February 28, 2003

AGAINST

Estrada would destroy hard-fought victories

By: Dolores C. Huerta

As a co-founder of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, I know what progress looks like. Injustice and the fight against it take many forms-from boycotts and marches to contract negotiations and legislation. Over the years, we had to fight against brutal opponents, but the courts were often there to back us up. Where we moved forward, America’s courts helped to establish important legal protections for all farm workers, all women, all Americans. Now, though, a dangerous shift in the courts could destroy the worker’s rights, women’s rights, and civil rights that our collective actions secured.

It is especially bitter for me that one of the most visible agents of the strategy to erase our legal victories is being called a great role model for Latinos. It is true that for Latinos to realize America’s promise of equality and justice for all, we need to be represented in every sector of business and every branch of government. But it is also true that judges who would wipe out our hard-fought legal victories — no matter where they were born or what color their skin — are not role models for our children. And they are not the kind of judges we want on the federal courts.

Miguel Estrada is a successful lawyer, and he has powerful friends who are trying to get him a lifetime job as a federal judge. Many of them talk about him being a future Supreme Court justice. Shouldn’t we be proud of him?

I for one am not too proud of a man who is unconcerned about the discrimination that many Latinos live with every day. I am not especially proud of a man whose political friends — the ones fighting hardest to put him on the court — are also fighting to abolish affirmative action and to make it harder if not impossible for federal courts to protect the rights and safety of workers and women and anyone with little power and only the hope of the courts to protect their legal rights.

Just as we resist the injustice of racial profiling and the assumption that we are lesser individuals because of where we were born or the color of our skin, so too must we resist the urge to endorse a man on the basis of his ethnic background. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with Miguel Estrada and came away convinced that he would harm our community as a federal judge. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Puerto Rican Defense and Education Fund reviewed his record and came to the same conclusion.

Are these groups fighting Miguel Estrada because they are somehow anti-Hispanic? Are they saying that only people with certain political views are “true” Latinos? Of course not. They are saying that as a judge this man would do damage to the rights we have fought so hard to obtain, and that we cannot ignore that fact just because he is Latino. I think Cesar Chavez would be turning over in his grave if he knew that a candidate like this would be celebrated for supposedly representing the Hispanic community. He would also be dismayed that any civil rights organization would stay silent or back such a candidate.

To my friends who think this is all about politicians fighting among themselves, I ask you to think what would have happened over the last 40 years if the federal courts were fighting against workers’ rights and women’s rights and civil rights. And then think about how quickly that could become the world we are living in.

As MALDEF wrote in a detailed analysis, Estraderm’s record suggests that “he would not recognize the due process rights of Latinos,” that he “would not fairly review Latino allegations of racial profiling by law enforcement,” that he “would most likely always find that government affirmative action programs fail to meet” legal standards, and that he “could very well compromise the rights of Latino voters under the Voting Rights Act.”

Miguel Estrada is only one of the people nominated by President Bush who could destroy much of what we have built if they become judges. The far right is fighting for them just as it is fighting for Estrada. We must fight back against Estrada and against all of them. If the only way to stop this is a filibuster in the Senate, I say, Que viva la filibuster!

Dolores C. Huerta is the co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America.

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