I’ve been waiting a long time to write this column.
To be precise, since September 4, 2003. Although not at the level of December 7, 1941, this date has gone down in my own private infamy. This was when Miguel Estrada, a brilliant attorney who rose from immigrant roots in Honduras to the ivy-covered halls of Harvard decided to withdraw his name from consideration for a judgeship.
And not just any judgeship. President Bush had nominated Estrada to a place on the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a traditional breeding ground for future Supreme Court justices (just ask Antonin Scalia.)
Not surprisingly, Estrada was conservative in his views. This posed a problem for the usual diversity-mongers, who were appalled to find out that this highly-qualified former immigrant who didn’t even speak English until he was 17 and ended up on Harvard’s law Review didn’t think like a liberal.
Enter the dissenters, among them the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the California Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. They didn’t want just any brown man on the court, which was admirable of them. They wanted their type of brown man, and a conservative just didn’t cut the salsa. Which was decidedly not admirable. As a lawyer I greatly admire once said to me, diversity of thought seems to be the only type of ‘diversity’ liberals don’t like.
And she’s a liberal.
So the critics pounded the poor man, and Democratic senators filibustered his nomination until he cried ‘tio.’ Which is a very great shame, for two reasons. First, it deprived the country of an admirable jurist, a Latino Horatio Alger who reached the highest echelons of the legal profession on talent alone.
More importantly, it taught conservatives that for all their opponents’ talk about wanting qualified minorities in office, there was an insidious litmus test that no one to the right of William Brennan could ever satisfy. It wasn’t enough to be bright. It wasn’t enough to shuck off burdens that would have crushed a lesser man. It certainly wasn’t enough to embody the immigrant dream. You had to do all that, and believe in affirmative action, abortion rights, same-sex marriage and a cornucopia of other goodies bequeathed to us by the living constitution.
And conservatives took note. It’s not as if they’d been sleeping since the Bork debacle two decades before, when Ronald Reagan’s choice for the Supreme Court was soundly rejected by the Senate because he was too conservative for contemporary tastes. But at least Bork had gotten an up or down vote. At least they’d extended him that courtesy.
Not with Miguel Estrada, and a number of other Bush nominees who languished for over two years in advise-and-consent limbo because the Democratic senators (and a few sympathetic Republicans) refused to seat a conservative.
Well, payback is rich (although not so swift.) This past Thursday, eight years after Estrada was forcibly retired before he even got the job, Barack Obama’s choice to sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was blocked by a Republican filibuster. Godwin Liu is, by all accounts, a very bright man. He is also an example of immigrant excellence, someone who was being groomed as the first Asian to sit on the high court. He has the obligatory ivy pedigree.
Sounds just like Miguel Estrada.
In fact, the only thing that differentiates Liu from Estrada is that the law professor from Berkeley is the liberal Ying to Estrada’s conservative Yang.
Liu believes that we should use foreign law when interpreting the American Constitution. These are some of the things he likes: abortion, gay marriage, racial quotas and, in some cases, reparations for slavery or as he calls it “making things right.”
And here is one very telling thing that he does not like: Samuel Alito’s ‘vision’ of America. This is how Liu described Alito at the hearings held on the Justice’s nomination in 2005: “[He sees a country] where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy ... where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep ... [and] where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man.”
This says a lot more about Godwin Liu than it does about Alito.
And that’s only one reason why the Senate was right to block his nomination.
Because whether you say it in Spanish or Mandarin, hypocrisy sounds the same.