July 15, 2005

Hispanic group wants tough questions for court nominee

By Ansley Haman
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – One group of Hispanic leaders wants the next nominee to the Supreme Court to be heavily scrutinized – even if the nominee is Latino.

Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary, a committee formed in conjunction with the liberal-leaning nonprofit group Alliance for Justice, held a press conference Monday to discuss the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice.

Dolores Huerta, one of the co-founders of the United Farm Workers of America, said the appointment of a fair judge and not an ideologue is crucial for Hispanic workers.

“Our nation has been built by working people,” Huerta said. “They need more protection than anyone else.”

A 2003 Census study showed that 39.2 million Hispanic people lived in the United States, making up almost 14 percent of the population. The 2000 Census confirmed that the U.S. Hispanic population had grown larger than the African-American population.

“Unfortunately, a lot of those voices are not heard,” said Maria Cardona, a public affairs specialist with Dewey Square, a political campaign and policy firm.

And as President Bush begins to lobby for his choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Cardona said the evaluation process must be rigorous.

“It’s not enough for the president to put forward a Latino name for the court,” Cardona said. “What is important to us is that the person who ultimately gets nominated will be fair, will protect the rights of the people.”

The panel addressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a potential nominee. Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said she wants him to answer tough questions about past decisions.

“At his attorney general hearing, he refused to answer some questions and was evasive about others,” Aron said.

Gonzales has drawn criticism from conservatives, who say his record on abortion rights is not in line with their pro-life stand. Liberals have criticized his role in creating the administration’s policies toward detainees at Guantanamo.

It is important for the Senate to know where nominees stand, Huerta said. And Spanish-speaking people need to know how the Supreme Court affects them, she said.

“This process is one of the most important job interviews in the world,” said Leon Rodriquez, a Washington attorney with Ober Kaler.

Justices serve for life, which means that the appointment will affect minorities for many years to come, Cardona said.

The Alliance for Justice and members of Congress, including Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, D-Texas, established the committee in June.

The group sent a letter to President Bush on July 7 urging him to act in a bipartisan manner and choose a candidate not just for politics or ethnicity.

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