Jewish World Review March 10, 2003 / 6 Adar II, 5763
The whole (Hispanic) world is watching
The Democrats are talking themselves to death in their filibuster against the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal bench. The more they talk, the more it is clear that they have nothing to say and no reason to block the nomination of one of the few Hispanics to be nominated to the senior levels of our judiciary.
There is no ethical problem here. No rash statements. No imputed bias. Not even any clear indication of a strong right wing or left wing political philosophy. The burden of the Democratic argument seems to be that Estrada has not ruled, in advance, on all the cases that will come before him. What many would take as a refreshing lack of prejudice and the indication of an open mind, the Democrats assume is evidence of a great conspiracy of silence.
Liberals see the Estrada filibuster as providing a precedent for a new level of disclosure for all nominees to the federal bench. Rather than nominate and confirm good people and let them decide cases, the Democrats are now asking for clear commitments on each area of judicial decision-making that a new judge is likely to confront. The independence of the judiciary is at stake in this new assertion of legislative prerogative.
But the Democrats should realize that they have chosen a terrible target for their new level of scrutiny. By filibustering an Hispanic nominee and going to such lengths to block his confirmation, even when there is no clear reason to do so, they are asking the Hispanic voters to turn against them in droves.
For his part, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is skillfully calling the Democratic bluff by requiring them to talk out the filibuster. No gentleman filibuster this time. Lengthy sessions and constant talk animate this effort to block Estrada. Frist should keep the Senate in session around the clock and on weekends to make the Democrats carry their opposition to a Hispanic judge to absurd lengths.
If Frist continues his policy of making the Democrats act out their filibusters by actually talking on the floor endlessly, he may well succeed in breaking the filibuster as a weapon. He may accomplish the ultimate goal of a majority leader - empower the majority and end the 60-vote requirement to pass a bill in the Senate.
How long could the South have filibustered civil rights if the talk-a-thon were covered by cable TV as this filibuster is? Frist is making the Democrats look like anti-Hispanic bigots, all the more because they have no real basis for dissing Estrada.
Remember the stakes, folks. The Hispanic population grew by 4.7 percent last year, while blacks expanded by 1.5 percent and whites by a paltry 0.3 percent. Hispanics cast 6 percent of the vote in 1990 and 12 percent in 2000. If their numbers expand at the current pace, they will be up to 18 percent in 2010 and 24 percent in 2020. With one-third of Hispanics voting Republican, they are the jump ball in American politics. As this vote goes, so goes the future.
Republicans got off on the wrong foot by listening to the likes of Pat Buchanan and other Nativists. Their English-only and anti-immigration initiatives stopped them from appealing to newly arrived Hispanic voters. But President Bush has changed all that. Estrada symbolizes the transition. If Bush takes it the next step and embraces some of Mexican President Vicente Fox's ideas about earned amnesty for Mexican-Americans, he can truly bring Hispanics into the Republican fold for decades to come.
Estrada is no Clarence Thomas, so clearly out of step with his voters as to make his nomination suspect. And Hispanics are not blacks, so committed to the Democratic Party that it would take an act of genocide to breach their amity. Hispanics are up for grabs and each day of the filibuster drives them further toward the GOP.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Dick Morris