If you ask this question of the Bush White House and the GOP leadership, they will paint a picture of a poor Honduran kid (he actually is the son of a lawyer and bank vice president) who came to the United States, applied himself, learned English, and became an American success story. They will tell you that another rung on his success ladder is his nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals based on his merits. This court is considered the second most powerful court in the country and its judges tend to be candidates for the Supreme Court.

However, what neither the Bush administration, the GOP, nor Estrada himself will tell you is his legal philosophy. In the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Estrada refused to answer questions about his legal views, and the White House won’t release memos written by Estrada during his five-year stint as Assistant Solicitor General.

Liberal and progressive leaders and organizations have charged the White House with presenting a “stealth candidate” with the purpose of stacking the courts with right-wing ideologues. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he had “difficulties … in obtaining straightforward answers” from Estrada and the White House.

Nevertheless, even a stealth candidate leaves some trail which can point to his thinking.

Estrada is a member of the Federalist Society and the ultra-right Center for the Community Interest (CCI) on whose Board of Directors he has served. While on the board of the CCI, Estrada voted for that organization to file a friend of the court brief that argued against Miranda warnings of self-incrimination.

The Federalist Society, calls itself a “membership organization dedicated to bringing conservative and libertarian ideas into law schools and the organized bar” and believes that “law schools and the legal profession are currently dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology…” The liberal group, People for the American Way, has called the Federalist Society, “the driving force for right-wing activism on the federal judiciary.”

The CCI, formerly known as the American Alliance for Rights and Responsibities, hailed a Chicago Police Department program which resulted in the arrests of over 40,000 youths in a two-year period. The Chicago police operated under a municipal ordinance which made it illegal to be in a public place “with no apparent reason,” as long as the police officer “reasonably believe[s] that a group of loiterers contains a gang member.” Anyone who does not leave when ordered by the police is in violation of the ordinance. The Illinois Supreme Court, in 1998, issued a decision stating that those arrests were illegal. That decision was backed up by the U.S. Supreme Court the following year.

Estrada did pro-bono work in support of the Chicago ordinance when it was challenged, arguing against the First Amendment rights of minority youth to hang out on the streets. He did the same for the city of Annapolis, which had enacted similar legislation. Ironically, after interviewing him Congressional Hispanic Caucus noted that Estrada “has never provided any pro bono legal expertise to the Latino community or organizations.”

When Estrada was asked on a National Public Radio program whether the Chicago ordinance could be used for racial profiling, he admitted that it could but proceeded to dismiss the issue saying that those arrests were taking place in Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Estrada worked for two years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. He concentrated on criminal cases and argued for giving police greater powers to search and arrest suspects.

This record has caused organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project to question whether Estrada would defend “the First Amendment rights of Latino urban youth and day laborers, [and] fairly review allegations of racial profiling or follow the 1966 Miranda ruling.”

The GOP leadership accuses the Democratic senators of filibustering and refusing to support Estrada because he is Latino. But the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund (PRLDEF) said after interviewing Estrada, “It is indeed ironic that someone promoted as a Hispanic has neither shown any demonstrated interest in, nor had any involvement with, any Hispanic organizations or activities throughout his entire life in the United States. Nor has he been involved with, supportive of, or responsive to, issues of concern to Latinos.”

While the record is sparse, the evidence points to Estrada being a right-wing ideologue who will let his reactionary ideological views color his judicial decisions. This has prompted many Latino, African-American, feminist, labor, civil liberties and civil rights organizations to oppose his nomination to the federal bench.

José Cruz is the editor of Nuestro Mundo and can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

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