Posts Tagged ‘legislator’

Howard Jordan’s Response to Black Agenda Report (BAR) article about Sotomayor

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Below please find a reply I wrote to the recent article by “Black Agenda Report (BAR) the journal of African American political thought and action” on an article entitled “Sonia Sotomayor: She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either” by managing editor Bruce A. Dixon. I invite all readers to write BAR and express your opinion on this important nomination. The article is on the following website: http://www.blackagendareport.com/

Black Agenda Report(BAR) Joins the Anti-Latino Sotomayor Agenda
By Howard Jordan

I was saddened to witness Black Agenda Report (BAR) join the chorus of attacks on Latina justice Sonia Sotomayor. The article “Sonia Sotomayor: She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either” by managing editor Bruce A. Dixon trivializes the historic importance of the nomination of the first Latina to the court. It also does a disservice to the Puerto Rican/Latino legal and political experience in the United States. Let me address some the points you raise:
First you argue that corporate media is exaggerating the importance of the nomination and it just feeds the notion that anybody can overcome racism in America. As a New York born Puerto Rican/Latino the importance of the nomination to our community is unprecedented. Though racism is structural and will not be eliminated by one appointment Mr. Dixon the narrative is important. A diabetic Latina, who lost her father when she was nine, raised in a housing project speaking a foreign language, attended Princeton, was editor a Yale Law Review, and served on the bench for seventeen years is a tribute and recognition of the important contributions Latin@s have made to this nation. The elevation of Thurgood Marshal to the Supreme Court during that historical period received the same sense of elation in the African-American community. It is as one Dominican legislator noted a “Jackie Robinson moment” for the 40 million Latinos in the U.S.
I am troubled that in your article you make only a passing reference to the racist comments characterizing Sotomayor as a “reverse racist,” an “affirmative action pick, a Hispanic chick, making fun of her unpronounceable last name, or cartoon depictions of her strung up like a piñata with a sombrero as an “easy out for progressives…to waste all their time and oxygen debating Republicans, ridiculing and refuting their racism.” The Latino community, as do all communities of color, have a responsibility and yes even an obligation to refute unfounded attacks that stereotype Justice Sotomayor and by extension promote racist stereotypes against Latinos.
Second, you rightly note Justice Sotomayor’s participation on the Board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the main civil rights law firm for Latinos in the Northeast, but demean that participation by referring to the fact that she was “reportedly involved.” You state “No reports we have seen say that she personally filed those suits or that she ever appeared in court on behalf of litigants in discrimination and other lawsuits… she can hardly claim sole credit for it. The best barometer of her participation in PRLDEF is the statement of Puerto Ricans themselves. As Cesar Perales, the PRLDEF President stated “Sonia displayed an increasing amount of leadership on the board.” Unless of course you are going to parrot the white right and argue that Perales is only saying that because he’s Puerto Rican. She served nobly. By the way as I am sure you know board members don’t bring the cases in civil rights organizations.
Mr. Dixon, Ms. Sotomayor was one of 20 Hispanics in her class at Princeton and co-chairwoman of the Puerto Rican organization Accion Puertorriqueno where she wrote a complaint accusing Princeton of discrimination and convinced the leaders of the Chicano Caucus to co-sign it and filed it with the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare. As a result of her efforts, Princeton employed its first Hispanic administrator and invited a Puerto Rican professor to teach. (New York Times) Perhaps you also missed her Yale Law Review article where she urged the granting of special rights for off-shore mineral rights for Puerto Rico not enjoyed by U.S. states, a historical corollary to the Vieques struggle of the Puerto Rican nation. (New York Times-David Gonzalez)
The one point you raise that I wholeheartedly agree with is your recognition of the contributions of Justice Thurgood Marshal and his transformation of the legal and racial landscape. As an attorney Justice Marshal remains one of my heroes and is the most important Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. But I consider the Sotomayor nomination as part of the historical continuum of the Latino contribution to the broader struggle for civil rights. It is the cross fertilization of our communities struggle for legal equality.

