Judges Deal Worries Hispanic Lawmakers

After weeks of intense negotiations, the U.S. Senate last week ended what threatened to be a showdown over a fundamental change to the way the legislative body operates.

But the compromise is not necessarily good news for the Hispanic community, Latino legislators and community groups say.

The back-and-forth that took place focused on the use of the filibuster, which is employed to block or delay Senate action on the floor. In this case, Democrats had used it to stop discussion on several federal judicial nominees they considered too conservative.

The compromise, which Senate leaders called a victory for bipartisanship, allows for certain nominations to be voted on by the Senate without a filibuster.

One of those judges is Janice Rogers Brown, an African-American California judge who ruled that racial epithets in the workplace are protected by the First Amendment and who supported the state’s Proposition 209, which prohibits preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, education and contracting, Brown said she considers affirmative action a form of segregation.

Other nominees share similar views and that does not bode well for Latinos, says Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., a former state attorney general.

“I have looked at the judges that the Republicans have put up for consideration, and I can tell you without a doubt what is going to happen is that these judges are going to take away the rights that have been fought for and won (over) so many years in the civil rights struggle,” he said.

A letter circulated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus _ a 55-member group of legislators that includes Reps. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Hilda Solis, D-Calif. _ expressed similar views:

“Clearly, the American people want us to work out our differences in Congress whenever possible, but they don’t want political deals brokered at the expense of our fundamental rights. . . . Federal judges are appointed for life terms and their rulings shape our daily lives.”

To compound the problem, too few Latinos are paying attention to the issue, even though the courts play a prominent role in the community, said Gabriela Lemus, director of policy and legislation at the League of United Latin American Citizens.

“Latinos should care about this issue because in the long term this is about the courts. This is about civil rights, and this is about ensuring that minority rights stay in place,” she said. “We know all too well that many times we are discriminated against in the courts. We need to ensure that we have people who at least will be open to our community’s concerns.”

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)