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Embattled Estrada Withdraws From Debate Over Nomination

By Neil A. Lewis

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Miguel Estrada, whose nomination by President Bush to an important federal appeals court post was blocked by an extraordinary filibuster mounted by Senate Democrats, gave up his two-year struggle on Thursday.

“I write to ask you to withdraw my pending nomination,” Estrada said in a letter to Bush. “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.”

The fight over Estrada’s nomination was the most prominent and most protracted battle in what has become a nasty ideological and political war with no end in sight between the White House and Senate Democrats over who gets to sit on the federal bench.

Republicans moved swiftly to deplore Estrada’s fate and turn his withdrawal into a mobilizing moment among the party faithful akin to the 1987 defeat of Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. That event became depicted as a great injustice, and it generated long-term political fervor.

“Despite his superb qualifications and the wide bipartisan support for his nomination, these Democrat senators repeatedly blocked an up-or-down vote that would have led to Mr. Estrada’s confirmation,” Bush said in a statement referring to the Democratic filibuster or threat of extended debate that prevented the nomination from coming to a vote on the Senate floor.

“The treatment of this fine man is an unfortunate chapter in the Senate’s history,” Bush said.

Other Republicans were far harsher, noting that Estrada became the first appeals court nominee defeated through a filibuster strategy. While they were reluctant to say so explicitly, some strongly suggested he was opposed by Democrats because of his Hispanic heritage.

Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, said Estrada was the victim of a “political hate crime.”