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Graham Wrong To Block Vote On Estrada…Will Estrada Protect Rights Of Latinos?

Graham Wrong To Block Vote On Estrada

By Mel Martinez | Special to the Sentinel

March 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

I am disappointed by Sen. Bob Graham's vote last week to impede the nomination of Miguel Estrada.

President Bush has twice nominated Estrada to become the first Hispanic on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, an honor for which he is eminently qualified. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership has denied him a confirmation vote since the spring of 2001.

Graham's vote on Thursday to maintain the filibuster is not in keeping with his long tradition of supporting the interests of Hispanics, who represent a large portion of his constituency.

Graham and the 42 Democrats who joined him have a constitutional responsibility to hold an up-or-down vote on all judicial nominees within a reasonable time frame. For this obstructionist bloc, it seems, partisanship trumps responsibility.

I applaud Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and the Republican leadership for holding their ground and scheduling repeated votes to break the filibuster. It is time for Graham and his colleagues to stand up and vote "yes" or "no" and then explain to their constituents why they voted the way that they did.

For Hispanics and other immigrants, the opportunity to serve this great nation in public office is part of their American Dream. I know. At the age of 15, I fled Castro's Cuba, seeking a better life in the United States. Soon, I was eager to give something back to my adopted country.

Estrada and I share a similar path in our quest for the American Dream. At the age of 17, and with minimal English-language skills, the young Estrada emigrated from his native Honduras, seeking a better life and opportunity in this country. Hard work and determination enabled him to graduate with highest honors from Columbia University and then earn a law degree, also with honors, from Harvard Law School.

After college, Estrada served as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and later worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations at the Department of Justice, including five years in the solicitor general's office. He has appeared 15 times before the Supreme Court, winning 10 of his cases. Recognizing his legal skills and experience, the American Bar Association unanimously gave Estrada its highest rating.

Despite these impressive credentials, many Senate Democrats have obstructed the confirmation process. Twice, they have voted to continue their filibuster and block an up-or-down vote on this outstanding nominee.

Denying Estrada a vote goes against the spirit of the Constitution's "advise and consent" clause and, I would add, against the spirit of America. Estrada, and millions of others like him, came to America because this is a land of opportunity. We should never stand in the way of qualified individuals willing to commit to public service.

I urge Sen. Graham to reconsider his actions and allow this great American success story to receive the vote that he deserves.

Mel Martinez, a lawyer in Orlando for 25 years and a former chairman of Orange County, is secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.

Will Estrada Protect Rights Of Latinos?

By Alvaro Fernandez | My Word

March 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

As Latinos, we should celebrate the achievements of fellow Latinos, but it is difficult for our community to support a Latino who does not reflect, resonate or associate with the Latino community. Such is the case of Miguel Estrada, nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia -- a lifetime appointment.

Unfortunately, being a Latino should not be the sole criterion for elevation to a position that could have tremendous impact on the civil and constitutional rights of the Latino community.

At his hearing before the Senate, Estrada failed to answer senator's questions, and he hid his views from the Senate and the public. Because of his limited record, it was important for Estrada to be forthcoming and give senators the opportunity to find out more about the kind of judge he would be; yet he chose to remain silent.

While many applaud Estrada's accomplishments as a minority and an immigrant, it is important to note that he may not be as willing to help other Latinos achieve the same success. Estrada has stated that he has never raised the issue of diversity in any of his workplaces, 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.

At a time when the Supreme Court is considering whether a public university can use affirmative action to help increase Latino and African-American enrollment, Estrada has made statements that he really does not believe the severe underrepresentation of Latinos in various settings is a real problem.

The little we do know about his record is very troubling.

Estrada really questions whether law enforcement uses racial profiling to conduct their work. In the Latino community, however, we experience the realities of racial profiling. In an anti-loitering case, he 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.

Defeating his nomination would not send the message to Latinos that "only a certain kind of Latino need apply." On the contrary, it would send the message that everyone in America is judged by the same standard. If you cannot be fair and protect the basic constitutional rights of the common person, you do not deserve to serve in a judicial appointment, no matter what your race or ethnicity is. Instead of targeting his ethnicity, Estrada supporters should push for Estrada to answer questions senators asked him and unveil his legal papers, so that he can be judged the same as others -- on his record. Until his record is fully known, the Senate must continue to oppose. So far, it would be too much of a risk to confirm him.

Alvaro Fernandez of Miami is the Florida director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

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