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The Inquiring Mind and Miguel Estrada

The lack of Latino interest on the US Court of Appeals nominee has him wondering

By Rodolfo F. Acu?a
Published on LatinoLA: September 10, 2002


The Inquiring Mind and Miguel Estrada


The hearings on the nomination of Miguel Estrada, 41, to the Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia are finally nearing. But, despite the high stakes, Latino moderates and liberals have remained relatively quiet, seemingly oblivious to its consequences, which ranks domestically with the impending war in the Middle East. Thus far, right wing Latino organizations and Republicans have dominated the discourse by accusing Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee of racism.

If confirmed, Estrada would be in line for the U.S. Supreme Court, something the Latino community considers a barometer of its political influence. It would follow the historical tradition of the appointment of Jewish, African American and women justices who represented more than just themselves. However, in raising the race card, conservative forces have made race an issue.

In a previous article (http://www.latinola.com/story.php?story=237) I posited that Estrada, Honduran born and raised, did not identify with the Latino community and because of the privileged background of his family in Honduras, did not relate to the issues of working class Latinos. I received angry letters accusing me of being
divisive. However, the fact is those supporting Estrada based on his surname has opened this Pandora's Box. Let us not play games: There are millions of upper and middle class Latinos who immigrate to this country who, like Estrada, have received good educations in their own country and do not relate to poor immigrants or US born Latinos.

Because of the claims of Estrada's supporters that he is a Latino Horatio Alger, a Latino who turned adversity into opportunity by going from rags-to-riches, the inquiring mind would have expected the media to have looked into his childhood. After all, he came to this country at 15 and two years later Estrada took the SAT2 in English and was accepted to Columbia College, from which he graduated magna cum laude. A remarkable feat for anyone, especially since his supporters infer that he knew no English and was an immigrant. The inquiring mind would ask, what kind of schools did he attend? What contributed to this phenomenal accomplishment?

Well, these questions have not been asked or answered by the media, the Department of Justice or Estrada's supporters. My independent sources reveal: Estada's father is a lawyer and owns land in the South of Honduras. He is wealthy but does not appear to be a latifundista. The father does not appear to have a notoriously bad reputation such as links to military or conservative politicians. Estrada is not a working class Honduran who through hard work made it in this country. Estrada "is a middle to upper class Honduran, from urban professional background, and probably already highly educated before he came here." Given this background, Estrada probably grew up learning English and was from elite schools.

These facts would not be important if his supporters had been honest and forthcoming. It is a disservice to many poor immigrant children who have to attend sub-par schools and live under the poverty line to use Estrada as a role model. Class is the defining factor in academic success in America. It is intellectually dishonest to claim that Bush nominated Estrada solely on his qualifications. The Supreme Court anointed-President would not have nominated Estrada if he were not a Latino and an ultraconservative. There are literally thousands of lawyers who have graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, and who unlike Estrada have published. For example, Clinton nominated Jorge Rangel (Harvard Law Review) from Corpus Christi, Texas for the Court of Appeals. Rangel was not confirmed. Moreover, there are thousands of Latinos who have graduated from premier law schools, Harvard is not the only old good law school in the US. So, beyond his law school transcript, what makes Estrada so eminently qualified?

The problem is that because Estrada has never been a judge, he lacks a paper trail establishing his views, forcing critics to make assumptions based on what could be called circumstantial evidence. Estrada is known to be a conservative, who has made few public comments expressing his legal views.

Lacking a public record his associations take on greater importance. For instance, Estrada is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a Los Angeles-based law firm that represented President George W. Bush before the Supreme Court during the contested 2000 election. Estrada also worked for then-Solicitor General Kenneth Starr during the Bush Sr.'s administration and was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Estrada is also a member of the Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative group formed at the University of Chicago in 1983 with Antonin Scalia, the future Supreme Court justice, and Robert Bork as faculty advisers.

The lack of a record forces the inquiring mind to seek more information. After all Estrada could eventually become a Supreme Court Justice. It is frustrating when the Bush Administration refuses the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee for internal memos written by Miguel Estrada from 1992 to 1997 while working in the Office of the Solicitor General, a branch of the Justice Department, charged with arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Disingenuously the Bush administration has claimed privilege and prudence, In other words, Bush claims confidentiality, something denied to former President Bill Clinton.

The request of the Judiciary Committee is both reasonable and logical, and an attempt to learn how Estrada thinks about important legal topics. It is not out of the ordinary and the Justice Department has released attorney memos in the past to ease nominations. Given the slimness of Estrada's public record and a charge by a former supervisor that Estrada advocates extreme positions more aligned with his own ideological interests than the Constitution, Bush's refusal to release the memos raises a "red flag" and questions: What is Bush trying to hide? Since Estrada has never served as a judge on a lower court, the memos offer an opportunity to objectively find how he is apt to analyze cases as a judge. Many conservatives and liberals pay attention to the constitution.

Although my own superficial findings do not suggest that Estrada's family had any connection with the Honduran-Bush Family connection, an inquiring mind would have at least explored the possibility of any relationship. The confirmation fight of U.N. ambassador John D. Negroponte, who served as ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, was sent to the Senate at the same time Estrada's nomination was sent. Given Negroponte's secret arming of Nicaragua's Contra rebels, the CIA-backed Honduran death squad, and the Iran-Contra deal, shouldn't the inquiring mind at least looked into the possibility? It is unfair to the nation and Estrada to leave these issues in the limbo of speculation.

What makes all of this so unpleasant is not only the disingenuousness of Latino conservatives and the silence of Latino civil rights organizations, but the lack of interest of the mainstream and even progressive media. While I have grown to accept the paternal and dismissive attitude of most of the left wing liberal press, I would expect Latino Civil Rights organizations and Latino politicos to be pro-active opposing this nomination until more was known about Estrada. Still I have heard no word from the Hispanic Congressional Caucus or powerful state politicians. They have abrogated their leadership.

Frankly, if the Estrada nomination is confirmed, and the Latino community is saddled with another Clarence Thomas, it will be the fault of those who remained silent.

As the old Mexican refrain goes, "Se estan haciendo ................."


About Rodolfo F. Acu?a:
Rodolfo F. Acu?a, Ph.D. is a professor at California State University, Northridge.




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