(Washington, D.C.) - Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) spoke on the Senate floor as the nomination of Miguel Estrada was considered.
Senator Murray's Remarks Follow:
Mr. President, I rise to discuss the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Throughout my service here, the Senate has struggled with judicial nominations.
I know that we can make this process work. In Washington state, I worked with a Republican Senator and a Democratic President to nominate and confirm federal judges. And today with a Republican President, I am working with my Democratic colleague from Washington state on a bipartisan process to recommend judicial candidates.
I've also seen the process work in the Senate. My Democratic Senate colleagues agreed to confirm 100 federal judges during the period of the 107th Congress when Democrats were in the majority. That's a great accomplishment for a Democratic Senate and a Republican President. There were also periods during the Clinton Administration where the Republican Senate confirmed significant numbers of judges appointed by the Democratic President.
It's important to put this standoff in the proper context. We are considering a nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court, which is widely acknowledged as the second highest court in our country. This court has jurisdiction over a broad array of critical issues involving workers' rights, civil liberties, disabilities and environmental regulations. Judges at the D.C. Circuit Court are often given serious consideration for service on the United States Supreme Court. This is a lifetime appointment. Neither the President nor the Senate can revisit this nomination once it has been confirmed.
All of these factors -- the importance of the D.C. Circuit, the potential of consideration for the Supreme Court, and the lifetime appointment -- signal all of us to proceed with caution. We are not considering a nomination to a commission, an ambassadorship or some other Senate confirmable position. This is different. This is a lifetime appointment for a federal judge whose rulings over the next thirty -- or maybe forty or more years -- will have ramifications for every single American.
I respect President Bush's role in nominating Miguel Estrada. I respect the Majority's right, working with a President from the same party, to promptly move judicial nominations. I come to the floor today to ask my colleagues to respect the Senate's constitutional advise and consent responsibilities.
As Senators, we are elected to serve our constituents. We are asked to confirm judges whose decisions can change U.S. history and shape the lives of the American people for generations to come. This is a tremendous responsibility, and I know all Senators take it very seriously.
Mr. President, at this point, let me say a few words about the nominee now before the Senate. Miguel Estrada, by all accounts, is an accomplished lawyer with a compelling personal history. But I owe it to my constituents to make an informed judgement on each nominee.
At this time, I am not prepared to move forward with a vote on the confirmation of Miguel Estrada because there is too little information for me to make an informed decision. I encourage the Majority Leader to take this nomination off of the floor at this time.
We expect federal judges to provide the proper check in our system of "checks and balances" outlined in the Constitution. Without it, our system does not function properly.
We must ensure each nominee has sufficient experience to sit in judgement of our fellow citizens, will be fair to all those who come before the court, will be even-handed in administering justice, and will protect the rights and liberties of all Americans.
To determine if a nominee meets those standards, we must explore their record, ask questions, and weigh the responses.
Miguel Estrada and the Administration have failed to address these basic issues. And without addressing these very basic issues, I cannot assess the nominee's qualifications.
From my perspective, the Senate has been asked to confirm a candidate about whom we know very little. I cannot at this time vote to confirm Miguel Estrada for lifetime service on the D.C. Circuit Court.
As several of my colleagues have done, I need only to invoke the words of the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to describe my hesitancy to move forward with the Estrada nomination. Speaking of President Clinton's judicial nominees and the Senate, Senator Hatch said the Senate will have quote, "to be more diligent and extensive in its questioning of nominees' jurisprudential views."
Mr. Estrada and the Administration have simply failed to meet the same standard set out by Senator Hatch. Mr. Estrada has failed to provide through his writing, his experience, or through answers to questions at the Judiciary Committee any meaningful insight into his likely decision-making process as a federal judge.
He has very limited scholarly or judicial experience. He did work in the Solicitor General's office at the Department of Justice during the 1990's. Unfortunately, the Administration has refused to provide the Senate with or characterize any opinions he wrote or had while at DOJ.
Despite repeated requests from Senators, the nominee and the Administration have refused to provide information that can help all Senators determine whether Miguel Estrada is deserving of confirmation to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.
Allowing Senators to access the memoranda he wrote while at the Solicitor General's office is particularly important. Unlike most judicial nominees, he has nothing on paper to give us any indication as to how he would rule on the bench. In fact, Mr. Estrada has not had any published legal writings since he was in law school. Time and again, we are told by the Administration that Miguel Estrada is a brilliant lawyer and more than qualified to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court. Yet, all we have to base a decision on his nomination are the endorsements of others. I appreciate thoses endorsements, but each of us as senators must reach our own conclusions based on the facts.
I am greatly troubled by the silence we've heard from the nominee himself. The path to confirmation for a judicial nominee is indeed a difficult one. But in the case of Mr. Estrada, the nominee and the Administration went beyond anything we are accustomed to and brought great difficulty upon themselves.
At his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Estrada refused to give Senators straight answers to most of their questions. Many of our Judiciary Committee colleagues have discussed this nomination at great length here on the floor. I've listened to the statements from both Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. The words of Senator Feinstein stand out as I look at this nomination. Let me share them again with the Senate.
Senator Feinstein said and I quote, "I have been reviewing background materials about Miguel Estrada, talking to those who have concerns about him, and I have re-read the transcript from Mr. Estrada's hearing. I must say that throughout this process, I have been struck by the truly unique lack of information we have about this nominee, and the lack of answers he has given to the many questions raised by Members of this Committee. He, essentially, is a blank slate. And if confirmed, he could serve for 30, 40, or even 50 years on one of the highest courts in the nation. We had better be right about this decision."
Mr. President, I agree with that assessment. The Senate must be right about this decision. That's why so many on this side of the aisle have asked the Majority Leader to help us be right about the Miguel Estrada nomination.
At a minimum, Mr. Estrada should be sent back to the Judiciary Committee for more questioning. In the Committee, he should be more forward in answering the questions of Senators. He should be more willing to release information regarding his opinions about important judicial matters. Mr. Estrada was asked to name any case in the history of the Supreme Court with which he disagreed. Surely, Mr. Estrada, who served as the editor of the Harvard Law Review, can cite a case that he disagrees with. At his original confirmation hearing, Mr. Estrada could not cite a single case before the Supreme Court he disagreed with. The Senate should give Mr. Estrada another opportunity to answer this question before the Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Estrada was asked to name a Supreme Court judge that he admired. When he refused to answer this question, Mr. Estrada was asked to name any federal judge that he admired. Again, Mr. Estrada refused. The Senate should give Mr. Estrada another opportunity to answer this question before the Judiciary Committee.
Unless the Senate is able to learn more about Miguel Estrada, I am left to conclude that this nominee has no judge he would try to emulate, no judicial philosophy he follows, and no opinion on any important case that has ever come before the Supreme Court.
Without so little information to determine how Mr. Estrada will rule as a federal judge on important matters of labor rights, rights of privacy, civil rights and environmental regulation, I cannot consent to considering his nomination at this time. I strongly encourage the Majority Leader to withdraw this nomination and send it back to the Judiciary Committee. I encourage the President and the nominee to address the many issues raised by Senators.
The ultimate fate of the Miguel Estrada nomination, as well as the Senate's ability to move forward with bipartisan support for judicial nominees, rests with the Majority Leader and the President of the United States.