Obama Backtracks on Progressive Civil Rights Chief

The New York Times calls out President Barack Obama for "flinching" in his choice to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

In January, Obama offered the job to well-respected civil rights lawyer Thomas Saenz of Los Angeles. Saenz had an impressive resume:

Mr. Saenz, the former top litigator in Los Angeles for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ....was a leader of the successful fight to block California’s Proposition 187, an unconstitutional effort to deny social services and schooling to illegal immigrants. He has defended Latino day laborers who were targets of misguided local crackdowns, from illegal police stings to unconstitutional anti-solicitation ordinances.

What happened? [More...]

An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily slimed Mr. Saenz by calling him “an open-borders extremist” and said Maldef wanted to give California back to Mexico.

Apparently, Obama couldn't or wouldn't take the heat.

Mr. Saenz was ditched in favor of Maryland’s labor secretary, Thomas Perez, who has a solid record but is not as closely tied to immigrant rights.

Immigrants rights advocates are justly disappointed:

Immigrant advocates are stuck with the sinking feeling that Mr. Obama’s supposed enthusiasm for immigration reform will wilt under pressure and heat. Representative Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, found it sadly unsurprising that a lawyer could be rejected for the nation’s top civil-rights job because he had stood up for civil rights. “In what other position do you find that your life experience, your educational knowledge and commitment to an issue actually hurts you?” he asked.

And the $64 million dollar question: How is he going to fulfull his campaign promise of providing a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented residents among us if he kow-tows to the right wing extremists? As the Times says,

[Obama has] to confront and dismantle the core restrictionist argument: that being an illegal immigrant is an unpardonable crime, one that strips away fundamental protections and forgives all manner of indecent treatment.

The Constitution’s bedrock protections do not apply to just the native-born. The suffering that illegal immigrants endure — from raids to workplace exploitation to mistreatment in detention — is a civil-rights crisis. It cannot be left to fester while we wait for the big immigration bill that may or may not arrive under this president.

Mr. Saenz was a great choice. Too bad Obama caved in and didn't follow through with his nomination.

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    not to be cynical or anything, (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by cpinva on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 12:28:50 AM EST
    but is it possible there's another reason pres. obama dropped mr. saenz from consideration, something we maybe haven't heard about just yet? maybe something that would make it impossible for him to be confirmed, should his position require it?

    just wondering.

    What a lot of people don't get about (5.00 / 5) (#6)
    by inclusiveheart on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 07:43:29 AM EST
    the immigration debate is that the obsession with "illegals" also puts the rights of plenty of citizens at risk.  MALDEF - Mexican American Legal Defenses and Education Fund was founded to address civil rights abuses by our government against American citizens who happened to be of Mexican descent.  Many of those families have lived in the same place for hundreds of years.  They didn't come to America - America came to them.  This fight is much bigger than simply how those who have immigrated to this country are treated under our system.  It is actually as much about citizen's rights too because all too often citizens get swept up in these programs to catch undocumented workers and in the efforts to deny them protections under the law based solely on their ethnicity.

    I understand the politics of the situation.  It is hardly an easy prospect in a time of such intense economic downturn to consider selling the American people on the idea of accepting and adopting more people when they have been so conditioned to believe that these people are "taking their jobs" or that they are "stealing government services".  But I thought Obama sold himself as a teacher and he talked at length about the team of rivals and it is disappointing that he seems to be excluding "liberal" (for lack of a better term) voices in a number of areas.  What would the harm be in having your head of the civil rights division be more intensely committed to civil rights than some others given how few people in Washington are these days?  Its just one guy in a sea of people who often don't care or are openly hostile to the concept.  I thought we were going to get some "new voices" in the debate - see new perspectives - that would fullfil that promise of at least teaching - how much they could push the action in another direction would obviously be questionable in this environment - but at least we might be able to start to have a more intelligent conversation about the issue.

    It is depressing to think that poisoning hundreds of miles of border plant life is somehow more acceptable than really caring about civil rights.

    I think we will be seeing this kind (5.00 / 4) (#8)
    by Anne on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 08:56:15 AM EST
    of thing over and over, where Obama just cannot seem to bring himself to commit to a position and then to stick around and fight for it.  For reasons I do not understand, he appears to believe that he is uniquely qualified to be the first president who can come up with solutions that will please everyone, and while being open to all points of view is admirable, not recognizing that all of those views cannot be accommodated is going to be the death knell for solutions to some very pressing problems.

    As much as I would like to see progress made in the areas of immigration and health care and education and energy - among others -  if what we could end up with is an unworkable mess of competing ideologies, I would almost rather that the effort not be made.  


    I agree about unworkable messes (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by inclusiveheart on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:28:07 AM EST
    born out of compromise - but I also see great value in broader debate in the process of problem-solving.  I could make the case that the Obama Administration has tended towards excluding voices from the "left" on several fronts which basically means that he isn't really open to looking for a consensus view of a particular issue.  Teaming up Geithner and Summers as opposed to say Geithner and Steglitz is a clear decision to go with a unified group who fall into a more centerist/conservative ideological arena rather than going with a group where the views are more diversified is a good example.

