Sotomayor, Saenz, and the Vilification of Latino Civil Rights Organizations

At long last, the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings begin tomorrow.  It should be interesting but do not expect high drama.  No “smoking gun” demonstrating Judge Sotomayor’s “judicial activism” has been uncovered for Republicans to wave.  Instead, the opposition is trying to bring in some drama with the testimony of Frank Ricci and Ben Vargas, a Puerto Rican, two plaintiffs in the New Haven firefighters case.

 To me, one of the amazing parts of the confirmation process has been the treatment afforded relatively mainstream Latino civil rights organizations that Judge Sotomayor had affiliations with,  National Council for La Raza and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (now known as Latino Justice).  Both have been nothing less than tarred and feathered for in effect being racist and, at least according to former member of Congress (and anti-immigrant zealot) Tom Tancredo in talking about NCLR, the Latino equivalent of the KKK.  As Sherrilyn Ifill has written, the making of such wild accusations by mainstream politicians reveals how vulnerable Latinos are in U.S. society.  Could anyone see similar claims made against the NAACP Inc. Fund?

Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation seems assured.  However, this is not the first time that affiliations with a Latino civil rights groups were used to try to damage one of President Obama’s nominees.  Earlier this year, the administration declined to appoint Tom Saenz, formerly the head of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF), to head the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division reportedly because of his cutting edge (and successful) litigation at MALDEF to protect the rights of immigrants and day laborers.  As the N.Y. Times opined, Saenz would have been an excellent head of the Civil Rights Division and it was a shame for the nomination to be scuttled because of his civil rights litigation at MALDEF. 

As a member of the board of directors of MALDEF, I was sad to see MALDEF’s good llitigation work be used to torpedo a nomination for an extremely important civil rights post.  I am proud to be on the board of an organization that is bringing litigation seeking to protect the rights of Latinos in employment, voting, immigration, education, and housing.  It is groups like MALDEF that call for action in cases like the hate killing of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania last year.

 Hopefully, the smear tactics that we saw in the Saenz nomination and early on in the Sotomayor nomination, will not reappear in the future.   Indeed, the quick retreat of mainstream Republicans from the early attacks on Judge Sotomayor suggest that some are recognizing the dangers of alienating the Latino vote.   However, I will feel better when groups like MALDEF, Latino Justice, and National Council for La Raza are viewed as positive  contributors to civil rights and justice in U.S. society, rather than vilified as racist, otherwise outside the mainstream, and part of the problem.

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. JD says:

    Maybe the difference is that African Americans came to the U.S. as slaves and were subject to Jim Crow afterward for a century, while the vast majority of Latinos came voluntarily as immigrants protected by civil rights laws, and have been treated far better than earlier immigrant groups (Italians, Irish, Jews, etc.) It’s easy enough to see why someone would grant organizations promoted an African-American agenda some slack, but wouldn’t give the same slack to a group that wants immigrants who happen to speak Spanish to get special privileges.

  2. Jake says:

    Professor Johnson’s views are so well argued as to be beyond dispute. Any who may disagree ought not express their views here on this serious and weighty lawblog. Such persons should find another lawblog that indiscriminately treats all speech as free. A dangerous idea.

  3. Dee says:

    You are right. The treatment of mainstream Latino Human Rights organizations reveals how vulnerable all Latinos are in our current US Society. It is disgraceful how extremists like Tancredo (who said Miami is a 3rd world country) and shock jocks like Dobbs, Beck, Hannity and Savage, have vilified Judge Sotomayor and these humanitarian, mainstream groups. As I have often said, calling the NCLR “la raza” is the same as calling the NAACP “colored people.” We should respect these fine organizations, not denigrate them.

    In large part this poor treatment of Latinos is due to ANTI Immigration Reform extremists like Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Hannity and Savage, who have increased the decibles and anger against latinos to a fever pitch. They would say the anger is against “illeegals” but what does an “illeegal” look like? The reality is, the anger is lashed out against anyone latino, as we’ve seen against the honorable Judge Sotomayor, NCLR, MALDEF and PRLDEF and those attacked during Latino Hate Crimes.

    As the FBI has reported, Hate Crimes against latinos have increased by 40% over the last few years. These Hate Crimes include these recent examples: the murder of Luis Ramirez, the murder of Marcelo Lucero (legal) by the Caucasian Crew who were out doing their weekly “bean-er stomping”, the murders of the innocent Chilean students (legal) by right wing extremist Dannie Baker, and the murder of 9 year old Brisenia Flores (legal) and her Dad (legal)by a minuteman leader, Shawna Forde who was mentored by Jim Gilchrist, lived with Glenn Spencer and trained in Chris Simcox’s border training camp.

    It is time for the American people to understand the tactics of the extremists and understand the impacts their rhetoric is having on the Human Beings that are being vilified or murdered.

