Latinos Demand Supreme Court Nominee - Almost To Their Own Detriment

06/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Esther J. Cepeda Opinion journalist and an expert on the issues of U.S. Hispanics/Latinos

Oh God, I can't wait until Obama picks already, I'm tired of the endless speculation and even more tired of the whole "Hispanics are lobbying for a Latino justice" story line.

Can we give that a rest? Do Hispanics really feel that insecure about their political clout that they want a Latino judge so badly they can taste it? Really, it's not that big a deal.

My pal John and I were talking about it last Wednesday when he proclaimed, "Are you kidding me? It's going to be a white person, that'll be on the front page of your New York Times, 'Old, White Man Appointed', if Obama's smart. He needs to pick an extremely liberal white man if he wants that person to be accepted, otherwise that Judge will spend the rest of their tenure being the person who was picked because they were black, Hispanic, or a woman."

I'd certainly hate that. Really, it wouldn't do Latinos any favor for either California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno or U.S. Appeals Court judge Sonia Sotomayor to get the nod if there is the appearance that they got it because of their ethnicity, rather than their scholarship and level-headedness.

So, Latino groups, stop making it look that way. The usual Hispanic empowerment groups have been banging the "First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice" drum for weeks, but I see little upside in some of the quasi-damning statements I've heard on the subject.

Never mind the emails I get and the comments I see on Twitter and Facebook, here's a quote from current Hispanic National Bar Association president Ramona Romero regarding the "First Hispanic Supreme Court Judge" barrier not being yet broken: "It was a lack of will, a lack of commitment. It was not because of the absence of qualified candidates." This time, she says, "there is an enormous sense of urgency" behind making sure the opportunity is not lost during a Barack Obama presidency.

On Nov. 14, 2008, Romero wrote a letter to Obama urging him to "make history yet again" by nominating a Hispanic justice, thereby erasing the "unfortunate message" conveyed by a Supreme Court with no Hispanic members. "The presence of a Latino or Latina at the conference table could add a needed 'special voice' to the Supreme Court's deliberations and decisions -- a voice that can speak about the law as it affects U.S. Hispanics with the authority that only firsthand knowledge can provide."

A "special voice"? Eeewww! What does that even mean? Those are exactly the types of statements that make white people, frankly, scared that a Latino on the Supreme Court will bring a Hispanic agenda to bear on cases, rather than rule from a solid scholarship and ideology. I'm not saying that is true in anyway but... I'm telling you "special voice" sounds creepy, even to me. Obama, however, has struck the right tone for me.

"You have to not only be the intellect to be able to effectively apply the law to cases before you," Obama said today in an interview carried Saturday on C-SPAN television, according to the CNN story. "But you have to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes and get a sense of how the law might work or not work in practical day-to-day living."

He wants empathy and the ability to see life from the position of the powerless. Thankfully, Obama has, at least publicly, said he's interested in the best nominee regardless of what adjectives can be placed before their name. "[I don't] feel weighted down by having to choose ... based on demographics," Obama said Saturday.

Well, thank goodness for that.

According to a recent CNN story, "Hispanic groups quietly press for supreme court pick," leading Hispanic groups have been careful not to create the perception they're demanding a Latino be nominated, nor that they are seeking direct political payback for their election support.

Yeah... well, that's not how I'm seeing it. From mass chain emails, to Latino authored op-eds in Southwest newspapers, to morning Spanish-language shock jocks, some people are not simply rooting for a Hispanic nominee, but rather, ready to blow their stack if they don't get one.

For a voting bloc anxious to make real progress on immigration law reform, this is not the best battle to choose. Not this round anyway.

To these people I say: take a deep breath, trust the guy you take so much credit for getting elected in the first place, and may the best man or woman Supreme Court Justice candidate win.

Esther J. Cepeda is an opinion journalist who writes about Hispanic/Latinos issues and much, much more on