News Column

Ideology, Politics & the Bench

June 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

Joel Russell

Does Miguel Estrada oppose affirmative action? The question poses a challenge for both detractors and those who support Mr. Estrada’s nomination for a seat on the powerful federal appellate court in Washington, D.C. Eventually, the answer could affect the composition of the Supreme Court.

Conservative supporters can point to Mr. Estrada’s membership in the Federalist Society, which identifies itself as “a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order.” In particular, the society opposes “a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society,” language that seems to touch on affirmative action.

Mr. Estrada’s conservative credentials include work for then-presidential candidate George W. Bush in the controversial Bush v. Gore case that decided the 2000 election. Currently, he is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm that produced Solicitor General Theodore Olson and Labor Solicitor Eugene Scalia, two conservative legal icons.

Lack of a paper trail establishing Mr. Estrada’s views, however, means that much of the criticism is based on perception, according to Gabriela Lemus, policy director at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). The leaders of many Hispanic organizations, including LULAC and MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Foundation), have not taken a position on the matter. One exception is Juan Figueroa of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, who wrote in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy: “We have reason to believe that Mr. Estrada may not have the compassion, open-mindedness, sensitivity, courtesy, patience, and freedom from bias that an individual with the requisite judicial temperament must have to be an effective jurist.”

“He hasn’t been a judge before, but it’s clear he has experience with the Supreme Court,” says Ms. Lemus. “Our position as an organization is to ensure that qualified Latinos have a level playing field, irrespective of ideology. As long as they’re not doing damage to the community, we should support them.”

Ms. Lemus notes that LULAC officially opposed the nomination of Linda Chavez for Secretary of Labor, and many in the organization were “lukewarm” on Undersecretary of State Otto Reich. (The organization took no official position.) In the case of Mr. Estrada, “he has represented both sides on issues,” she maintains, and at press time, LULAC had no official position.

The Hispanic National Bar Association has conducted “ due diligence, and discussed the matter among the board on several occasions,” says Angel Gomez, HNBA president. “After taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances, [the board] decided to endorse him.”

At its annual convention in October, the HNBA confirmed its support for affirmative action programs. Another resolution passed by the convention, however, could have implications for Mr. Estrada – namely, a resolution calling on President Bush and Congress to appoint the first Hispanic American to the Supreme Court. Under the Bush administration, Mr. Estrada and White House Special Counsel Alberto Gonzales are the Hispanic front-runners for a seat on the court.

“That’s really the issue,” says Ms. Lemus. “Especially when you have a minority candidate, it becomes ideologically charged. The [political] parties are looking for voters. Right now the fight for the hearts and minds of Latinos is a powerful one.”
Mr. Estrada’s immediate fate depends on the political tug-of-war in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Leahy has promised a hearing on Mr. Estrada this year, probably during the summer. To encourage the process, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) has formed a new Hispanic Judiciary Initiative to evaluate nominees and issue recommendations. “While there is no official role for the CHC in the judicial selection process, we firmly believe the caucus will prove a vital resource,” says Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas. “We want to help identify those qualified judicial candidates who best reflect our community and will bring needed diversity to the federal courts.”



Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine


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