    It is my hope that the well qualified Judge Sotomayor’s hearings will proceed forward uneventfully and she will become our next Supreme Court Justice.

    It is also my hope that America will grow tired of the Hate Talk spewed by the shock jocks and they will be recognized for the unpatriotic vermin they are.

  4. Sotomayor and Saenz are both affirmative action beneficiaries. Neither is a scholar of great import. Both obtain their positions by virtue of the race or ethnicity only. I thought we were not supposed to judge people on the basis of race or skin color?

  5. I’m not aware of the NAACP giving *an award* to someone who’d proposed *genocide* years earlier:

  6. Andrea says:

    I find it absolutely hilarious that someone could accuse Tom Saenz of gaining a senior legal post at MALDEF, or Sotomayor of becoming a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals judge who votes in the majority over and over again, “by ethnicity only,” as if the powers that be might as well have found an East L.A. high school dropout or a non-English speaking migrant worker and asked him to run national litigation or rule on complex constitutional issues and it would have been the same. And by absolutely hilarious, I mean depressing, because a great number of people blurt out “affirmative action” and imagine just such a ridiculous scenario. Sad.

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been glad to see PRLDEF stand up for itself. If this disturbing trend continues they’re going to be coming after the Hispanic Bar Association and the GI Forum next!

  7. Carlos Morales-Turdli

    I suggest you read Justice Ruth Baeder Ginsburg’s comment to the absurd and shameful charge of Sotomayor being an affirmative action beneficiary, as if that means any person is ipso facto disqualified from a higher position because of the intentional discrimination of school admissions.

    Ginsburg proudly claimed that she too was an anchor baby of affirmative action. There had been no women on the faculty of Columbia Law School, as per almost all law schools in our fair land. She was the first. She claims it was affirmative action that placed her on the Supreme Court too, mitigate the discrimination and bias towards a slight majority of Americans.

    It was the common sense of pushy women who showed discrimination against women was an enormous disadvantage to our institutions and all facets of society as well as to women. That indisputable fact propelled many women into jobs for which there well might have been more “qualified” (white) males. That is why it is affirmative of the good and just to most people, including certainly those who have had to suffer the effects of inequality, such as women and Latinos, which you rightly abhor.

    It’s surprising how much those who most favored privilege for white males pounce of some whiff of inequality when it comes to minorities receiving an equal shake. It is quite evident in the specious charge that Sotomayor is no scholar of jurisprudence, just as they complained so vociferously about say Thomas, the conservative’s favorite.

    But I remember you! You were also among those who fought most fiercely against the discrimination and privilege that favored white male admissions to colleges and law schools based on sperm donations of alumni or the advantage from the inherited wealth that so undermines the conservatives’ vaunted meritocracy. Good for you Carlos, for fighting against the injustice of elevating Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Consistancy has hardly been any obstacle for those who fight for the status quo.
    Michael O’Neill

  8. Carlos Lopez says:

    This is an excellent post. There needs to be more discussion about the subversion of civil rights by those who accuse civil rights lawyers of being racists.

    Judge Sotomayor is objectively the most qualified nominee to the Court in a very long time. It is possible for reasonable people to disagree with her decisions, but it is irresponsible to accuse her of being unqualified. It is even more irresponsible to accuse her of showing racial bias in her decisions, as some senators have done. Let’s all remember that Judge Sotomayor was only one of a panel of judges that decided Ricci. Not to mention, that at the Supreme Court level it was a 5/4 split. Or is someone going to claim that Justices Ginsberg, Souter, Breyer and Stevens are racist against white people?

  9. Olga Sanchez says:

    Professor Johnson is absolutely correct that Latino lawyers with ties to Latino civil rights advocacy groups have been treated unfairly. I worked for Tom Saenz at MALDEF and was absolutely dismayed when I learned that the President rescinded his appointment because of unfounded allegations from the right that Tom was a radical liberal who advocated for the return of the southwestern United States to Mexico. Tom is a thoughtful, brilliant attorney who would have made an excellent head of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. It’s really a shame that the President fell for the right’s gimicks. It really does demonstrate how vulnerable Latinos, and most other ethnic/racial minorities for that matter, are.

  10. Piper says:

    You’re kidding, right? National Council of La Raza is not racist? Seriously? How do you define racism?*

    *Let me guess: “All pigment-deprived people are racists, all other people are not and by definition cannot be racists.” Is that your view?

  11. MsLatina says:

    I am tired of hearing why Hispanics should support Sotomayor because of her ethic background, rather than based on her beliefs. I am a Latina woman who is against her confirmation as Supreme Court Justice. Her views on law and policy are disturbing, and frankly, I’m ashamed that the Hispanic community so blindly runs to support her without considering what she believes. We would not support Castro or Chavez just because they are Hispanic, so why are we running to support Sotomayor just because she is Hispanic without at least a honest discussion about her beliefs? Her nomination, and lack of discourse on her beliefs, is a low moment in Hispanic history in this country.