WASHINGTON — Miguel Estrada, a conservative once widely seen as a likely nominee by President Bush to the U.S. Supreme Court, withdrew his nomination Thursday to a lower appeals court after months of filibustering Democrats blocking final votes on him.
That had Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, outraged.
"The Senate ought to be ashamed of its unfair treatment of Miguel Estrada," Hatch said. "It repeatedly denied him the dignity of an up or down vote on his nomination."
Estrada was the first Hispanic nominated to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, often considered the nation's second-highest court because of its high-profile caseload.
Liberals blocked votes on him contending he was too conservative and too pro-life on abortion, or had answered too few questions about his judicial beliefs.
Although Estrada appeared to have support from a majority of members in the GOP-controlled Senate, Democrats blocked a final vote by refusing to cut off debate, which is called a filibuster. It takes a three-fifths majority, or 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, to stop a filibuster, and Republicans could never achieve that.
No other appeals court nominee had ever previously faced a filibuster, let alone have it kill his or her confirmation. Since the filibuster on Estrada, however, Democrats have started or threatened similar filibusters against four other conservatives.
Hatch has accused Democrats of waging the filibusters to prevent anyone who is pro-life from being confirmed in the future to the Supreme Court. He has also charged Democrats with anti-religious bias for blocking such nominees.
In his letter to President Bush withdrawing his nomination, Estrada wrote, "I believe that the time has come to return my full attention to the practice of law and to regain the ability to make long-term plans for my family."
Hatch added, "I think that some of my colleagues may have forgotten the personal toll of this filibuster on Miguel Estrada. He is a very real person who wants to go on with his very real life. No one can blame him for wanting to end this."
Bush said in a statement that Estrada received "disgraceful treatment at the hands of 45 U.S. senators. . . . The treatment of this fine man is an unfortunate chapter in the Senate's history."
Hatch vowed to try to cut off filibusters that other conservatives are also facing.
"There is a lesson to be learned here. It's time to stop the nonsense of filibustering judicial nominees and give them the dignity of up or down votes that they deserve," Hatch said.
Other appeals court nominees facing real or threatened filibusters include Priscilla Owen, Bill Pryor, Carolyn Kuhl and Charles Pickering.