Friday, May 1, 2009

Hispanic Justice

"I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity," President Barack Obama said in commenting on whom he will nominate to replace retiring Associate Justice David Souter. But President Obama now has an important opportunity to pick someone who, if approved by the Senate, will lead to a Supreme Court that more truly reflects the composition of the American population.

America has been enriched by its diverse Hispanic culture. But this culture has been under represented in our government. Today more than 40 million Hispanics live in the United States, our nation's largest minority population. And, according to recent projections, more than 100 million Hispanics will live in this country by the year 2050, or about 30% of the population. Hispanics are a vibrant collection of cultures and political views. More than three-fifths of the U.S. Hispanic population is of Mexican origin; the other portion includes Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans and people from throughout South and Central America.

U.S. Hispanics are doctors, lawyers, athletes and laborers. Hispanics are American soldiers who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. They serve as police officers and fire fighters. These men and women are our heroes too. They pay taxes, and own or rent homes. Their children attend our schools and many want their kids to live the American dream. While some Hispanics are third and fourth generation families, still millions more are new arrivals who speak little if any English. They read Spanish language newspapers, listen to Spanish language radio stations and live in tight knit communities. Nonetheless, they make up a booming portion of our economy.

Of his potential Supreme Court nominee, President Obama said, "I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation." He continued, "I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

In many ways, the Hispanic hopes and struggles are unique. There are important legal questions around immigration, discrimination and rights to a decent education and health care that call for a Hispanic perspective in our nation's highest court. How can the Supreme Court be truly "empathetic" if its composition does not reflect the the diversity of America? It is time for a Hispanic justice to be seated on the highest court in our land.

From a political perspective, Republicans are likely to oppose whomever President Obama chooses. Should the candidate be Hispanic, such opposition is likely to further alienate their party that has struggled nationally for Hispanic votes. Hispanics are an important voting block in states such as California, New York, Arizona and Colorado. But they may play a decisive role in less populous Southern and Midwestern states in coming elections. Therefore, Republican opposition to a Hispanic nominee just for ideological reasons would be extremely risky.

In the words of our Constitution, "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

"We the people of the United States" includes all of the people of this country. And the strength of America has always come from the diversity of its people, its ideas and experiences. I, therefore, urge President Obama to nominate the first Hispanic justice for the U.S. Supreme Court. And, by so doing, President Obama can make history again.

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