Republicans fight Estrada filibuster

WASHINGTON

After more than three weeks of debate, Republicans decided Tuesday to try to break the Democratic filibuster of Miguel Estrada’s nomination to a federal appeals court before moving the Senate on to other legislative business.

Democrats say the GOP will lose today’s vote to end the filibuster, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) promised to keep demanding such votes until Estrada gets a confirmation vote on his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“It may take five weeks, it may take eight weeks, it may take two months, it may take three or four months,” Frist said. “I’m going to use everything I possibly can, every tool I possibly can. This battle is just beginning. We are going to see that this nominee has an up or down vote.”

If Republicans don’t gain the 60 votes they need today and in other Estrada votes, the Senate will likely move on to other business instead of debating Estrada every day, although the nomination will not be withdrawn, GOP senators said.

“That is the beginning of the battle,” Frist said. “This is not going to go away not until we get an up or down vote.”

Democrats insist they will not allow a final vote on Estrada until the Washington appellate lawyer answers more of their questions in a public hearing, or the White House releases Estrada’s working papers from his time at the Justice Department.

Supreme Court upholds three-strikes policy

WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court said certain repeat offenders may be locked up for long periods for relatively minor crimes, ruling yesterday that a sentence up to life is not too harsh for a criminal caught swiping three golf clubs.

The court also said a term of 50 years to life is not out of bounds for a small-time thief who shoplifted videotapes from Kmart. The tapes, including “Batman Forever” and “Cinderella,” were worth $153.

Both men were sentenced under California’s toughest-in-the-nation law for repeat criminals, known as three-strikes. By votes of 5-4, the court said the law does not necessarily lead to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

Gary Ewing had more than a dozen prior convictions when a clerk at an El Segundo, Calif., golf shop noticed him trying to make off with golf clubs stuffed down one pant leg. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. There is no possibility of parole before 25 years.

“Ewing’s sentence is justified by the state’s public-safety interest in incapacitating and deterring recidivist felons, and amply supported by his own long, serious criminal record,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the main opinion in that case.

Insults mar discourse at Islamic conference

DOHA, Qatar

Iraq’s envoy called a Kuwaiti diplomat a “monkey” and a “traitor” in a rare public display of divisions at an Islamic forum convened yesterday to seek a unified stance against any U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The angry name-calling, broadcast live on satellite television, was the second time in a week Arabs across the region got to watch tensions usually kept behind closed doors erupting between their leaders.

The gathering of the Organization of the Islamic Conference at which the spat took place made little diplomatic progress.

The 57-member OIC summit issued a final statement that broke no new ground, welcoming Iraqi cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors and expressing hope it would continue.

The leaders rejected any military strike against Iraq.

U.S. built up stores of oil following Sept. 11

WASHINGTON

President Bush ordered a rush of oil into the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the Energy Department stopped its practice of holding off shipments to the reserve when prices got high or supplies got tight.

A report by Senate Democrats yesterday maintained the decision, which diverted 40 million barrels of crude from the markets into the government-owned reserve last year, helped drive up gasoline and other energy prices.

With markets tight and oil prices high, refiners dipped into their inventories to replace the oil going into the government reserve, said the report produced by the Democratic staff of the Senate Governmental Affairs investigations subcommittee. “We’re confident this had a significant impact on the price of oil in 2002,” said Sen. Carl Levin of Detroit, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee and its chairman last year.

T-shirt leads to arrest of protestor at mall

ALBANY, N.Y.

A man was charged with trespassing in a mall after he refused to take off a T-shirt that said “Peace on Earth” and “Give peace a chance.”

Mall security approached Stephen Downs, 61, and his 31-year-old son, Roger, on Monday night after they were spotted wearing the T-shirts at Crossgates Mall in a suburb of Albany, the men said.

The two said they were asked to remove the shirts made at a store there, or leave the mall. They refused.

The guards returned with a police officer who repeated the ultimatum. The son took his T-shirt off, but the father refused.

“I said, ‘All right then, arrest me if you have to,'” Downs said. “So that’s what they did. They put the handcuffs on and took me away.” Downs pleaded innocent to the charges Monday night.

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