back in September and several times since. It amazes me that those opposed to Estrada continue to raise this as a credible argument.

Mr. Estrada received an "outstanding" rating in every performance category on every single one of his job evaluations in the years he worked in the Solicitor General's office. In two of those years, the reviews were signed by -- you guessed it -- Paul Bender, who at the time wrote, "Estrada is constantly sought for advice and counsel and inspires colleagues by example."

Miguel Estrada has tremendous bipartisan support for confirmation. Seth Waxman, who was President Clinton's Solicitor General, has said that Estrada is a "model of professionalism and competence," and that he has "great respect for both his intellect and integrity." Ron Klain, who was former Counselor to Vice President Al Gore, has said Mr. Estrada is a person of "outstanding character, tremendous intellect, and with a deep commitment to the faithful application of precedent." A bipartisan group of 14 of Mr. Estrada's former colleagues in the Solicitor General's office has endorsed him. Yet, the Democrat Senators obstructing Estrada's confirmation and liberal special interest groups that are pulling the strings continue to shamelessly bring up Paul Bender. Come on…


Jeffrey Mazzella: I would like to point out the many accomplishment's of Mr. Estrada so the readers could understand why the opposition's argument of "he is not qualified" makes absolutely zero sense.

Miguel Estrada is an American success story. Born in Honduras, Mr. Estrada immigrated to the United States at age 17 knowing virtually no English. He took the SAT in English two years later, then was accepted to and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College. He aced his way through Harvard Law School -- again graduating magna cum laude. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, worked as Assistant to the Solicitor General in the Justice Department during both the Bush Sr. and Clinton Administrations and is now a successful partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He has argued 15 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Simply put, Miguel Estrada is an inspiration not only to young Hispanics, but to all who believe in the American dream. When confirmed, he will be the first Hispanic ever to serve on the D.C. Circuit, often referred to as the second highest court in the land.


Washington, D.C.: When the Republican controlled Senate was considering President Clinton's nominees to the D.C. Circuit they repeatedly said that the D.C. Circuit did not have enough workload to warrant any more judges. I haven't heard any discussion of this from either side. Can you shed some light on this?

Jeffrey Mazzella: Yes, you are correct. There are many Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, who have argued in the past that the workload in the D.C. Circuit doesn't justify filling all 12 judgeships. However, these argument were made in reference to filling the 11th and 12th seats on the court. Currently, there are four vacant judgeships on the D.C. Circuit, and Mr. Estrada is slated to fill the 9th. No one has or will argue that the 9th and 10th seats should not be filled.

With that being said, the federal judiciary is in the midst of a crisis of overcrowded dockets and too few judges. For that reason, President Bush has vowed to fill all of the vacant seats. And, the Center applauds his efforts.


Arlington, Va.: Should the Senate have access to all of the information about the nominee, including his legal memos, that the Administration had?

Jeffrey Mazzella: Again, the answer to this question is no, absolutely not! All seven former living Solicitor Generals have adamantly argued against it. As a matter of fact, I have yet to see anyone, besides Senators Schumer, Daschle, Kennedy and all of the other Senators supporting the obstructionist filibuster argue for their release. These memoranda are highly confidential!


Nashville, Tenn.: Isn't this the same game that both political parties play with judicial nominations?

Jeffrey Mazzella: It is true that both parties have played partisan politics in the past with regard to judicial nominations. However, never before has the partisan obstructionism have sunken this low. This is the first time in the history of the Senate that there has been a filibuster against Circuit Court nominee. And we are now in our forth week of the obstructionism.


Jonesboro, Ga.: Why are the Republicans huffing and puffing about this nomination when they literally blocked or tried to block everything the Clinton administration did or tried to do -- ranging from judicial appointments to the budget. Indeed, I honestly believe that their hatred of Clinton led to some of the problems we are having today in the country because they did not allow him to govern.

So, could you tell us where we stand in terms of senate judicial confirmations today as compared to Clinton's same time during his presidency.

Jeffrey Mazzella: As a matter of fact, President Clinton had the second most nominees confirmed in history. Second to that of only President Reagan. Under the Republican majority, Clinton had 377 nominees confirmed. Reagan had 382.


Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Senate Republicans could have scheduled this cloture vote for anytime -- even last week. Why the angst, bellicosity, and foot dragging on keeping this nomination alive? If you don't have the votes, go get someone else and move on. It's not like judges are irreplaceable or unique -- from the view of many mainstream Americans, one conservative ideologue is just like another! Thanks much.

Jeffrey Mazzella: Mr. Estrada does have the votes for confirmation. In fact, he has at least 55, more than enough to be confirmed. However, through the obstructive parliamentary procedure of the filibuster, Democrats are requiring Mr. Estrada, and future nominees for that matter, to have a supermajority of 60 votes to be confirmed. The constitution reads that the president nominates with the "advise and consent" of the Senate -- meaning all 100 Senators. Vote for him, vote against him, just hold a vote.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you think the filibuster against Miguel Estrada will hurt the Democratic Presidential hopefuls in 2004?

Jeffrey Mazzella: Well as a nonpartisan organization, the Center for Individual Freedom could frankly care less. However, I do believe that the outcome of the recent November mid-term elections proved that Americans are sick of obstructionist politics. I believe the continued obstructionism being leveled against the nomination of Miguel Estrada is beginning to cause a backlash among voters all over the country, and I believe it will be remembered come election time.

It is interesting that many of the Presidential hopefuls are supporting the filibuster, which is the first of its kind in the entire history of the Senate, to deny Miguel Estrada an up-or-down vote. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John Edwards (D-NC) have been very outspoken against allowing a vote. In the case of Edwards, his campaign is being funded by opportunistic trial lawyers who are trying to buy the presidency and who have an interest in judges who will make law from the bench rather than interpret law and precedent. It is pretty clear that Miguel Estrada will be one to resist judicial activism, and that scares the heck out of Edwards.

Then there is Senator Mary Landrieu, who actually ran campaign ads, in Spanish, claiming she supported Miguel Estrada. Flip-flop Landrieu is now supporting the filibuster. Certainly, lying to your constituents for the ultimate political gain - reelection - will be remembered by Louisiana voters next time around.


Jeffrey Mazzella: Thank you very much for including me in the discussion today. I really enjoyed it!


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