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Latino advocacy groups split over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh

Some groups are troubled by Kavanaugh's record on immigration and women's reproductive rights, while conservatives see him as a solid jurist.
by Raul A. Reyes /
Image: President Trump and his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh talk at announcement event in East Room of the White House in Washington
Pres. Donald Trump and his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh talk during an announcement event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018.JIM BOURG / Reuters

With Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh set for Sept. 4, Latino advocacy groups are voicing support, opposition and concerns regarding his Supreme Court nomination. Some Hispanic organizations view Kavanaugh, 53, as a judge with a troubling record on issues like immigration and women’s reproductive rights, while others praise him as a solid jurist with strong credentials.

A July Quinnipiac poll found that Hispanics were divided about Kavanaugh’s nomination; 38 percent of Latinos said that the Senate should not confirm him, while 37 percent said that the Senate should confirm him. One-quarter of Latinos said they didn’t know. In the coming weeks, groups like Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary intend to engage the Latino community about what is at stake with President Donald Trump’s second nominee for the high court.

“Any nominee put forward by Trump begins with suspicion over his head, because this president is plainly anti-Latino and racist, and has pursued policies and used rhetoric that reflects that,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of Maldef (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund).

While Maldef has not yet taken an official position on Kavanaugh’s nomination, Saenz outlined several concerns. “There are troubling indications, in some of his decisions, that Kavanaugh does not appreciate the continuing context of racial discrimination in the country, and therefore could view civil rights issues from a skewed perspective that is not accurately informed.”

There is controversy surrounding Kavanaugh because hundreds of thousands of documents from his tenure in the George W. Bush White House may not be released until October. Saenz believes that the public has a right to see these papers before any confirmation vote. Viewing a Supreme Court nominee’s full record is essential, he noted, because justices serve a lifetime term.

Latino advocates said that issues like health care, affirmative action, criminal justice and the Census all matter when evaluating a potential Supreme Court justice. Immigration cases testing the constitutionality of DACA and family detention could come before the court in the near future as well. Given the growth of the Hispanic population, many voting and civil rights cases in the future will likely center on Latinos.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a legal advocacy group, pointed to the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation into possible collusion by members of the president’s campaign staff.

“While the president himself may not be targeted, the way Trump has attacked law enforcement agencies and the disdain he has shown for the judiciary, make me suspect he picked a nominee who would decide the question of an indictment of a president in his favor,” said Cartagena.

He said Kavanaugh’s past decisions indicate that he is often in favor of broad discretion and immunity for actions taken by police on the job, and that he usually rules against workers’ rights and immigrants’ rights.

As a judge on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh dissented from a decision in Garza v. Hargan (2017) that allowed an undocumented minor in immigration detention to obtain an abortion. In 2012, he voted to uphold a South Carolina Voter ID law. In 2011, he dissented from a decision that upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cartagena wrote, “The president’s selection of Judge Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy may well destroy many of the civil rights victories that have been won in the last half a century.” Based on a review of Kavanaugh’s record, LatinoJustice PRLDEF does not support his nomination.

But conservative Latino groups are lining up behind Kavanaugh. They say that he can be trusted to set aside any personal biases, show respect for precedent and fairly apply the law.

“We believe that Kavanaugh will be a staunch defender of constitutional liberties, will keep government power in check and will not create new laws based on political pressure,” said Daniel Garza, president of the Libre Initiative.

Garza is not troubled by the lack of access to Kavanaugh’s White House records. “He’s going through the same process as other nominees, and senators will have the chance to talk to him one on one.” Nor is Garza concerned by the prospect of Kavanaugh being part of a court that strikes down the Affordable Care Act. “Millions of Latinos want to weaken or eliminate Obamacare; I know that because we are trying to do that.”

There will be plenty of opportunities for the public to get to know Kavanaugh, Garza explained, and to make their own judgment about him.

The Latino Coalition, a group that promotes the business interests of the Hispanic community, has urged the Senate to quickly confirm Kavanaugh. “When you look at his track record, education and temperament, he is qualified to be an effective Supreme Court justice,” said chairman Hector Barreto.

To Barreto, Kavanaugh’s confirmation process will be a good opportunity for Hispanics to see how the process works and to learn about Trump’s nominee. He views Kavanaugh favorably because he has connections to current justices. “He clerked for Justice Kennedy, went to school with Gorsuch and did projects with Kagan. So there is some collegiality already present, which is a good thing.”

Kavanaugh has also drawn praise from conservative Latinos for his character and volunteer work.

José Calderón , president of the Hispanic Federation, sees myriad reasons to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination: the fact that the confirmation process is being, in his view, rushed instead of deliberative; that Kavanaugh would be replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often a swing vote on the court; and that he finds many of Kavanaugh’s positions to be extreme.

“This is not just about Trump,” Calderón emphasized. “We would oppose this nomination if it came from Obama. It is about everything at stake for us as a community, especially the role that the Supreme Court has traditionally played in protecting the rights of all Americans.”

Calderón is undeterred by some observers who say that, given the political makeup in the Senate, Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a foregone conclusion. “As advocates, as members of a community that faces incredible challenges, we won’t operate in self-defeatism,” he said. “We believe that people have the power to affect things, and that informed citizens can make a difference.”

“We don’t have the luxury of giving up and staying home, caving to what others may call political reality,” he added. “The social justice movement has always been about long odds.”

Raul A. Reyes is an NBC Latino contributor. Follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, and on Instagram at @raulareyes1.

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