Sen. Estrada (R., N.Y.)?
March 4, 2003
By Steven Malanga
If the Democratic effort to kill the appointment of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals succeeds, Mr. Estrada should return the favor by moving back to New York State and challenging his chief tormentor, Sen. Charles Schumer, in the 2004 elections.
Mr. Estrada, a Honduran immigrant who graduated from Columbia and served in the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, would be a formidable candidate against Mr. Schumer. He could at one stroke derail the ambitious senator's political career and solidify the Republican hold on the Senate.
It would be justice well served. A Harvard Law graduate, Mr. Estrada practiced at a high-powered New York firm before joining the U.S. Attorney's office. He served in the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. As a judicial nominee, he has earned the highest ratings possible from the American Bar Association.
Democrats are not opposing Mr. Estrada because he is unqualified, but because he is their worst nightmare: a moderate Hispanic Republican who, if he distinguishes himself on the Court of Appeals, would make an imposing candidate for the Supreme Court. Led by Mr. Schumer, the Democrats are trying to derail his judicial appointment by applying standards to his nomination that are beyond those asked of less threatening candidates -- and by filibustering his confirmation.
Leaving aside the fact that the filibuster expands the Senate's advise and consent role in nominations beyond what the Constitution envisioned, Mr. Schumer and the Democrats may be turning the Estrada gun on themselves. Republicans had been making recent inroads with Hispanic voters: President Bush captured 35% of the Hispanic vote in 2000, and his approval ratings among Hispanics have been growing during his presidency. The tactics against Mr. Estrada could well endanger Hispanics' traditional allegiance to the Democrats.
Several New York Republicans have already exploited Democratic weaknesses among Hispanic voters. Gov. George Pataki captured 40% of the Hispanic vote last November, which is credited with helping him win his landslide re-election victory. Rudy Giuliani won 43% in 1997.
Ronald Reagan once said that most Hispanics were Republicans who "just don't know it yet." It isn't merely ethnic pride that would attract Hispanics to Mr. Estrada, but a growing sense that New York's increasingly radical Democratic Party is out of step with the cultural values and upwardly mobile aspirations of many Latinos.
Mr. Schumer must run for re-election next year, when an Estrada candidacy in New York would be especially powerful. President Bush will be running for re-election, and the Republican National Convention will take place in Gotham. Having Mr. Bush campaigning with Mr. Estrada throughout the state's Hispanic enclaves can give a Democrat cold sweats.
If the current Democratic jihad against Mr. Estrada fails, the Republican Party should still consider recruiting another talented Latino candidate to challenge Mr. Schumer in 2004. The party might even consider doing what the Democrats did in the 2000 Senate race: importing their best candidate from somewhere else to vie for the New York seat. Hillary Clinton showed the Republicans how to play that game. Now why not turn the tables?
Mr. Malanga is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a writer for the City Journal.
©2003 The Wall Street Journal
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