By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
“Latinos are 15 percent of the U.S. population. But you would never know that from looking at the federal judiciary, where only seven percent of judges are Hispanic. That gross underrepresentation must come to an end—at the highest levels.”
The quote comes from an editorial published last week by El Diario/La Prensa, New York’s leading Spanish-language newspaper, in support of the potential nomination of a Hispanic appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court in the likely event that a vacancy occurs during President Barack Obama’s term of office.
The editorial came after U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats from New York, sent Obama a letter asking him to nominate a Hispanic when there is a high court vacancy. The senators reminded Obama in their letter that no Hispanic has ever been named to the Supreme Court, according to El Diario, which obtained a copy of the letter. Schumer and Gillibrand also recommended two candidates for an eventual vacancy: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and New York Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Bronx native who has sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit since 1998. Sotomayor would be an excellent pick, Schumer told the newspaper. “We are fortunate in New York that in this area we have someone who is highly qualified to serve in the Supreme Court,” he said. Gillibrand, in turn, said she intends to follow up on the letter personally when she meets White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent surgery to fight pancreatic cancer aroused speculation about the possibility of a Supreme Court seat becoming open during Obama’s presidency. “Attention largely centers on Justice John Paul Stevens, who turns 89 in three weeks, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just turned 76,” Dahlia Lithwick wrote on Slate. “…Even more speculation is focused on Justice David Souter, 69, who famously pines for a return to his New Hampshire home.” In its editorial, El Diario also noted that only one of the nine current justices is a woman.
Should a vacancy emerge on the Court, Sotomayor should be at the top of Obama’s list. She is an experienced judge with excellent credentials. And she happens to be Hispanic. …Obama should seize the opportunity to build on his message of inclusion, fairness and diversity. The president can make more than a historic appointment—he can set the tone for our children and generations to come.
Last year, before Obama was elected president, Esquire reported Sotomayor was likely to be the Democrat’s first pick for Supreme Court justice. “As a Hispanic woman with 16 years of court experience, Sotomayor would slay two of the court’s lack-of-diversity birds with one swift stone,” the magazine said. Although El Diario published its story on the letter to Obama on April 2, no other New York newspapers have reported on this interesting bit of news. Gillibrand’s and Schumer’s Senate web sites did not feature it in their press release sections either. When Gov. David Patterson appointed her in January to replace Hillary Clinton as the junior senator from New York, Gillibrand was strongly criticized by Latino advocates for her anti-immigrant stances. Since then, the senator –whose term ends next year and has to run for reelection in a state with a big Latino and immigrant population– has been shifting toward more Latino-friendly positions. Recently, Gillibrand announced she will co-sponsor the DREAM Act that would grant citizenship to undocumented students.