The unswoon-worthy Latino

Posted: July 17, 2009

ONE person's Great American Success Story is another's irrelevant footnote. All depends on who's telling the tale.

Example: Child of Latino immigrants overcomes adversity, works hard, makes it to the Ivy League, then the law review and rises to the highest echelons of the legal profession.

Child-turned-accomplished adult gets tapped for a prestigious federal judgeship. And Democrats wage a bitter battle against the nomination, up to and including the rarely used filibuster.

Nomination rejected. Justice denied.

Sonia Sotomayor obviously wasn't that ill-fated Hispanic, even though her own personal narrative is almost identical to that of Miguel Estrada, George W. Bush's pick for the D.C. court of appeals.

In 2001, Estrada was vilified by liberals in the Senate (and those in the Hispanic Bar Association, which refused to endorse him) because of his conservative views on a wide range of issues.

They knew Estrada would have been on the express train to the Supreme Court if he made it to the appellate bench. And they absolutely, categorically refused to release their stranglehold on the "noble immigrant" stereotype - because Estrada was a conservative, an in-your-face challenge to the conventional wisdom that immigrants in general (and Latinos in particular) are liberal Democrats.

So the Great American Story of a Honduran who came to the U.S. at age 17 speaking no English, but who ended up on Harvard's law review was reduced to a historical asterisk, while the story of a girl born to parents who came to the Bronx from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, moves Sen. Charles Schumer to tears and his liberal colleagues to simpering praise.

Sotomayor will be confirmed.

Conservatives simply don't have the votes to block her. That's expected. One of the prizes at stake in the last election was the right to appoint the next Supreme Court nominee. To the winner goes the judicial spoils. And yes, she has the academic pedigree. She also has more judicial experience than any of the sitting justices had before they were appointed.

She's nominally qualified, even though her performance at the hearings this week was less than impressive. The GOP got her to disavow her "wise Latina" comment, she tiptoed around the empathy controversy, and she avoided giving anything but marshmallow answers on abortion, the death penalty and other hot-button topics. The wise Latina became the cautious Latina.

But apparently, for President Obama and his party, the most important thing is that she is, in fact, Latina.

Pity that the liberals didn't feel the same about Miguel "the smart Latino" Estrada.

That's why the Democrats should drop the "isn't-it-wonderful-that-a-Hispanic-is-going-to-be-on-the-court?" mantra. To them, there's only one legitimate type of diversity: Your ethnicity, not how you think.

Janice Rogers Brown saw it. This African-American daughter of a sharecropper who made it to the California Supreme Court was almost denied her rightful place on the D.C. court of appeals - the same spot denied Estrada - because she had the audacity to defy the liberal orthodoxy. She was pro-life. Pro-business. Pro-government. Fortunately, the Dems didn't have the numbers to block her in 2005.

And don't forget Clarence Thomas, the whipping boy of "enlightened" legal scholars ever since his elevation to the high court almost two decades ago. Thomas has one of the finest, most nuanced minds on the court. He's also had the courage to attack affirmative action, recognizing its constitutional dubiousness and the fact that it harms minorities, as well as people like . . . white firefighters.

For his honesty, he's been labeled an Uncle Tom. Because any minority who criticizes affirmative action must be trapped in a plantation mentality, right?

You can be sure that Sotomayor won't attract that type of criticism. She's the "right" kind, one who makes liberals feel good about their "progressive" politics and their tolerance.

SHE'S HORATIO Alger with salsa, an example of what hard work and high aspirations can accomplish. But they find it easy to ignore those minorities who didn't memorize the liberal playbook - including Appeals Court Judge Jose Cabranes, who strongly criticized fellow Puerto Rican Sotomayor for the intellectually shallow decision she signed on to in the firefighters case.

So while the Dems and some like-minded Republicans are praising Sotomayor to the heavens for that incredible immigrant backstory, they might want to hide their blushing faces from the camera.

Hypocrisy looks bad in high def.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.


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