Paul Greenberg

If only Miguel Estrada had been just another mediocrity, he might have been acceptable. If only he hadn't done so well at Columbia (Phi Beta Kappa and magnum cum laude) or Harvard Law (magnum cum laude again, having edited the Law Review) or in the U.S. solicitor general's office, or if his name had been Mike Edwards instead of Miguel Estrada ... then he might have been quietly confirmed. He wouldn't have represented such a threat to the Democratic hold on the Hispanic vote.

Here was a promising young man who could have turned out to be a great judge, a light in the law, a natural for the Supreme Court. He had to be stopped. Seven times the Republicans brought up his name, and seven times they fell short of the 60 votes required to close debate and proceed to a vote on the merits of the nominee.

In the past, a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court might be filibustered, but this was the first time in American history that a filibuster was used to block a nomination to a circuit court of appeals. So clear and present a danger did Miguel Estrada represent to the Democratic hold on the Hispanic vote.

And now Mark Pryor speaks grandly about bipartisanship and good faith and civility and a confirmation process that's rigorous but fair. It's a wonder the words don't choke in his throat. But there are politicians who live and breathe hypocrisy with an ease unimaginable to us ordinary folk.

Some excuse had to be found to deny Miguel Estrada and the country his chance for greatness. So he was asked to reveal confidential memos he'd exchanged with his superiors in the solicitor general's office back in the first Bush administration. Of course he wouldn't. He knew about executive privilege and the attorney-client relationship, and wasn't about to violate either one.

So his critics used Miguel Estrada's principles against him, having so few of their own. All seven living former solicitors general of the United States, including good Democrats like Archibald Cox and Seth Waxman, signed a letter pointing out how outrageous it was to demand that a nominee for the judiciary betray his trust by turning over confidential working papers.

Such a demand, they noted, would inhibit candid exchanges of opinion within government, and cripple its ability to make its case in court. For if confidential memos didn't remain confidential, who would dare confide? But so sensible an argument was ignored. This wasn't about high principle; it was about low politics.

Counselor Estrada's refusal to betray a trust he was duty-bound to keep was portrayed by Democrats as a refusal to cooperate with the nominating process -- a slick but false accusation that was nothing but a cover to hide their own, partisan malice. It would be as if Republicans were to ask Sonia Sotomayor to reveal the confidences she'd been party to during judicial conferences, or maybe some attorney-client memos she'd exchanged in private practice.

But any excuse would do to torpedo a Republican nominee as outstanding as Miguel Estrada.

Conclusion: The next time Senator Pryor tries to get away with all that razzmatazz about fairness and civility and bipartisanship and good faith and the American Way and this being the Land of Opportunity, whether they're talking at a law school or before a Hispanic organization or on the Fourth of July, their listeners should remember just two words:

Miguel Estrada.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.