Politics & Policy

A Tale of Two Nominees

Why do Estrada opponents adore Acosta?

Two Hispanic men of achievement have been suggested for high office by the Bush administration. You have undoubtedly heard of Miguel Estrada, a Bush judicial nominee who is the victim of a filibuster by Senate Democrats. You may soon hear of R. Alexander Acosta, whose prospective nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights has provoked praise from the same foes of official English who oppose Estrada.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), while tepid regarding the Estrada nomination, is red hot in its support for Acosta because:

During his tenure at DOJ, Mr. Acosta played a pivotal role in the Limited-English-Proficient (LEP) Guidance enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires recipients of federal financial assistance to provide language assistance to LEP persons.

The Justice Department’s own press release on Acosta also refers to an award to Acosta from the “Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund.”

The group’s actual name, according to the Associated Press is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). MALDEF is strongly opposed to the Estrada nomination.

MALDEF gave Acosta its “Excellence in Government Service Award” this year “for his work on language minority issues, including initiatives on language access to government-funded services” (emphasis added).

The language “initiatives” commended by MALDEF are all tied to Clinton Executive Order 13166. E.O. 13166 requires all recipients of federal funds to function in Spanish, or any other language in the world, upon demand. So-called “Hispanic-rights groups” see nothing wrong with making Spanish coequal with English in the United States, even if the people those groups claim to represent are busy learning English.

Obviously, winning an endorsement from an anti-English group like the NCLR as well as an award from MALDEF does not constitute infallible proof that Acosta is himself anti-English.

Friends of mine assure me that Acosta was personally opposed to many of the anti-English policies he acted to strengthen. Or they say that Acosta was merely doing the bidding of his superiors. All of those things could well be true. And therein lies the problem.

As a rule, when a Democratic president makes a “historic first” nomination, his people ensure the nominee is firmly one of them ideologically. When Republican presidents pick people as the “first woman this” or “first Hispanic that,” the nominee’s ideology seems an afterthought at best. Accordingly, liberals get Janet Reno while conservatives get Sandra Day O’Connor. And the records of “stealth conservatives” like David Souter are not encouraging.

If MALDEF and NCLR are proven right about Acosta — and their track record says they will be — he is the wrong choice on both political and policy grounds.

To appoint a supporter of E.O. 13166 like Acosta as the chief law-enforcement officer for Clinton’s misguided language policy will ensure that all the expensive fallout from Clinton’s linguistic pandering lands at the doorstep of President George W. Bush. This is dreadful politics.

E.O. 13166 is also simply awful policy. It says to every immigrant: “don’t bother to learn English. We’ll tell you everything you need to know.” That is not the American way that, for over 200 years, turned millions of immigrants into proud, productive American citizens.

If the Bush administration is determined to name the first Hispanic to the post of assistant attorney general for civil rights, there are undoubtedly plenty of distinguished Hispanic lawyers who agree with Linda Chavez’s thinking about E.O. 13166. Such a nominee would ensure a sound language policy for the Bush administration.

As Morton Blackwell has taught generations of conservatives, “sound doctrine is sound politics.” He’s right.

— Jim Boulet Jr. is executive director of English First.

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