    As I pointed out above, we are talking about just one guy here who would only be the head of a division.  We aren't talking Attorney General.  It is surprising that at that level Obama doesn't feel confident about stabbing out into more liberal territory.  It is disappointing really that after all this talk of a team of rivals he may not feel comfortable defending the idea of adding a more liberal voice even at what is really a fairly low level in terms of appointments.


    First, let me just say that I am not (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by Anne on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 10:06:48 AM EST
    opposed to compromise in and of itself; there are times when it makes sense.  

    For some reason, I think Obama thinks that by virtue of being a Democrat, he somehow adequately represents the liberal point of view, and believes he is building consensus just by bringing the moderates/conservatives onto his team, and actively seeking to hear from the Republicans.

    The problem is that he is not a liberal - not even close to being a liberal - and all these right-leaning voices are going to do is end up moving him even more to the right.  That he is still talking about "fixing" Social Security and entitlements and looking for bipartisan solutions to health care, and getting a little too wobbly on abortion, tells me that he is a believer and his team is not questioning him, they are agreeing with him and with each other.

    I do think it's time to lay the whole "Team of Rivals" concept to rest - that's just not happening; so much for being the new Lincoln, huh?


    Your first paragraph hit me in the gut (5.00 / 4) (#17)
    by sj on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:43:00 AM EST
    That's my Dad you're talking about.  Born in NM into the land grant disputes, I honestly don't know how many generations we go back.  A lot.  But Spanish was his first language.

    I remember as a child listening to him rail bitterly about Virginia (of no last name), the secretary of the Union Hall, who would assign the next job to the the next white guy (bypassing Spanish surnames on the list) unless the Spanish guys were actually sitting in the hall when the call came in.

    For years, I thought we were past that.  Now I see that were he in the work force now, he would very possibly be one of those rounded up in these raids based solely on his accent.  It makes me so heartsick.  

    Rights can never be taken for granted.  You fight to gain them, then fight to keep them.

    This is a big deal for me.


    Amen I-heart re civil rights abuses (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by DFLer on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:50:05 AM EST
    against citizens of Hispanic descent as the issue.

    Recently aired program on PBS about the history and struggle expanded my knowledge.

    Program included a history of the Hernandez v. Texas SCOTUS case, the "Brown v Board..." equivalent seminal case for hispanic civil rights. That I knew nothing about previously, I'm ashamed to say.


    Many were deported (none / 0) (#21)
    by Cream City on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 10:06:55 AM EST
    in the Depression, many citizens of Mexican descent -- as you no doubt know, but we all need to be on alert in this economic downturn now for such abuses again.  

    It's too early (none / 0) (#3)
    by Mikeb302000 on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 04:12:55 AM EST
    It's too early to write Obama off.  I feel comfortable giving him the benefit of the doubt. It will all become clear.

    BUT (none / 0) (#7)
    by downtownted on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 08:39:18 AM EST
    what would we be saying about President McCain's choice?

    Mike: agree, don't write the Pres off. (none / 0) (#12)
    by DFLer on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:24:23 AM EST
    but do keep the pressure on, heh?

    It will all become clear? (none / 0) (#28)
    by Anne on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 03:19:01 PM EST
    I'm sorry, but I HATE this kind of magical thinking.  Hate it.

    Sometimes, a bad plan is just a bad plan, and is not really a masterful head-fake designed to distract us while the really good plan is implemented behind the scenes.

    Sometimes, that stuff in the corner is just a pile of horse poop, and there is no pony under it.

    I agree that it is too soon to write Obama off, but he is wasting valuable time playing chief Wall Street protector and imagining that his budget will take care of us little people.


    If Obama is scared (none / 0) (#4)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 05:14:34 AM EST
    off by one editorial from IBD, then what does that portend for the future?  If it that easy then Putin is salavating, as I said months ago.  

    Me thinks the whole story is not out.  

    Who is the "Al Gore" of immigration? (none / 0) (#5)
    by Fabian on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 07:13:39 AM EST
    People justly laud Obama's choices for Energy...but I'm beginning to suspect those choices may be more Gore's choices than Obama's.  Kudos to Obama for listening to Al Gore's advice if that it is true.  (Who has been associated more with those nominees before November - Obama or Gore?)

    If Obama really does tend to lean on certain advisors, official and unofficial, then where is the "Al Gore" of immigration who has studied the problem thoroughly and worked through the results of various policies?

    We have far from enough information (none / 0) (#9)
    by Bemused on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 08:58:45 AM EST
     to accuse Obama from "kowtowing to right wing extremists." As "right-wing extremists," even broadly defined, do not control a majority of the Senate, it's fair to remain open to the possibility that Obama was informed that confirmation difficulties would arise due to opposition beyond that from "right-wing extremists."

      Perhaps, for some reason not explained here or by the Times, Obama surrendered to "right-wing extremists" and backed off nominating a man who could have been confirmed. it is at least equally plausible, though, that he backed off due to a lack of support among people who would not fairly be characterized as "right-wing extremists."

