Syndicated columnist and CNN host Robert Novak falsely claimed that the number of President Bush's appellate court judicial nominees that have been blocked is "unprecedented" and added that the only reason Democrats opposed the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was because they "didn't want a Hispanic conservative nominated."
From the March 5 edition of CNN's The Capital Gang:
AL HUNT (co-host): Bob, 95 percent of Bush's judges have been confirmed.
NOVAK: Oh, that's ridiculous!
HUNT: Is it wrong?
NOVAK: Yes. I mean, I -- it's just silly to make that statement. I'm ashamed that you did it --
HUNT: I'm sorry.
NOVAK: -- because -- because it is -- I mean, it should be 100 percent. ... I mean, in the past, we didn't have this kind of thing going on, and 16 appellate court judges is unprecedented to block those.
NOVAK: You see, when you keep a guy off like Miguel Estrada, there's no indication of anything but sheer partisan politics. You didn't want a Hispanic conservative nominated, a guy who might go on the Supreme Court. I think the performance by the Democrats on judges for the last four years has been outrageous, and it's continuing.
Contrary to Novak's claim that "in the past, we didn't have this kind of thing going on," Republicans blocked far more of President Clinton's judicial nominees - more than 60 -- than Democrats have blocked of Bush's, as Media Matters for America has noted. The Washington Post pointed out in a December 13, 2003, article that "confirmation of Bush nominees exceeds in most cases the first-term experience of presidents dating to Ronald Reagan."
Regarding Novak's assertion that blocking "16 appellate court judges is unprecedented," Los Angeles Times staff writer and columnist Ron Brownstein reported on February 22 that while "Bush nominated 52 appellate court judges in his first term" and "Congress approved 35 of them" (sending 17, not 16, back to the White House), "Clinton, during his second term, nominated 51 appellate court judges -- and the Republican Senate confirmed 35," blocking exactly 16. Moreover, of the Bush appellate court nominees whose names were sent back at the end of Bush's first term, the Democrats actually filibustered only ten. (The other Bush appellate court nominees -- seven, according to Brownstein -- did not get votes either because Republicans chose to respect Democratic home-state senators' objections, or because the Republican leadership simply chose not to bring them up.)
Regarding Estrada, news reports present evidence to support the argument that Democratic opposition to his nomination was based on more than "sheer partisan politics." Democrats accused Estrada of refusing to provide documents requested by senators or answer their questions regarding his judicial philosophy. As Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley wrote in a February 14, 2003, column in The Washington Post, "Obviously, Estrada's real reason for evasiveness is the fear that if some senators knew what his views are, they would vote against him." Kinsley concluded by noting how Estrada's confirmation fit in the context of past Republican judicial obstructionism:
The seat Republicans want to give Estrada is open only because Republicans successfully blocked a Clinton nominee. Two Clinton nominations to the D.C. Circuit were blocked because Republicans said the circuit had too many judges already. Now Bush has sent nominations for both those seats.