A CNN headline blares: “Latinos Rejoice in Sotomayor Nomination.” The accompanying article features quote after quote from Hispanics in the legal community expressing joy at the president’s Supreme Court pick. (They do find one conservative who expresses reservations about Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy). Whether one embraces or eschews identity politics, it’s difficult not to summon some happiness for an ethnic community that feels empowered by the achievements of one of its prominent members.
Sadly, some of Sotomayor’s supporters are now trying to shape the narrative surrounding her nomination to be dominated by her inspiring personal story, race, and sex — none of which should have any influence over her interpretation of the Constitution (although she begs to differ). The chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Nydia Velazquez (D., N.Y.), is publicly warning Republicans that opposing this Hispanic nominee could hurt their party with Hispanic voters. This racial-political calculus is a bit offensive, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume Velazquez is right: Any GOP effort to derail a nominee with Puerto Rican origins will be perceived by Hispanics at large as a racially motivated assault on one of their own.
If that’s the argument that Democrats want to use — implicitly or explicitly — to ram through Sotomayor’s confirmation, then perhaps it’s time for Republicans to re-acquaint their Latino constituents with the shameful treatment of Miguel Estrada.
In 2003, the Wall Street Journal printed excerpts from leaked internal Democratic memos mapping out the party’s strategy to oppose President Bush’s judicial picks. One of its most egregious items summarized the effort to thwart the nomination of Miguel Estrada, labeling him “especially dangerous” because “he is Latino.” The Democrats filibustered Estrada for years until the beleaguered nominee withdrew from the process. [As an aside, Democrats and their media henchmen managed to mitigate the potential political damage of this scandal by whipping up a tempest of phony outrage over who breached congressional ethics by leaking the memos. Wouldn't that qualify as a "distraction"?]
Consider Estrada’s biography: He was born in Honduras and moved to the United States as a teenager from a broken family who couldn’t speak fluent English. Despite these obstacles, Estrada put his nose to the grindstone and managed to graduate magna cum laude from both Columbia University and Harvard Law. After a series of exceptional clerkships, Estrada served in the Department of Justice, including a stint as an assistant to the solicitor general under the Clinton administration.
His story may sound familiar.
Both Miguel Estrada and Sonia Sotomayor spent many of their formative years living with only one parent. Both emerged from difficult life circumstances to attend and thrive at multiple Ivy League institutions. Each developed impressive records, accumulating reams of serious — and varied — legal experience prior to their nominations. Both were deemed so talented that presidents from both parties sought their services. And, of course, both are Hispanic.
Despite these striking similarities, Estrada was targeted and torpedoed by Democrats, denying him a seat on a lower court. Why, aside from his crime of being Latino, did they object to him? According to the leaked 2003 memo, “The [Bush] White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court appointment.” I see. For those keeping score at home: Estrada’s Latino-ness was considered “dangerous“ by the very people now cheering on Sotomayor and touting her heritage because a Republican president might have someday elevated him to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Democrats are cautioning Republicans not to lift a finger to obstruct the path of Obama’s Hispanic nominee to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land.
The lesson of this duplicity is simple: If you’re a young, bright legal mind who happens to be a racial minority, you’d better inoculate yourself now by adopting an appropriate ideology. Otherwise, you run the risk of developing a conservative reputation among your “friends” in the Democratic party. Once you’ve been branded with that scarlet “C,” nothing — not your fine temperament, not your sterling credentials, and certainly not your skin color — will persuade them to support you. In fact, your immutable qualities might be held against you. Disgusting.