Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination Boosts US Latinos

Concerns within the US Hispanic Community that President Obama would not honour his campaign committment to combat discrimination have been  partly dispelled by recent events. His  reaction to the arrest of African-American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates for breaking into his own house in Cambridge,Massachusetts was spontaneous and indignant: ” There is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement officers disproportionately”.Obama’s admission a few days later that he ” could have calibrated his words differently” was subsequently described in ‘The Observer’ newspaper as “an eloquent apology”, but it has not diffused the fury of his most implacable critics in the Republican Party and the right-wing media. They were already extremely upset by the President’s nomination of 54-year-old Sonia Sotomayor, of Puerto Rican descent, as the first Hispanic judge in the Supreme Court.

Obama’s determination to implement his election promises has already adversely affected his personal approval ratings, which according to some polls have now fallen below 50%. His opponents have depicted his conciliatory approach to Iran and his decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre as displaying weakness and imperilling the nation’s security. In addition, they view his ‘interventionist’ measures to rescue the US economy and introduce a national health programme as ‘socialist and un-American’. Sotomayor provides them with an additional opportunity to undermine the President by claiming he is in effect paying off an electoral debt to the 67% of Hispanics who voted for him. Mike Huckerbee, who attempted to become the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate in 2008, has denounced her as “coming from the far left” and got her name wrong by calling her “Maria”. He has scorned Obama’s election pledge to be ‘centrist and bipartisan’ in office as “mere rhetoric”. Rush Limbaugh, the notoriously conservative radio show compere and Newt Gingrich, a former Republican Congressional Speaker, have both labelled her as a ‘racist’ because of a speech she made in 2001 in which she said that her experience as  a Latina woman ” might make her judgements more sound than those of a white man”.

Alex Castellanos, a Republican Party strategist, feels that there’s a risk that Obama is taking the country back to an era of ‘identity politics’. His colleague, Leslie Sanchez, however, acknowledges that ” Many in the Hispanic community are excited by this nomination”. CNN commentator Paul Begala has concluded that it is extremely likely Sotomayor will be confirmed “because of her qualifications not her ethnicity”. The Republican Party’s only Hispanic Senator, Cuban-born Mel Martinez (Florida), declared after meeting her that she was “likeable, intelligent and understanding of the role of the judiciary”. University of Arizona Professor Roberto Rodriguez has pointed out in ‘La Prensa San Diego’ that Sotomayor is a moderate judge with 17 years’ experience, not a “flaming radical”. She was appointed as a US District Court Judge in 1992 by President G.H.W Bush and to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals by Bill Clinton in 1998.  The “bizarre” Conservative effort to keep her out of the Supreme Court is damaging their own image. They are “not simply defaming her, but unjustifiably denigrating the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) – a respected civil rights organizations with which she is associated”.

Brent Wilkes, Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, believes the Republicans would be ill-advised to oppose Sotomayor ” just for the sake of it…. The Latino community has waited a long time for this”. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has released a statement praising her for having achieved prominence despite being raised poor in New York’s Bronx District. Democratic Congressman Charles A. Gonzalez welcomed the selection as “tangible proof of the strength derived by the diversity represented in American society”. A survey carried out by the ‘Daily Kos’ research organisation indicates that the Conservatives’ tactics haven’t worked: 82% of Latinos, 70% of Afro-Americans and 48% of Whites (14% of whom had ‘no opinion’) support Sotomayor. A majority in all three categories consider her qualified to become a Supreme Court Justice and do not believe she is a racist. Although the confirmation process may take a little longer than Obama would like, the outcome does not seem in any doubt.




Filed under: General, Politics | Posted on July 28th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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