For The Next Justice, Let's Have A Latino

Gabriela Lemus

Dr. Gabriela Lemus is the executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Courtesy of Hector Sanchez hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Hector Sanchez
Hector Sanchez

Hector Sanchez is the director of policy and research for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Courtesy of Hector Sanchez hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Hector Sanchez

There are a number of issues to consider when replacing Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court, but the opportunity to diversify the bench by appointing a Latino is particularly compelling. Never in its 220-year history has a Latino sat on that bench.

The judicial branch is the least diverse of the three branches of government. Only four percent of federal judges are of Hispanic-origin. And, the current Supreme Court is one of the least diverse in history. Of the nine justices, eight are men. All were on appeals courts. Six of them graduated from Harvard Law School and only one of them is a person of color.

It is not just about having a Latino on the Supreme Court for the sake of it. It is about having someone on the highest court who can speak about the law as it affects Latinos and do so with the empathy and authority that can only come from first-hand experience.

The urgency to appoint a Latino stems from the unique challenges that Latinos — both U.S. citizens and immigrants — face today: a steady rise in human and civil rights violations; the rapid growth in detentions and subsequent criminalization of the community; invalid deportations; a drastic increase in hate crimes; a growing tide of racial profiling by local police; and de facto exclusion and bias in the public-policy and political arenas.

But, this is not about politics. The Supreme Court plays a central role in the legitimacy of the country, and the fact that we have never had a Latino hurts democracy. A diverse judiciary would increase public confidence in the legal system. It would also more subtly increase respect for the law by reducing the visible bias against minorities and by providing role models for minority children.

And, there is a significant pool of candidates from which to draw — a deep bench of women and people of color with strong legal qualifications, integrity and the judicial temperament necessary to make it through Senate confirmation.

If President Obama were to appoint a Latino or a Latina, it would send a powerful message similar to the one sent in 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. Until he retired, Marshall strove to protect the rights of all citizens, but particularly the voiceless. A little more than 50 years later, President Obama can break barriers once again. Our nation is stronger because of its diversity, but not always sensitive to injustice. This is not just a fight for Latinos, it is a fight for the heart of the entire nation.

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