Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Columns & Features > Guest Voz > Guest Voz: Congresswoman Velazquez says, “Latinos Need a Seat at the Table of Justice”

Guest Voz: Congresswoman Velazquez says, “Latinos Need a Seat at the Table of Justice”

By Congresswoman Nydia M. Velazquez
LatinaLista — Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez is serving her ninth term as Representative for New York’s 12th Congressional District. Currently, in the 111th Congress, she is Chair of the House Small Business Committee and a senior member of the Financial Service Committee.

Congresswoman Velázquez has made history several times during her tenure in Congress. In 1992, she was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In February 1998, she was named Ranking Democratic Member of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Hispanic woman to serve as Ranking Member of a full House committee. Most recently, in 2006, she was named Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Latina to chair a full Congressional committee.
Congresswoman Velázquez’ latest achievement is serving as the Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). Founded in 1976, the CHC addresses national and international issues and their impact on the Hispanic community.
In her role as CHC Chair, Congresswoman Velázquez also serves as a voice for the greater Latino community by advocating greater representation of Latinos among the three branches of government.
In the following special post to Latina Lista, Congresswoman Velázquez underscores how no Hispanic has ever been appointed to the
Supreme Court
and what such an appointment would mean to the Latino community and the nation.

One of the greatest privileges of the presidency is the ability to appoint Supreme Court justices. Nine out of the last ten presidents have done so, with Jimmy Carter being the one exception.
In fact, only a handful of presidents have not had this distinct honor. Given the odds, it is likely that Barack Obama will get a chance to make his own nomination. In doing so, he will have a unique opportunity to give a historically excluded community a seat at the table.

It is high time for a Latino or Latina to serve on this nation’s highest court.
We now make up 15 percent of the U.S population, and by 2050 that number is expected to reach 30 percent. As the fastest growing community in the nation, we have a deep pool of talent to draw from.
Already, Hispanic leaders from new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to recently confirmed Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are changing the face of American leadership. The presence of a Hispanic Supreme Court Justice would underscore the growing influence of our community, and would bring pride to millions.
Just as importantly, it would inspire greater confidence in the integrity of the process, and contribute to the quality of judicial decisions.
Because the Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in the United States, its actions deeply impact the lives of ordinary people. It has the power to uphold the highest ideals of American democracy. At the same time, it has the power to close the courthouse door to those seeking relief from injustice.
That is why the composition of the Court is so critical and why it must reflect the hopes and needs of the people it serves. A Justice who has shared the life experiences of the least privileged among us would bring a valuable perspective. This person should be intellectually honest. He or she must possess sound judgment, outstanding character and a profound sense of fairness.
There is a noble phrase engraved in marble on the Supreme Court Building. It says, “Equal Justice Under Law.” When the time comes, I urge President Obama to help us live up to that ideal.
I urge him to nominate a Latino to serve in America’s highest court, and to finally give our community a seat at the table of justice.

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  • Horace
    March 6, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Gee, since we only have 9 positions, we’d have to leave off some of the following: a Japanese, Korean, Pole, Czech, Lithuanian, Chinese, Serbian, Mongolian, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Eskimo, Slovak, Arab, Somali, Frenchman, German, Swede, Dane, Norwegian, Belgian, Flemish, Nigerian, Ugandan, South African, South Sea Islander, Hawaiian, Australian, New Zealander, Tasmanian. Or maybe we can increase the number from 9 to 900. After all, what would justice be like without having representatives of every ethnic group and race comprising our population on the SCOTUS? No, I’m afraid that Ms. Velázquez needs to provide better evidence that a Supreme Court without without a Jose or Maria would dispense more equal justice that our non-Hispanic paltry nine. She should be reminded that the Supreme Court is not a political body, unlike our president and Congress. Perhaps if she understood our political system better she wouldn’t make a fool of herself. Political bodies are comprised of special interests, while the judges of the SCOTUS are supposed to set their personal biases aside after they’re seated. Having an Hispanic member is not the same as having a Senator or Congressmen when it comes to representation. And appointing a judge just because it would improve the self esteem of Latinos neglects all those other peoples who would go into a funk if their boys or girls were not selected. Oh my God, I never realized the traumatic impact involved with selecting the Supreme Nine!

  • Sandra
    March 7, 2009 at 7:33 am

    What difference does it make anyway what ethnic group a judge, president or member of congress is? Jeez, does race have to enter into everything these days?

  • Jose
    March 7, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Horace is right. It the founding fathers believed that justice was to be politicized, they would have made the SCOTUS an elected body. He’s also correct when he asserts that the SCOTUS is not an instrument of sychological gratification, like some device for affirmation of self worth for a social group. Casting it as such only promotes divisiveness as competing social groups vie for seats on the Court not on the basis of superior qualifications but on the basis of ethnicity.
    Aside from the absurdity of Velázquez’s position, one only has to look to Alberto Gonzales to realize that having a specific ethnic representation in the Executive Branch does not guarantee special influence or better justice for Latinos.

  • Lew Waters
    March 7, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    And how fast “Latino’s” threw Alberto Gonzalez under the bus.

  • Pati
    March 8, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    It’s a good thing for Ms. Velázquez that all Latinos are of the same mind when it comes to judicial affairs, as it will make selecting the right person for the Supreme Court easier.

  • Jammie
    March 8, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    He/she couldn’t be white or black Hispanic, because he/she could be mistaken for an Anglo. Only a brown Amerindian or East Asian Hispanic would do. Whoops, won’t do as the East Asian Hispanic could be mistaken for Chinese. I guess that brings us back to Amerindian.

  • Hissy
    March 9, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Why is it that makes having hispanics in every single corner so important? It doesn’t seem to matter when free health care is involved…nobody is screaming racism when they get a NON hispanic doctor. It makes ZERO sense to me. It looks like Obama isn’t going to be able to give the amnesty in his first 100 days. He doesn’t even mention it unless it is to a latino group. Can’t we just all get along and foget about what ethnic background we have or in this case DON”T have?

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