- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Democrats’ real triumph in the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor came long before they secured the necessary votes for her approval (“Senate has commitments to OK Sotomayor,” Nation, Tuesday). The masterstroke came three months ago, when the Democrats managed to link the Sotomayor nomination to a referendum on Hispanics in America.

Judge Sotomayor’s nomination has galvanized the Hispanic community. Spanish-language media sources sing her praises to an extent not seen in English-language media. In interviews, everyday citizens cast Judge Sotomayor in heroic terms. The theme is always the same: Judge Sotomayor’s nomination means that the Latino community has “made it.” By implication, criticism of her jurisprudence or legal ability is portrayed as detrimental to the Latino cause.

Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they resist a far-left nominee with activist leanings, they risk alienating the Latino vote. If they allow Judge Sotomayor to get through, Democrats have delivered the Latino electorate a resounding success.

The irony of the situation is that, absent Democratic stonewalling in 2001, Judge Sotomayor might not have been the first Latina Supreme Court candidate. That honor might have gone to Miguel Estrada, a Honduran-born Latino who had served as assistant to the solicitor general in the 1990s. In 2001, President George W. Bush nominated Mr. Estrada to a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is commonly viewed as a feeder for the Supreme Court. Mr. Estrada was a rising legal star, having graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and serving as assistant u.s. attorney. However, the Democrats filibustered Mr. Estrada’s appointment for six months, and he ultimately withdrew his nomination.

Republicans could have made Mr. Estrada every bit the Latino hero that Judge Sotomayor has become. In fact, Democrats criticized the Estrada nomination as a maneuver to get a Latino on the Supreme Court. In 2003, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick attacked “the Bush administration’s effort to court Hispanic voters by positioning a Hispanic-American for a Supreme Court slot. This is pandering … and it might be permissible pandering if Bush would just cop to it and admit that he wants to put a Hispanic judge on the high court because race matters in America.”

The Republicans missed their chance, and Latinos will not soon forget that it was the Democrats who appointed the first Hispanic justice. With Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation, the Democrats have secured not only a judicial victory; they have achieved a resounding political one as well.

FRANK WALSH

Chevy Chase

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