Republicans counter Democrats’ block of Latino judge’s appointment

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    By Christine Patterson

    Republicans continued their campaign over the weekend to end the Democratic filibuster of Miguel Estrada”s nomination to the United States Federal Court of Appeals.

    Democrats say they will block the nomination until Estrada is more forthright with his judicial philosophy.

    President George W. Bush appeared on Telemundo, encouraging Hispanic citizens to call their senators and demand that Estrada be given an up or down vote by the full senate.

    Robert Deposada of the Latino Coalition said ads, radio spots and rallies have begun and will increase in several states including Arkansas, Nebraska and the District of Columbia.

    Latino lobby groups joined the debate on the nomination early on and have been a strong but divisive voice.

    “He has the experience, so why on Earth are they blocking him?” Deposada said. “It”s a simple double standard that”s being applied against well-qualified Latino judges. The argument is that if he”s not liberal he”s not Hispanic. If someone would like to explain that to me, I”d love to argue it,” Deposada said.

    Other groups, like the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, feel that Estrada is not a good candidate regardless of the fact that he is Hispanic.

    “We believe that Mr. Estrada is not sufficiently qualified, that his reportedly extreme views should be disqualifying,” Juan Figueroa, the group”s president, told the Associated Press.

    Several prominent Republicans have raised concerns that the nomination is being blocked because Democrats don”t want Bush filling the bench with conservative judges.

    Estrada supporters say the filibuster stems from personal bitterness against Estrada, who worked for the law firm that represented Bush in the presidential election disputes.

    “The President has nominated several qualified judges who have been approved,” said Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-TX. “That shows this is not about Republican or Democrat.”

    Republicans have enough votes to approve Estrada”s nomination, but they don”t yet have the sixty votes needed to end a filibuster.

    Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, has been a strong supporter of Estrada and has spoken out against Hispanic groups who oppose the nomination.

    “They ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Hatch told the Associated Press. “They”ve sold out the aspirations of their people just to sit around schmoozing with the power elite.”

    Gonzalez responded by saying that the nomination is a superficial treatment of seeking diversity and that the Hispanic people need someone on the bench who has an understanding and appreciation for the role of the courts in the lives of minorities.

    “We are disappointed that Sen. Hatch, who is a good man, used language that suggested that anyone who is against the Estrada nomination isn”t Hispanic,” Gonzalez said. “I hope it was just a misunderstanding or it was taken out of context. That happens in Washington.”

    Latino groups who support Estrada believe his background as an immigrant from Honduras who was able to graduate from Harvard Law School and be successful gives him ample understanding of how the courts affect the lives of minorities.

    “This man has the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association,” Deposada said. “He has more experience than five of nine judges that are currently on the court.”

    Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-TX, chairman of the exclusively democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the caucus feels that Estrada does not have the judicial qualifications needed to serve on such a high bench.

    “He does not have a substantial record on any issues which could tell us whether or not he could be fair and unbiased, nor does he care to provide answers to our outstanding questions,” Rodriguez said. “Estrada clearly is the don”t ask, don”t tell nominee.”

    According to the State Department staff bios, Estrada immigrated with his family to the United States as a teenager. He graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College, then received a juris doctor degree magna cum laude in 1986 from Harvard Law School.

    “It”s a given that we are looking for qualified individuals who have good experience and a good education,” Gonzalez said. “We are looking beyond the givens. We want to see what diversity really means and what the appointees bring to it.”

    Hatch made a statement before the Senate two weeks ago in which he called the filibuster, “Estrada”s weapons of mass obstruction.”

    “Judgments are not made in a vacuum,” Gonzalez said. “Judges must have sensitivity to the history of how courts have dealt with minorities. There are still patterns of discrimination that the courts are dealing with. Let”s make diversity meaningful.”

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