Friday, August 7, 2009

There’s one thing about defining moments — they tend to, well, define you. With the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, it is critically important to underscore to everyone that this is one of those moments.

While her confirmation to the Supreme Court is a proud and historic moment for Latinos everywhere, it is also a watershed moment for the Republican Party. It has the potential to define your relationship with our community.

Judge Sotomayor’s nomination has captured the energy and aspirations of millions of Latinos throughout the United States. Her journey from a public housing project in the Bronx to the nation’s highest court is a remarkable one — a truly American story. And we are proud that it is our story, too. We all share in the American Dream.

A remarkable woman who has been nominated to serve on the federal bench by a Republican president and elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals by a Democratic president, Judge Sotomayor has spent more time on the federal bench than any sitting Supreme Court Justice. She should have been a shoo-in for the high court. Except she’s wasn’t.

First there was that ugly exchange by a number of conservative commentators following her nomination by President Obama where she was called a “racist.” I was gratified that a number of Republicans, in particular, Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mel Martinez of Florida, stepped forward to restore some civility to the debate over her nomination. Still, civility should be the standard in the Senate’s chambers.

Then there was talk of delaying her nomination. And again, I was gratified that cooler heads prevailed. But why should her nomination be delayed in the first place? Shouldn’t we expect a timely process for filling such an important position?

I have to say, if that’s your contribution to this historic moment, frankly, we expected more. Much more.

Now we hear that her confirmation is a “throwaway vote,” that no one will remember how Republicans voted for a Supreme Court nominee. The thinking is that there is no downside to casting a vote against Judge Sotomayor. There is.

This is a big moment for the Latino community. We are united on this, and we are paying attention.

That unity should have been compelling, for we are far from a monolithic group. We are a politically diverse people who have historically voted in strong numbers for both parties.

Over the past two years, however, a number of issues have brought the Latino community together: health care, education and immigration reform. And as a voting block, we are finally coming of age. We had a historic impact on the last election, where Latino votes redrew the road map to the American presidency. This can only suggest that we will continue to play an even more critical role in the future of this country’s politics.

The Republican Party is at a crossroads regarding the Latino community. One step in the right direction would have been to contribute to this wonderful and historic moment. You should have joined us in celebrating the addition of such a well-qualified and compelling voice on the court. And we congratulate those senators who did. Your vote will be remembered.

Janet Murguia, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino advocacy organization in the United States.

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