Latino nominee raises questions
By O. RicardoPimentel
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 28, 2002 01:45 AM
There is more than just a wee bit of hypocrisy in the assumption that all
Latinos should line up automatically behind Miguel Estrada, the president's
nominee for a seat on a key federal court.
Estrada was before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. He promised to
have an open mind and not allow his personal (coincidentally, very conservative)
views get in the way.
OK, this sounds good. What doesn't, however, is this steady drumbeat of nonsense
that folks like me who disagree vehemently with Estrada's views should get on
board simply because he's Latino.
Colorblindness among conservatives is apparently situational.
If Latinos vote for a Latino candidate we are accused of voting based simply on
the basis of ethnicity. In other words, we're racists. Never mind that we might
be voting for this person because he or she might understand things others don't
or because we agree politically and philosophically.
On the other hand, if minorities aren't falling all over themselves to get a
minority judicial nominee confirmed, we're sell-outs. Ironically, we are called
this mostly by folks who aren't minorities.
It's as if someone nominated Lyndon LaRouche for a post and groups with names
like the White Coalition, along with minorities, started calling Whites
sell-outs for not supporting him.
OK, Estrada is no LaRouche. But to assume that Latinos would take it on faith
that, just because he is Latino, he would be a reasonable voice for their
interests is as much a stretch.
Estrada's personal story indeed has compelling elements. He was born in Honduras
and came to this country at 17. He reportedly spoke little or no English but
learned more than enough to graduate from Columbia University and Harvard Law
But the official biographies I've read on him are incomplete. They don't
disclose, for instance, that he had a good private-school education in Honduras.
His father was a lawyer and his family "well-established," (i.e., not exactly
poor), according to Juan Figueroa, president and general counsel of the Puerto
Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, among the groups opposing Estrada's
Coming to this country poor, without an education and speaking no English is far
different from coming to this country with most of the tools in place to acquire
the knowledge you need.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with coming to this country equipped to fit
in. Moreover, learning a new language is difficult under any circumstance. But,
please, don't hint at rags-to-riches if it doesn't fit.
Instead, tell me why he is qualified to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia, an important court because its judges are often thought of
as Supreme Court justices in waiting.
Unfortunately, the administration has pointedly refused to do so.
Estrada has never been a judge. There is no judicial paper trail.
There is, however, another paper trail. Estrada worked in the U.S. Solicitor's
Office, arguing 15 cases before the Supreme Court.
Estrada's views are very conservative, I'm told by someone in a position to
know. This doesn't disqualify him from office, but memos written while he was in
the Solicitor's Office can tell us whether facts or ideology drive his legal
I wonder what is in those memos that the administration doesn't want us to see.
refuses to release them.
The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Congressional
Hispanic Caucus are also among those that oppose Estrada's nomination. On the
other side, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the U.S. Hispanic
Chamber of Commerce are among those who support him.
OK, just the usual pre-nomination wrangling, right? Well, there was a nugget in
the caucus' announcement of opposition that did speak to this assumption of
blind support folks believe Estrada is due.
"The appointment of a Latino to reflect diversity is rendered meaningless unless
the nominee can demonstrate an understanding of the historical role courts have
played in the lives of minorities in extending equal protection under the law,"
said Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the caucus' civil rights task
In other words, why in the world would Latinos support someone on the bench
inimical to their interests just because he, too, is Latino? Does the name
Clarence Thomas ring any bell?
Reach Pimentel at email@example.com or (602) 444-8210. His
column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.