A Grave Concern

What is Miguel Estrada trying to hide?

By Antonia Hern?ndez
Published on LatinoLA: February 28, 2003

A Grave Concern

This week, the U.S. Senate is rightly delaying a vote on Miguel Estrada?s nomination for a lifetime appointment to the second most important court in the country, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. While some may say that a filibuster is unnecessary, it is the only way to get the answers the Senate needs to make an informed decision about a nominee with a limited record. The Senate has the right to question the background of a nominee, especially when the nominee has refused to answer questions that will help them make a decision on the type of judge he will be.

At 41 years old, Estrada has accomplished much in his career, but he has never served as judge, never taught at a law school, nor written any legal writings since law school. Determining how he might serve as a judge is made harder with his limited record. The filibuster must continue until Estrada answers questions that will provide the Senate some insight about the decisions he would make if appointed to the court.

At his earlier hearing before the Senate, Estrada failed to answer Senators? questions and he hid his views from the Senate and the public. In the business world, no prospective employer would ever hire someone who refused to answer questions ? especially if it were for a lifetime appointment. Here, the stakes are even higher. With a limited record, Senators looked with anticipation to Estrada?s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In that hearing, he managed to reveal almost nothing about his legal views on the U.S. Constitution or a variety of civil and labor rights.

When asked, Estrada incredibly refused to name a single case in the history of the U.S. judicial system that he disagreed with, even though other judicial candidates have candidly done so. Where his views are known, he has proven himself not just to be a conservative but rather a rigid ideologue who has such strong personal views against recognizing fundamental constitutional and civil rights that he could not serve as a fair and impartial judge.

The decisions made by judges apply to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or immigrant status. Individuals appointed to the federal bench must meet basic requirements such as honesty, open-mindedness, integrity, character and temperament. They must also go a step beyond those requirements and affirmatively demonstrate that they will be fair to all who appear before them in court. The courts serve as the check and balance so desperately needed by the Latino and other minority communities when they seek to redress violations of constitutional rights and to balance the actions being taken by the executive and legislative branches

After a thorough review of Estrada?s sparse record, his confirmation hearing testimony, and his written answers to the U.S. Senate, MALDEF decided to oppose Estrada?s nomination, because the available record of his legal positions raised grave concerns about how he might rule on constitutional matters affecting Latinos. Finding that Estrada is an ideologue who hides his views, we had little choice but to oppose the nomination. For example, his work in the area of criminal justice raises serious doubts as to 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. As a government attorney, he argued that police discretion was wide, that officers could execute a search warrant in a felony drug investigation without knocking and announcing who they were. This indicates his disdain for the protections of the 4th Amendment.

In other areas, Estrada has stated that he has never raised the issue of diversity in any of his workplaces, that he would not seek to help Latinos by hiring them as clerks, and he dismissed concerns about the lack of diversity among Supreme Court law clerks. In 2001, in an anti-loitering case, Estrada argued that the NAACP had no standing to represent the interests of African Americans. This indicates he probably would question the right of access to the courts of groups that have historically represented the interests of Latinos.

The filibuster must continue until Estrada provides the Senate all the information it needs to conduct an informed vote. The courts and the job of delivering justice are too important for the Senate to simply ignore the unknown.

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