Fairness From MALDEF?

Attack on Miguel Estrada unbecoming and judicially unfair

By Fernando Oaxaca
Published on LatinoLA: February 11, 2003

Fairness From MALDEF?

It is regrettable that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), through an article by its President in the Los Angeles Times, has joined the pack of unblushing partisans attacking the President?s judicial appointee for the D.C. Court of Appeals, Miguel Estrada (Latino Would Set Back Latinos). MALDEF built its national reputation as a defender and fighter for those deprived of fairness under the law, Latinos among them. This article belies that.

MALDEF President Antonio Hernandez, on the Times op-ed page, instead of writing as the attorney she is, mostly parrots the Estrada Senate-hearing rhetoric of Democrat Senators Charles Schumer, Patrick Leahy and Ted Kennedy as well as the political blather of the Congressional Hispanic and Black caucuses. She cloaks her description of Mr. Estrada as "an unqualified Latino" by omitting, for Times readers, his receipt of the unanimous American Bar Association?s highest possible rating, "Well Qualified," given to him after President Bush?s appointment. She then cites a laundry list of Latino groups, usually aligned with Democratic Party and Democrat officeholders? interests, who agree with Ms. Hernandez? ethnocentric assessment of Mr. Estrada?s fitness to serve as a judge.

Inexcusably, she also fails to mention in her article that Mr. Estrada has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, a record unmatched by Ms. Hernandez or the vast majority of Presidential judicial appointees. She makes no mention, for Times readers, of Mr. Estrada?s experience as a Federal Prosecutor or his tenure as Assistant Solicitor General of the United States under Presidents Clinton and Bush.

And while touting a list of groups which share her views, she conveniently leaves out supporters of the Estrada nomination like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino group much older than MALDEF; the Hispanic National Bar Association (which I assume she belongs to); the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Business Roundtable , the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Latino Coalition. Beyond these and other groups, there is a long list of prominent professionals and former colleagues, in and out of government, who extol Estrada's qualifications and competence.

But perhaps the most disturbing statements in her article are those that highlight the hypocritical nature of many Estrada critics. That of Ms. Hernandez is particularly important because of the reputation of her presumably non-partisan organization and her role in the Latino community.

Ms. Hernandez says, importantly, "The decisions made by judges apply to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or immigrant status."

Despite this statement of necessary impartiality, constitutionally proper, Ms. Hernandez then decries that "Estrada has neither demonstrated that he understands the needs of Latino Americans nor expressed interest in the Latino community" and suggests special consideration of Hispanics by lamenting, "The available record of Estrada's legal positions raises grave concerns about how he might rule on constitutional matters affecting Latinos."

Further critiquing his past impartiality in situations she apparently considers unfair, she accuses, "he would not seek to help Latinos by hiring them as clerks" and in a Chicago case, she questions, again by innuendo and without basis, "whether he would recognize the 1st Amendment rights of Latino urban youths and day laborers, and it casts serious doubt on whether he would fairly review Latino allegations of racial profiling."

Though there has always been an ideological gap between us, I have always considered Antonia Hernandez a smart, gutsy professional person, viewed with pride by the Latino community. Yet, in this attack on Miguel Estrada, an admirable and brilliant young lawyer, fortuitously Latino and destined for yet one more prestigious opportunity to serve all society, Ms. Hernandez seems to have applied or shaded her public views with an unbecoming and judicially unfair ethnocentricity.

Echoing its title, her article seems uncharacteristically biased and does nothing to promote the cause of MALDEF and, further, might truly "Set Back Latinos."

About Fernando Oaxaca:
Mr. Oaxaca writes for and and is a long-time Latino community activist.

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