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Latino groups push Biden to appoint more Hispanic federal judges

Several leading Latin American civil and legal rights groups are pushing for more Hispanic federal judicial candidates, saying President Joe Biden’s first list of judicial candidates, which includes a Latina, is “unacceptable” and that she is not responding to her statement that federal courts “should reflect the full diversity of the American people.”

Biden’s list includes three African-American women chosen for vacant appellate court positions, a man believed to be the first American Muslim federal district judge in U.S. history, and court candidate Regina Rodriguez. District of Colorado. The announcement was hailed in the media and by progressive groups as “revolutionary”.

The sentiment was not shared by several Latin American civil rights leaders.

“The fact that the administration has chosen to deploy this first group without more Latinos is testament to the low priority of Latinos for them,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, the Mexican legal defense fund and education in the United States. “We are the biggest racial or ethnic group, and we get the least? We cannot accept this.

Saenz and Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said in a joint statement: “We are extremely disappointed that the President has included only one member of the Latin American community in this first group of candidates for election. our federal courts. This level of under-representation is wholly unacceptable as Latinos have been the largest minority group in this country since 2003 and Latino voters are as responsible as any group of voters for Biden’s narrow election victory. .

The Biden administration is eager to make its mark on the justice system, especially after President Donald Trump placed more than 200 judges in federal courts.

According to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, as of May 2020, Latinos made up 6% of appellate judges and 7% of district judges. In contrast, Latinos make up about 18% of the American population.

Five of the 13 federal appeals courts do not have active Hispanic judges, and the DC appeals court has never had a Latino judge. The DC court is particularly important because it often deals with administrative and constitutional law, and it is seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

“It’s important to have Latinx judges because perspective matters, and Latinos are disproportionately represented among those who are drawn into the federal criminal justice system.” Cartagena told NBC News. Appeals court judges, he said, are important because appeals courts are a step below the Supreme Court.

Saenz said the administration missed an opportunity to send a message about including Latinos in the justice system. “It was the first list of nominees. No other list will garner as much attention except Supreme Court appointments. Yet they wrote a message that virtually shut us out.

Saenz noted that the administration did not include any Latinos in its initial announcement of candidates for leadership positions at the Justice Department.

Rodriguez is called ‘uniquely qualified’

The National Hispanic Bar Association said in a statement that although it was proud to have endorsed Rodriguez this year because of his legal qualifications, commitment to equal opportunity and contributions to his community , his support came with a caveat.

“We must note that she is the only Hispanic candidate among the top eleven judicial candidates in this administration,” said Bar President Elia Diaz-Yaeger. “If this administration is truly committed to ensuring that our courts reflect the communities they serve, it will need to nominate more Hispanic candidates.”

Rodriguez, a graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado Law School, a partner in a business law firm, worked as an assistant lawyer in the United States for Colorado. She is of Mexican and Japanese descent (her mother’s family was sent to an internment camp in Wyoming during WWII).

Rodriguez was appointed to the federal bench in 2016 by President Barack Obama, but Republicans in Congress declined a hearing. This time around, some progressive voices argued that she was a corporate lawyer, not someone whose “legal backgrounds have been historically under-represented,” as Biden’s transition team put it. in December.

The Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association endorsed Rodriguez’s nomination, citing his professional accolades and community involvement.

“She is uniquely qualified to take on the role of federal judge and immediately begin to make an impact,” said Jonathan Booker, president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association. He said Rodriguez represented four children detained at the border and she represented the Hispanic Bar Association of Colorado in a congressional redistribution lawsuit.

“We couldn’t be prouder that she received the nomination,” he said.

It’s not about diversity, it’s about ‘fairness’

Saenz said that a list with more Latin American representation could have had a ripple effect in other areas where Latinos are under-represented, such as media and entertainment. “We don’t just need diversity – we need equity, a concept that recognizes the relative size and importance of our population.”

Cartagena said having more Latino judges is important for visibility. “When you’re a group that doesn’t see yourself in the halls of power, it can make a difference.” He cited Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as a positive role model for young people to see themselves in the legal profession and in the justice system.

Cartagena said: “Can all of this be fixed? Yes. Should we expect the Biden administration to probably do better in the future? Yes. But should we be silent now? No.”

Biden is expected to announce more judicial candidates in the coming weeks.

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