Democrats Raise Issue of Estrada's Politics; Judicial Nominee Targeted over 'ideology'.(NATION)

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Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Democrats yesterday conceded that Miguel Estrada is an accomplished lawyer, but they questioned whether he should be confirmed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, saying he may harbor conservative views.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who led the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, said the Honduras-born immigrant is biased and that would affect how he views and rules on the law.

"Ideology is not the only factor in determining how we vote, but for most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, it is a factor," Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Estrada said a judge's job requires putting aside his views and examining each case with an open mind.

"I am not worried in the least that anybody could detect any bias or lack of skill in my legal work," he said.

The American Bar Association unanimously awarded Mr. Estrada their highest rating - well-qualified - and he won 10 out of the 15 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

However, his confirmation has languished for more than 500 days, and Democrats have targeted him for defeat.

"It's no understatement to say this is the single most important confirmation hearing this committee has conducted or will conduct this year," Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Estrada drew comparisons with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who, Mr. Schumer said, hid his views from the committee until he was confirmed.

"The minute Justice Thomas got to the court, he was doctrinaire," the senator said.

Mr. Estrada served as assistant solicitor general in the Justice Department from 1992 to 1997, leaving a limited paper trail to define his politics.

Democrats have demanded that the Justice Department turn over Mr. Estrada's working documents and private legal memos, but the department has refused, and all seven solicitors-general - of both parties - back that decision.

Democrats say they need the documents to learn more about Mr. Estrada, and spent most of their question-and-answer period with him urging him to pressure the department to release the documents.

Mr. Estrada has not blocked the release.

"I would like the world to know, I am exceptionally pleased with my legal work," Mr. Estrada said.

At the National Republican Senatorial Committee's annual dinner on Wednesday night, President Bush said he is "appalled" by Democrats who have denied two judges a full Senate vote by killing the nomination in committee. …