Did Miguel Estrada Get "Preferential Treatment" All His Life?

Byron York writes:

In 2001, President George W. Bush nominated former Justice Department lawyer Miguel Estrada to a seat on the federal courts of appeals. . . . [S]ome of the very people who are today praising Sotomayor spent their time devising extraordinary measures to kill Estrada's chances. Born in Honduras, Estrada came to the United States at 17, not knowing a word of English. He learned the language almost instantly, and within a few years was graduating with honors from Columbia University and heading off to Harvard Law School. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, was a prosecutor in New York, and worked at the Justice Department in Washington before entering private practice.

What Byron York will not acknowledge is that unlike Democratic opposition to Estrada, which was based on his ideology, not once did a Democrat or progressive say that Estrada lived a "privileged" life filled with "preferential treatment." Yet that is precisely what York's conservative cohorts have done to Sotomayor. When York confronts Michael Goldfarb, Fred Barnes, Bill Bennett, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Tom Tancredo and the rest of the despicable racialists in his Party, then come back and talk to us.

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    Crappy journalism (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by lilburro on Sat May 30, 2009 at 12:24:26 PM EST
    York bases his assertion that Dems blocked Estrada because he is Latino on PART of an anonymous staffer's quote.  K...

    Sure, Dems played politics with his nomination, but "playing politics" is different than throwing red meat to the racists in your party.  Nor was he blocked because he was an "unintelligent" Latino.  Or a "racist."

    But of course we all know about those racist organizations NARAL, the NAACP, People for the American Way...

    Um... (none / 0) (#2)
    by jnicola on Sat May 30, 2009 at 01:37:57 PM EST
    The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (now LatinoJustice), where Sotomayor sits on the board, stated that Estrada
    "has not lived the educationally or economically disadvantaged life his proponents would have others believe"..."has lived a very different life from that of most Latinos - a life isolated from their experience and concerns"..."Estrada comes from a well-established family in Honduras. His father was also a lawyer. Estrada studied in private schools. He was taught English as a second language. He was well educated by his family after graduating from high school. It is not at all surprising that in a year's time after arriving in New York, Estrada had charted a course through two of the most exclusive and expensive educational institutions in the world - Columbia University and Harvard Law School. This experience is certainly not that of the hundreds of thousands of Central American immigrants who have come to this country to escape poverty, political repression or natural catastrophe."

    Robert Menendez said that

    "Being Hispanic for us means much more than having a surname. It means having some relationship with the reality of what it is to live in this country as a Hispanic American."

    Ted Kennedy quoted an open letter sent to him by  Rodolfo Acuna (who isn't exactly an unknown figure in the Chicano community) which stated

    "With Miguel Estrada, we have a person who is not from the Latino community who has not identified in any manner with that community. Estrada comes from a different class of Latinos who do not identify with the aspirations of most Latinos...It is intellectually dishonest to claim that Estrada represents Latinos, considering his privileged class position."

    In a followup article Acuna stated that

    'There are millions of upper and middle class Latinos who immigrate to this country who, like Estrada, have received good educations in their own country and do not relate to poor immigrants or US born Latinos.'

    Patrick Leahy summed it up with the comment that Estrada

    "did not exactly share in the experiences of most Latinos."

    I agree that his upbringing and background did not form the main thrust of the movement against him, but they were certainly being used against him by some Democrats and progressives.

    Interesting (none / 0) (#3)
    by nycstray on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:09:53 PM EST
    how he's describe as from a good background, well educated, went to the top schools, not surprising that he navigated through though schools so well after arriving here, etc. It sounds like more of a correction to what they were trying to sell him as vs what they are doing with Sotomayor. She "not that smart", "unappreciative of her education", a "racist", "AA beneficiary of her education and honors", "could make poor decisions monthly", temperamental, sharp tongued, strident, a bully" (need me to go on?). "Preferential treatment" is but one "charge" they are applying against her.

    Well, let's take (none / 0) (#5)
    by jnicola on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:33:07 PM EST
    the point about Sotomayor being 'temperamental, sharp tongued, strident, a bully'. The PRLDEF, Sotomayor's group, said
    We have serious concerns about Mr. Estrada's judicial temperament. Simply put, he has been described as one who is arrogant and elitist. It has been reported that he 'harangues his colleagues' and 'doesn't listen to other people'...Mr. Estrada lacks the maturity and temperament that a candidate for high judicial office should possess. In our view, he does not have the humility or the demeanor typical of worthy nominees to our nation's federal bench. He does not appear to us to be even-tempered...he was surprisingly contentious, confrontational, aggressive and even offensive in his verbal exchanges with us.

    Sotomayor is facing anonymous accusations from former law clerks; so did Estrada.

    Both were unwilling to be identified by name for fear of reprisals. The first told me: "Since I knew Miguel, I went to him to help me get a Supreme Court clerkship. I knew he was screening candidates for Justice Kennedy. Miguel told me, 'No way. You're way too liberal.' I felt he was definitely submitting me to an ideological litmus test, and I am a moderate Democrat. When I asked him why I was being ruled out without even an interview, Miguel told me his job was to prevent liberal clerks from being hired. He told me he was screening out liberals"...I also interviewed a young law professor and former Justice Department attorney who told me a very similar story..."I was interviewed by Miguel Estrada and another lawyer. Estrada asked most of the questions. He asked me a lot of unfair, ideological questions, a lot about the death penalty, which I told him I thought was immoral. I felt I was being subjected to an ideological litmus test. Estrada was being obnoxious."

