It is ironic that President Bush, whose lawyers excoriated affirmative action at the University of Michigan, would nominate Miguel Estrada, an unqualified Latino, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in order to achieve diversity. The full Senate takes up the nomination this week.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, and other Latino and civil rights organizations believe that in a nation of more than 37 million Latinos, the federal judiciary should not remain overwhelmingly white and male. The nation needs judges who understand us, and Latinos are visibly absent from the Supreme Court and many of the federal appellate courts. The judiciary is the branch of government to which we have turned to seek protection when, because of our limited political power, we are not able to secure and protect our rights through the legislative process or the executive branch.
However, Estrada has neither demonstrated that he understands the needs of Latino Americans nor expressed interest in the Latino community. A thorough review of his sparse record indicates he would probably make rulings that roll back the civil rights of Latinos. Simply being a Latino does not make one qualified to be a judge.
The decisions made by judges apply to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or immigrant status. Individuals appointed to the federal bench, a lifetime appointment, must meet basic requirements such as honesty, open-mindedness, integrity, character and temperament. They must also go a step beyond that and affirmatively demonstrate that they will be fair to all who appear before them in court.
Estrada's lack of qualifications has prompted many prominent Latino organizations and others to oppose him, including MALDEF, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, Latino union leaders, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Congress' Hispanic and Black caucuses.
The available record of Estrada's legal positions raises grave concerns about how he might rule on constitutional matters affecting Latinos. For example, his work in the area of criminal justice raises serious doubts as to whether he would recognize the 1st Amendment rights of Latino urban youths and day laborers, and it casts serious doubt on whether he would fairly review Latino allegations of racial profiling.
In 1997 he worked pro bono to defend the city of Chicago's ban on loitering, which was designed to curb gangs and drug activity. Instead, the ban resulted in police harassment of Latino and African-American youths. After the Supreme Court struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional, Estrada volunteered to defend a similar one in Annapolis, Md., which was also found to be unconstitutional.
As a government attorney, he argued that police discretion was wide, that officers could execute a search warrant in a felony drug investigation without knocking and announcing who they were. This indicates his disdain for the protections of the 4th Amendment.
In other areas, Estrada has stated that he has never raised the issue of diversity in any of his workplaces and that he would not seek to help Latinos by hiring them as clerks, and he dismissed concerns about the lack of diversity among Supreme Court law clerks. In 2001, in the Annapolis anti-loitering case, Estrada argued that the NAACP had no standing to represent the interests of African-Americans. This indicates he probably would question the right of access to the courts of groups that have historically represented the interests of Latinos.
Our opposition is not partisan. MALDEF has supported President Bush's nominations of well-qualified Latinos who are conservative and will continue to do so. However, when a nominee like Estrada is an ideologue who hides his views and who is so lacking in experience, we have little choice but to oppose the nomination. The courts and the job of justice are too important.
Antonia Hernandez is president and general counsel of MALDEF.
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