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Groups urge federal judge not to 'block' first Latino to sit on upstate N.Y. court

National Hispanic groups sent a letter to a U.S. district judge who reversed his decision to step back after President Joe Biden nominated Jorge Alberto Rodriguez to replace him.

Latino civic groups worry that actions taken by a federal judge are interfering with efforts to appoint the first Latino judge to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

Some of the nation’s most prominent Latino legal and civil rights organizations have expressed their concerns in an open letter sent to U.S. District Judge David Hurd Monday, a month after he reversed course on his decision to step back from the bench upon learning that Assistant Attorney General Jorge Alberto Rodriguez could replace him.

“We urge you to reconsider your decision to effectively block the appointment of Mr. Rodriguez — a highly qualified judicial candidate who would also make history," said Latinos for a Fair Judiciary, LatinoJustice, Voto Latino, League of United Latin American Citizens, MALDEF and Mi Familia Vota in their joint letter to Hurd, further expressing their "deep concern and bewilderment" over his actions.

Hurd initially announced his plans to take senior status, a type of semi-retirement for long-serving federal judges over 65 in which they agree to hear a reduced number of cases, in a letter sent to President Joe Biden on Nov. 1, 2021.

Hurd, 85, intended to take senior status "effective upon the confirmation of my successor," he wrote on his letter to Biden. "I look forward to providing substantial judicial service as a senior judge."

On July 13, Biden nominated Rodriguez, who has served in the Office of the Attorney General of New York since 2014, to succeed Hurd.

Rodriguez, 43, would have become the first Hispanic judge to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York upon confirmation, according to the White House.

An estimated 7% of all current federal judges in the U.S. are Latino, even though Latinos make up 19% of the nation’s population.

But Rodriguez's chances at making history were crushed when Hurd sent another letter to Biden a day after the president nominated Rodriguez.

"I immediately rescind my decision to take senior status," Hurd wrote in a July 14 letter to Biden. “I will take senior status if a confirmed successor lives in this area and is permanently assigned to the United States Courthouse in Utica, New York.”

According to the letter, Hurd seemed to have taken issue with Rodriguez's nomination because he is based in Albany, not in Utica, where Hurd's judicial chamber is located.

"Otherwise, I shall remain on full-time active status until I retire or die," Hurd concluded in his letter.

“Hurd’s pretextual demands about where Mr. Rodriguez resides are baffling and inappropriate,” Andrea Nill Sanchez, executive director of Latinos for a Fair Judiciary, said in a statement blasting “Hurd’s decision to exploit his lifetime tenure to block the appointment of a highly qualified Latino to fill his seat."

"We call on Judge Hurd to stop holding Mr. Rodriguez’s nomination hostage and make way for a new generation of jurists,” Sanchez said.

Hurd did not respond to email and telephone messages with his chambers seeking comment.

Rodriguez's nomination was part of a larger plan from the Biden administration to "continue to fulfill the President’s promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country — both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds," according to a White House news release last month.

In the letter sent to Hurd, Sanchez and other Latino civic group leaders argued that Rodriguez embodies such values since he's involved in the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association "where he joins his colleagues to promote racial and ethnic diversity within the legal profession throughout Saratoga, Albany, Schenectady, and Rensselaer counties — all of which fall within the jurisdiction of the N.D.N.Y."

Latino civic leaders also praised Rodriguez's work representing New York "in important civil litigation in matters related to education, public health, law enforcement, civil rights, and criminal justice."

“His dedication to the people of New York has been demonstrated in his nearly two decades in both private practice and public service," they said.

Before serving as assistant attorney general, Rodriguez worked as an associate for two different law firms in New York City and Albany between 2005 and 2014. He received a law degree from Vanderbilt University in 2004, according to the White House.

The White House did not respond to an email requesting comment following Hurd's decision to remain in his seat.

During his first year in office, Biden appointed an unprecedented number of women and people of color to the bench, according to a report from the Brookings Institute published on January. Of his 41 appointees, 78% were women, 29% were Black, 17% were Asian American, 15% were Hispanic and 2% were Native American.

Only 151 of more than 3,400 federal judges have been of Latino heritage since 1789,  according to Federal Judicial Center data.

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