      It's probably better to wait until more is known to before making such accusations.

    You can see a pattern (none / 0) (#10)
    by SOS on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:20:58 AM EST
    emerging where nothing Obama does is satisfactory.

    Americans are so jacked up on bullsh*t they can't think clearly.

    Civil rights = bullsh*t now? (5.00 / 2) (#19)
    by Cream City on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 10:05:37 AM EST
    You unwittingly have written the saddest comment of all.

    Jacked up? (none / 0) (#13)
    by sj on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:27:18 AM EST
    Is it Amaericans, or is it Obama?  Is his work unsatisfactory because we're all stupid, or because his steps are unproductive?

    IBD certainly not the reason... (none / 0) (#11)
    by BigElephant on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:21:36 AM EST
    This IBD article is almost certainly not the reason for the change in nominee.  I'd expect the change to be related either to taxes, employing an illegal immigrant, or something else that would be hard for congress to swallow.  

    This article was clearly a hatchet job (give California back to Mexico... come'on), that I expect had absolutely no influence on his status.

    That's a relief (none / 0) (#15)
    by sj on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:28:23 AM EST
    Do you have evidence of this other issue that is hard for Congress to swallow?

    I don't see much evidence (none / 0) (#16)
    by Bemused on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 09:33:50 AM EST
     of anything yet. All we actually know is that Obama considered appointing a a young, activist, "outsider" with a known track record of supporting "liberal" immigration and naturalization and then changed to a  person who while hispanic is not closely identified with immigration and whose views, on that aspect of a job which includes considerably broader issues, are not as apparent from his job history.



    Well, (none / 0) (#22)
    by bocajeff on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 10:25:33 AM EST
    As a first generation American on both sides of my family I think I have something to add...

    My father waited 3 years to immigrate legally to the U.S. My mother waited 7 years to immigrate legally to the U.S. My mother-in-law waited 3 years. My brother-in-law (another side of the family) waited 4 years. My sister-in-law (opposite side of family) waited 4 years.

    Most of my family are Americans by choice and very proud of it.

    They are/were all liberal democrats. They are/were all for deporting any illegal immigrant/undocumented worker/undocumented immigrant back to their countries of origin where they could get back in line and wait their turn.

    The waits ought not be that long (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Cream City on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 10:37:23 AM EST
    as we are seeing now, going through the process for a future family member -- one who also will be contributing much to this country, with expertise and experience in an area that is exactly what Obama and liberals says that this country needs.

    Fine to have a process, but not to have it take years and years, often separating families.  I'm sorry that yours had to go through this.  And knowing that businesses can get around all this and get approvals in less than two weeks, paying an extra fee to get priority -- an option not available to others -- just shows what this really is all about and where our nation's priorities are.


    Your future family member (none / 0) (#25)
    by bocajeff on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 11:42:23 AM EST
    Well, according to "civil rights activists" your future family member is a sap for immigrating in an orderly (and legal) manner.

    While the United States doesn't need immigrants, I think we all benefit greatly from immigration...It just has to be orderly so the government knows what is going on in order to provide the best services for everyone.


    Yeh, the discussion (none / 0) (#26)
    by Cream City on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 12:23:44 PM EST
    on many boards by immigrants and their sponsors is interesting, back and forth on that.  But who wants to run the risk of deportation down the line. . . .

    The U.S. does need immigrants, though -- for the jobs that Americans don't want and, in the case of our future family member, for the jobs for which we don't have the expertise and experience because we are so behind in some energy technologies.  And, beyond the jobs argument, there are U.S. citizens who need to be reunited with those prospective immigrants whom they love.  

    Our laws are against love.  Let's think about that.


    That is crazy (2.00 / 1) (#27)
    by nyjets on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 01:35:53 PM EST
    "The U.S. does need immigrants, though -- for the jobs that Americans don't want.."

    I am sorry, that is crazy. Most of these jobs were done by American citizens until business realized that they could be done by illegals.

    "... jobs for which we don't have the expertise and experience because we are so behind in some energy technologies. "
    And that is wrong. People from other countries are coming to this country with work visa and stealing jobs from qualified American citizens.

    The simple fact of the matter is that there are not enough jobs in this country for citizens, let alone the illegal and legal immgrants that are coming to this country.


    And as for your second point (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by Cream City on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 05:54:56 PM EST
    -- wow, you don't even know which fields I'm discussing.  I do know what I'm talking about on this.  You do not.  Take your ignorance somewhere else.

    Nope, whodoyaknow (none / 0) (#29)
    by Cream City on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 05:53:52 PM EST
    wants a job mucking out stables?  I know several horse farms in my area that are having trouble finding help.  There really are some rotten jobs out there. . . .

    I prefer Obama To McCain (none / 0) (#23)
    by tokin librul on Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 10:31:03 AM EST
    like i prefer a tooth-ache to cancer...

    It's just that neither was or is a particularly good choice.

    It's funny to me that a fella from the islands can't seem to stand a little heat...