The disagreement among Hispanics over whether to support Miguel Estrada for a federal appeals court slot is so strident that the National Council of La Raza has called for both sides to cool down.
“While NCLR remains neutral on the nomination itself, we urge those who are engaging in name-calling and accusatory language to instead focus on the substantive issues and merits of this nomination,” the group said in a statement. “Since the Latino community is clearly divided on the Estrada nomination, we find the accusation that one side or another is ‘anti-Latino’ to be particularly divisive and inappropriate.”
The plea for civility from the nation’s largest constituency-based Hispanic organization underscores the deep division in the Hispanic community over whether to support Mr. Estrada, whom President Bush has nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
As the Senate debates the nomination, Democrats continued yesterday to block Republican efforts to hold a vote in the full chamber to confirm the nominee. Democrats say Mr. Estrada was not forthcoming in a committee hearing about his beliefs and opinions. They want internal memos from Mr. Estrada’s time at the Solicitor General’s Office under the Clinton and former Bush administrations.
Democrats yesterday also blocked votes in the Judiciary Committee on two appellate nominees until the end of the month. However, one judge, Jeffrey Sutton, won recommendation from the panel, 11-8, to be a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
As for Mr. Estrada, Republicans will use next week’s scheduled recess to renew their push for the confirmation of Mr. Estrada in part by stepping up attention in the Spanish-language press and home-state newspapers of Democratic senators. And both sides have held rallies with Hispanic lawmakers and interest groups to make their case.
All five Republican Hispanic members of Congress support the Estrada nomination.
“The excuses that are used against him would be funny if they weren’t serious,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican. He recounted Mr. Estrada’s background of having come to the United States from Honduras at the age of 17 speaking little English, and then graduating from Columbia University and Harvard Law School with honors.
Mr. Diaz-Balart and other Hispanics said Mr. Estrada’s early experience is one many Hispanics can relate to, and his achievement is something they can point to.
“For people that barely speak Spanish, who were born in this country, to use the reason that they object to Mr. Estrada that he’s not Hispanic enough is, frankly, pretty ridiculous,” Mr. Diaz-Balart said.
But the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made up of 20 Democratic members of the House, unanimously opposes the nomination.
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, Texas Democrat and the head of the caucus panel that reviews judicial nominees, said the issue is not that Mr. Estrada wasn’t “Hispanic enough,” but that he hasn’t involved himself in Hispanic organizations. Nor has Mr. Estrada paid attention to issues important to Hispanics.
As an example, caucus members said Mr. Estrada was unaware that anti-loitering laws can be used to discriminate against Hispanics.
“We found that his answers were totally and completely lacking, somewhat evasive,” said Mr. Gonzalez, a former Texas judge. “But even when he pointedly discussed an issue, it did not reflect that type of sensitivity and understanding that we believe would work in the interest of all minorities throughout this country, but especially the Latino community.”
As for interest groups, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Foundation and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, are opposed to Mr. Estrada. The League of United Latin American Citizens is supportive, as is the Hispanic National Bar Association.
“At a time when both parties are really reaching out to the Hispanic community, it’s fascinating to see different voices and leadership teams vying for the title as representative of the broad community,” said Adam J. Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.
Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based Democratic pollster who has conducted prominent surveys of Hispanic voters, said he doesn’t see the Estrada nomination swaying Hispanic voters one way or another.
“I have a gut feeling that because there has been so little coverage of the issue by the Spanish-language media there is really not much of a reward or a punishment for either party,” he said.
But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, this week predicted “dramatic political fallout” as “much of the debate has centered around the fact that he is Hispanic, that there are certain people saying that he is not Hispanic enough.”
And former Rep. Herman Badillo, New York Republican, said he has seen coverage of Mr. Estrada in Spanish-language papers and said the issue could come back to hurt certain lawmakers, such as Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who has led the fight against the nomination.
“Schumer got about over 80 percent of the Hispanic vote the last time he ran. He’s not going to get it this time,” Mr. Badillo said. “If there are other senators who follow Senator Schumer’s lead, those senators, if they come from states that have a large Hispanic community, are going to regret it this year.”
But Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota, said he doesn’t see Republicans being able to find an issue to use with Hispanic voters.
“It’s not much of an issue when you’ve got the Hispanic Caucus, and those who otherwise would be very much in favor of diversity and supportive of Hispanic candidates, on the other side. So I’m not sure where the issue is here,” he said.