Roll Call reports that Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member, will spearhead a campaign this week to cast a shadow over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s record by “questioning her involvement in a Puerto Rican civil rights group.” Sotomayor spent twelve years on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF).
Sessions, of course, is uniquely qualified to levy unwarranted attacks on a civil rights organization. In 1986, President Reagan nominated Sessions to the federal bench, but his nomination was rejected by the Senate after a Justice Department attorney revealed that Sessions called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” Although Sessions attempted to minimize his remarks by explaining that he really meant that the NAACP and the ACLU could be called “un-American” when “they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions,” he eventually admitted that referring to them as “commie organizations . . . probably was wrong.” Watch:
Twenty-three years have passed since Sessions’ comments denied him a lifetime appointment to the federal bench, but his attitudes haven’t changed a bit. Rather than questioning the patriotism of one of the nation’s leading African-American civil rights organizations, he now thinks he can scuttle Sotomoyor’s nomination by attacking a leading Puerto Rican civil rights organization. But Sessions has a tough row to hoe, as even the most comprehensive attacks on PRLDEF are baseless.
Last week, a right-wing organization called Judicial Watch released a report laying out the conservative case against Sotomayor and PRLDEF. The centerpiece of this report is eleven bullet points which, Judicial Watch claims, show that PRLDEF supports a “radical legal agenda.” But the report, and the agenda behind it, are far more damaging to conservatives than they are to PRLDEF or Sotomayor:
- Obsession With English Language Purity: Three of the report’s bullet points reveal a strange obsession with keeping America free of any languages other than the Queen’s English. One bullet attacks PRLDEF for advocating on behalf of bilingual education for students who speak a dialect that combines English and Spanish. Another bullet claims that PRLDEF advanced a “radical legal agenda” by complaining about an Elizabeth, N.J. policy that forbade city hall employees from conducting private conversations in Spanish; and a third slams PRLDEF for opposing proposed legislation that would have forced foreign language speaking business owners to display English language signs at their storefronts. It is not clear why conservatives are so terrified that somewhere in America, someone might speak Spanish.
- Strident Opposition to Civil Rights Laws: Two of the report’s bullet points slam PRLDEF for successful efforts to press employers to redesign promotion tests that adversely impacted minority applicants. A federal law intended to “smoke out hidden bigotry” by employers prohibits the use of racially discriminatory tests that rely on irrelevant or arbitrary criteria to sort applicants. Another bullet point claims that PRLDEF supports a “radical legal agenda” because it supported an affirmative action program which was upheld by the Supreme Court.
- Grasping At Straws: One bullet point repeats the debunked claim that Sotomayor tried to hide her opposition to reinstating the death penalty in New York State in 1981. A second bullet claims that PRLDEF is “radical” because it supported the creation of more low income housing; and two more criticize PRLDEF because they filed two race discrimination claims in 1983 which were ultimately rejected by the courts. It is especially unclear what conservatives hope to accomplish with this last attack, since Judge Sotomayor herself has rejected 78 claims of race discrimination since she became a federal appeals judge. What is absolutely clear, however, is that every single one of the report’s bullet points are grasping at straws.
The PRLDEF is nothing more than a mainstream civil rights organization, and no sensible person could possibly believe that Sotomayor was wrong to associate with them. Unfortunately for Senate Republicans, however, their #1 guy on the Judiciary Committee is still living in the past.