    Is it so hard to accept that the tactics some of the right are using against Sotomayor are repellent and that the tactics some of the left used against Estrada were also repellent?


    No, not hard to accept at all (none / 0) (#8)
    by nycstray on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:42:56 PM EST
    I just didn't feel your first example was solid compared to what has been going on the past 5 days. Interesting, so are these Latinos speaking about another Latino, or ? Do you have a link? I'd like to read more on this.

    I know what passes for "Dems" these days and in some cases, it ain't pretty, as they say.


    Largely (none / 0) (#9)
    by jnicola on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:51:26 PM EST
    Latinos speaking about another. I've got links but I couldn't get them to work with the blockquotes; if you google the phrases used though you should be able to find the original articles/letters/speeches - most of them are in the Senate record of the hearings.

    Sorry (none / 0) (#11)
    by jnicola on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:59:36 PM EST
    Just to clarify - I don't know if the law clerks the article quoted were Latino or not, as they were anonymous. The other quotes I cited, except Leahy's, were from Latino representatives/groups.  

    Probably (none / 0) (#4)
    by cal1942 on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:15:35 PM EST
    to illustrate that his upbringing pre-disposed him to a very conservative ideology as well as defense against the ridiculous charge of racism.

    What (none / 0) (#6)
    by jnicola on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:38:46 PM EST
    I'm taking issue with is BTD's assertion that Democrats/progressives did not seek to use Estrada's upbringing and privilege in arguing against his nomination. Some did. The question of whether bringing those up was reasonable or useful is an entirely different one.

    It sounds to me like the Bush (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Anne on Sat May 30, 2009 at 05:27:01 PM EST
    administration attempted to portray Estrada as something he was not - that he was a classic case of downtrodden-but-pulled-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps, when in fact that was not his experience.  Reading the cited description of Estrada by York, it's obvious that he's willing to re-write Estrada's history to make it more compelling than Sotomayor's so that the only conclusion the reader can reach is that if Estrada wasn't good enough, Sotomayor shouldn't be, either.  For me, it seems like the classic case of a man really rankled by the possibility  that a woman might get something that another man did not.

    Has the Obama administration, or Democratic supporters of the nomination, portrayed Sotomayor as something she is not?  It would not appear so.  It appears to me that they are quite comfortable allowing her history and experience to speak for itself, without embellishment.

    And I do not find much similarity between the gossipy and anonymous sniping about Sotomayor's style and intelligence and Estrada being anonymously accused of putting potential clerks to an ideological litmus test.

    My recollection is that Estrada was not oppposed on the basis of his ethnicity or qualifications, but on his ideology, which is an absolutely fair way to assess someone.


    I can't find anything (none / 0) (#14)
    by jnicola on Sun May 31, 2009 at 05:49:19 AM EST
    initiated by the Bush admin that tried to explicitly portray him in a misleading way. As soon as he was nominated the press flagged up that he was an immigrant who'd come over with nothing, and they encouraged that, but that was true insofar as it went...

    Anyway, the point is not to defend the Bush administration on this, but to challenge BTD's claim that the privileged part of his upbringing was not used against him. It was.

    Further, to deny that at least part of the reason the Democrats opposed him with such vehemence, which was unprecedented for an appeal court nomination, was that he was Latino, is disingenuous. It was thought that if he was placed in a position where he could display his ideology to the public then he would be able to defend his ideology with greater strength precisely because he was Latino, and could exploit identity politics for conservative causes. To be clear, I don't find this reasoning attractive; nor, however, do I think the opposition to him was appropriate, either in kind or in tone.


    Whose version of his upbringing (none / 0) (#7)
    by andgarden on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:40:43 PM EST
    is correct? York's or Kennedy's?

    I think the difference matters.


    York's (none / 0) (#10)
    by jnicola on Sat May 30, 2009 at 02:54:33 PM EST
    version is self-serving, but accurate. The Acuna letter Kennedy quoted is accurate only insofar as you accept Acuna's definition of what the 'Latino community' is and what identifying with it means.

    Just because it sounds like these (none / 0) (#12)
    by inclusiveheart on Sat May 30, 2009 at 04:50:26 PM EST
    were responses to some sort of selling point, was the Bush Administration selling Estrada as an example of the Hispanic/Latino experience in America?

    I mean as stupid as it is to call Sotomayor unintelligent, the GOP are using that talking point to combat the much touted academic record she has.  I would have picked something else to go after were it my decision, but that's what they are doing - going after that clear strength.

    The Democrats don't usually take that tack when they are on the offensive.  Normally, they respond late and come from a defensive position.  So, it is possible that not only were the Bush Administration trying to portray Estrada as a typical American Hispanic, but also making accusations (or hinting at them) against Democrats who opposed his nomination.  I don't remember the back and forth on Estrada anymore, but before I pass judgment on these statements, I'd prefer to see them in context - I'd like to see what the GOP was saying about Estrada at the time.


    It seems to me (none / 0) (#15)
    by jnicola on Sun May 31, 2009 at 07:25:32 AM EST
    that they weren't trying to sell him as an example of the Hispanic/Latino experience; but much more as a talented exception demonstrating their belief that talent would win out over discrimination.

    Their actions, though, are irrelevant to the question of whether the Democrats dragged in Estrada's privilege or lack of it - they did, and tu quoque isn't a good justification for that, anyway.