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Hispanic Republicans Weigh in on Sotomayor

HispanicBusiness, News Report, Rob Kuznia Posted: May 27, 2009

While some of the media's top conservative pundits -- such as Mike Huckabee and Rush Limbaugh -- wasted little time this week in criticizing new Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Hispanic Republicans tell HispanicBusiness.com they are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

Shortly after the announcement, Huckabee released a statement referring to Sotomayor as a "far left" nominee, and Limbaugh flatly called her a "reverse racist."

But in a stark contrast, Danny Vargas, national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said Obama's pick is cause for celebration, though he added that he wants to hear what she has to say in the confirmation hearings.

"We celebrate the fact that we got the historic nomination of the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court," he told HispanicBusiness.com. "But if it comes out throughout the hearing that she's going to come out as an activist from the bench, and going to attempt to be a legislator with a robe on, then we're going to oppose that."

In general, Sotomayor's nomination has put Republicans in a tight spot. Criticizing the person who could become the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice carries no small amount of political risk. Especially since Republicans are already on thin ice with many Hispanics, who left the party in droves in the last election, largely owing to the heated rhetoric they heard from mainstream conservatives on illegal immigration.

As a result, Huckabee's "fightin' words" were the exception, not the rule. Other Republican leaders, such as U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sent out responses that were cautious, avoiding a firm stance altogether and calling for patience during the confirmation hearings.

In some ways, Hispanic conservative leaders, find themselves in an even tighter spot than other GOP leaders. Rather than walking a tightrope that is mostly political, their ambivalence seems to be more personal.

Such is the case for the Rev. Miguel Rivera, a prominent Hispanic conservative leader who heads up a nationwide network of 20,000 Evangelical Hispanic churches called the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders.

"As a Latino Evangelical minister, I can tell you this is a very difficult situation for us," he told HispanicBusiness.com Tuesday. "We have been expecting, for many years, a Hispanic to be nominated. But because we are Evangelical pastors, we have a true commitment to our faith and platforms and tenets and beliefs."

He, too, is withholding judgment until after the confirmation hearing.

Rev. Rivera said the coalition favors justices who demonstrate a "conservative, constructionist" style, meaning they will not "become activists either for the extreme right or the extreme left." He added that the coalition has supported two of President George W. Bush's picks to the high court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Like Vargas, Rev. Rivera praised Sotomayor.

"We are very proud of her nomination, and we understand she is an extremely well qualified nominee," he said.

Rev. Rivera sent a letter to Republicans in Congress urging them to give Sotomayor a fair shake at the hearing, which, he claims, Democrats never did with Miguel Estrada, a Bush U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit nominee in 2001. The Democrats used a filibuster to block his nomination. Estrada eventually withdrew his name. Rev. Rivera recommended that Republicans consider the filibuster option only as a last resort.

Although Sotomayor has not issued any major decisions on the hot-button topic of abortion, she did rule once on the matter, and came down on the anti-abortion side. In the "Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush," a group challenged the Bush administration's policy of withholding U.S. funds from foreign organizations that perform abortions as a method of family planning. Sotomayor ruled against the group, saying the government "is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds."

Meanwhile, members of the Hispanic Bar Association DC had nothing but effusive words for Sotomayor.

President Marlon Paz told HispanicBusiness.com that she is a "rags to riches star."

"This fills all of us with hope," he said. "If you work hard, and are excellent in your craft, you can reach the highest pinnacles of office."

Hispanic Bar board member Brigida Benitez -- and Hispanic Business Magazine's 2005 Woman of the Year -- dismissed Huckabee's criticism, noting how he erroneously referred to Sotomayor as "Maria."

"If you get some of the facts wrong, you have to question the other facts," she told HispanicBusiness.com. "She has been on the federal bench 17 years, and is very much a law-and-order centrist."

As for Limbaugh's characterization of Sotomayor as a reverse racist, he was referring to her past statement that a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Liberals, "of course, say that minorities cannot be racists because they don't have the power to implement their racism," Limbaugh said. "Well, those days are gone, because reverse racists certainly do have the power. ... Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one."

Limbaugh and his peers' influence, or lack thereof, will be seen in July, when Judge Sotomayor confirmation process before the Senate Judiciary Committee begins.

Related Articles:

Sotomayor, Latinos e Inmigracin

Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearings to Test GOP

A Latina Supreme Court Judge Could Soothe Hispanics

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