June 3, 2003
JEFFERSON CITY – Six times the United States Senate has voted to try to end a historic filibuster on a federal appellate court nominee, and six times the Democrat-led filibuster has endured.
It’s enough to make a grown woman pray.
“We pray about it all the time,” said Susan Klein, legislative liaison for Missouri Right to Life. “We just have to be patient and persistent and maintain our prayers for our leadership. We have to stay the course.”
The object of the filibuster is Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada. He has been called “the Latino Clarence Thomas,” and with good reason. Estrada, 41, is often mentioned as a possible candidate for a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court, where he, like Justice Thomas, would be a reliable pro-life vote.
Thomas was mentored by then-Missouri Sen. John Danforth, who helped lead the fight to confirm him to the nation’s highest court back in 1991 on a 52-48 vote in the U.S. Senate. Estrada has a similar level of support in his bid for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, if only he can get the Senate to vote to confirm him. That is where prayer comes in.
A filibuster is a tactic used by the minority to prevent an up or down vote. It takes 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to break a filibuster. If the majority cannot secure 60 votes, the filibuster goes on until one side yields. Speeches are made that have little or no connection to the issue.
It has been widely reported that never before has a federal appellate nominee been filibustered.
“There is no question that the liberal left is attempting to stop more conservative, traditional nominees from being selected for the federal judiciary,” said Dee Wampler, a Springfield attorney and author of The Myth of Separation Between Church & State.
“For many years there has been some political posturing about nominees, but never have we seen anything like we’ve witnessed in the last several years.
Indeed President Bush has sent another pro-life nominee, Texas State Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen, up for a spot on the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Like Estrada, Owen has had her nomination held up by filibustering Democrats suspicious of Owen’s supposed pro-life views. This comes on the heels of contentious debate over other conservative nominees like Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering whose similar nomination has been stalled, the rejection of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and the heated battle over Thomas’ nomination to the high court.
“It appears that judicial activism is more of an issue than Mr. Estrada’s integrity to hold the office of judge,” said David Clippard, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), who noted that Republicans in the 1990s did not filibuster any of President Clinton’s judicial nominees.
Estrada is from Honduras. He moved to this country as a teen and graduated from Columbia College and the Harvard Law School. The man who has already argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court is an American success story according to Mauricio Vargas, an MBC catalytic missionary/church planter originally from El Salvador.
Despite the fact that Estrada is Latino, part of an ethnic minority that in the 2000 Census was 12.5 percent of the population (almost 35 million people), most Democratic senators oppose him. This puzzles Vargas.
“The Latino community would like to see a man like that serving as a role model, a hero, instead of a baseball player, basketball player or football player,” Vargas said.
When praying for the Estrada vote, Klein said she continues to have a greater appreciation for God’s absolute sovereignty. It has been her experience that opponents of abortion, like Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, will not change on their own.
“You really have to pray that God will open their hearts and their eyes,” she said.
Or, as Jesus said in Matthew 17:21, there are some obstacles in life that can only be cleared through prayer and fasting.
The National Day of Prayer was May 1. Daschle, the Senate minority leader, held a news conference that day, repeating his call for Estrada to produce memos that he wrote while working for the government. Republicans say the request is unprecedented and unnecessary, so Estrada has refused.
The intensity of Daschle’s opposition to Estrada is matched in his quest to prevent Owen from being confirmed.
“There are some (nominations) that are irresolvable,” Daschle said. “The Owen matter is one of them.”
Republicans have tried twice to break the Owen filibuster, failing May 8 on a 52-45 vote.
Democrats said they are prepared to have three or more judicial filibusters going simultaneously.
“It grieves me as a lawyer to see the debates that are going on and the obstruction that’s going on,” Wampler said.
“I have a good friend here in Springfield named Richard Dorr. He has recently been appointed to the federal bench, a United States District Court judge here in Springfield. It took them 10 years to get him approved. He’s not even regarded so much as a conservative, but he didn’t espouse liberal views and because of that they were blocking him. So it’s hard enough to even get a moderate Republican approved, and it makes a shambles of our dockets. Our federal courts are years behind, especially with civil cases.”
In denying Estrada an up-or-down vote, Democrats are ironically preventing something that they claim to be for, which is the advancement of minorities in American society.
The MBC’s Vargas buys into the dream that Estrada is pursuing. A Latino on the high court of our land would stand for diversity, tolerance and opportunity, Vargas said.
“It would be great to have an advocate like him,” Vargas said.