For example, in the case of Mendez v. Westminster, nine years before Brown vs. the Board of Education, on March 2, 1945, five Latino fathers (Gonzalo Mendez, Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez) challenged the practice of school segregation in the Ninth Federal District Court in Los Angeles. They claimed that their children, along with 5,000 other children of “Mexican and Latin descent”, were victims of unconstitutional discrimination by being forced to attend separate “Mexican” schools in the Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and El Modeno school districts of Orange County. Judge Paul J. McCormick ruled in favor of Mendez and his co-plaintiffs on February 18, 1946. As a result “separate but equal” ended in California schools and legally enforced separation of racial and national groups in the public education system. The governor of the state at this time was Earl Warren who later decided Brown.
I will not go on to cite all the contributions of Sotomayor this gifted jurist who is a legatee of our contributions to our struggle for social justice. Anybody with roots in our community understands this reality and can readily access her contributions through the internet or the written and oral histories of our community if they so desired.
Third, you maintain that her legal experience a “mere 12 years of legal experience” five as a prosecutor and 7 for and corporate firm is not significant. Perhaps in your analysis you failed to mention that Justice Sotomayor has more legal experience that any of the nominees on the present court had at the time. Even more troubling is your transparent attempts to cherry pick those cases that would present Justice Sotomayor in a negative pro-corporate light. As the New York Times indicated Justice Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed in the court in the past 70 years. She participated in over 3000 panel decisions and authored roughly 400 opinions.
Fourthly, you establish a false causal connection between the Rockefeller Drug laws and the development of the prison-industrial complex and Sotomayor. The article argues that during this period Sotomayor as a prosecutor did not inject herself in this scandalous imprisonment of people of color. I frankly don’t see the connection, did Sotomayor cause this situation? During this same historical period Puerto Ricans were held as Puerto Rican political prisoners in American prisons and many progressive lawyers did not speak out. Many jurist, liberals, and yes progressive of color have not played a leading role in denouncing the colonization of the Puerto Rican people (America’s last colony), despite the efforts of our people to bring our situation to the courts, yet I would not blame them for assisting the colonizers in their silence.
Five, you use a corporate news media source like the Wall Street Journal to argue that Justice Sotomayor not only represented corporate clients but rejoiced in that representation. You note that absent from the conversation is a cursory review of her (Sotomayor’s) legal career then proceed to offer your readers a less than cursory review of your own. I am particularly disturbed on how your article cherry picked the cases that pigeon hole the judge as pro-business- but conveniently ignored other decisions such as the 2006 case Merrill Lynch v. Dabit where she allowed class action lawsuits against Merrill Lynch or her ruling in favor of the players (workers) in the major league baseball strike. As many scholars have noted that her opinions do not necessarily put her in a pro- or anti-business camp. (New York Times-May 28)
It might also have been more intellectually honest to note the civil liberties decision by the Justice in the Ricci case allowing the city of New Haven to reject an exam that discriminated against African American and Latinos or her support against insensitive strip search of a 13 year old girl as intrusive. Or the case of United States v. Reimer where Judge Sotomayor wrote an opinion revoking the US citizenship for a man charged with working for the Nazis in World War II Poland, guarding concentration camps and helping empty the Jewish ghettos. And in Lin v. Gonzales where she ordered renewed consideration of the asylum claims of Chinese women who experienced or were threatened with forced birth control
I would add that while I would not reject the argument that many of the Justice’s experience have also been corporate friendly as is most of the court, I don’t believe we have any “revolutionaries” on the bench. Will the nomination of Sotomayor destroy the corporate state/capitalism or free people of color from the racial oppression in the United States- no but is it a significant step forward- yes.
I am particularly troubled with the overall tenor of your article characterizing Justice Sotomayor as a “zealot advocate for multinational business” and an “easy out for progressives around the Sotomayor nomination is to waste all their time and oxygen debating Republicans, ridiculing and refuting their racism.” I am a progressive and I wholeheartedly reject your advice. Justice Sotomayor is reflective of the Puerto Rican/Latino experience in the United States. I would submit to you Mr. Dixon that recognizing a community’s leadership is about “respect” and I view your article as disrespectful and a cavalier dismissal of our historical experience.
As a New York born Puerto Rican I have spent a large part of my life organizing in the Latino community and struggling to build bridges between Latinos and African Americans. From the struggles against police brutality, to the Jackson campaign in 1984 and 1988, to support for the election of Mayor Dinkins, to the endorsement of candidate Obama for the Presidency who received 67 percent of the Latino vote. It is in the interest of both African Americans and Latinos to continue to cement the historical alliance between our communities and against the white supremacy that has relegated both our communities to the bottom of the economic ladder. “Sticking it” to our leaders and refusing to recognize the different levels of our “racialization” of our respective communities does not lend itself to that goal. It instead diminishes solidarity, weakens alliances, and deprives our communities of the benefits of sharing experiences.
As a regular reader of BAR I have enormous appreciation for the insight your publication has on issues of importance to all communities of color. I have read with interest your critiques of President Obama and embrace of Rosa Clemente’s candidacy as the first Afro-Puerto Rican Vice-Presidential candidate for the Green Party. That is why I was bitterly disappointed at your blind spot on the importance of the nomination of Sotomayor as “historical milestone.” The first African American President nominating the first Latina to the U.S. Supreme Court is reflective of a new Black-Brown paradigm in America where all contributions are fully recognized. We must bring together the legacies of those “those who picked cotton and those that cut sugar cane.” However, with all due respect, this will not be accomplished by promoting anti-Latino sentiments in the mainstream press.
Howard Jordan, host
The Jordan Journal
WBAI-Pacifica

Court win fuels Puerto Rican citizenship debate – article from the Right

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Note: See the very end of this article about former Secretary of State Norma Burgos’ “Puerto Rican citizenship.” What are the implications of this for the right of Stateside Puerto Ricans being able to vote in a plebiscite on the political status of Puerto Rico? Interesting.

—Angelo

PUERTO RICO

Court win fuels Puerto Rican citizenship debate

After a long battle, the elder statesman of Puerto Rico’s independence movement finally has what he wanted: citizenship

BY FRANCES ROBLES

Miami Herald (July 14, 2007)

MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico — The seeds of Juan Mari Brás’ quixotic patriotism were planted when his parents draped a Puerto Rican flag over his crib.

Those seeds flourished 13 years ago, when the elder statesman of Puerto Rico’s independence movement renounced his U.S. citizenship in an effort to be officially recognized as a Puerto Rican. He’s 79 now, and after a 60-year anti-colonial crusade, he has something new to adorn his surroundings: a certificate of Puerto Rican citizenship.

He is the first Puerto Rican in history to have one. And as the U.S. Congress considers Puerto Rico’s status, Mari Brás’ newfound and hard-fought citizenship has refueled the heated debate about what it means to be Puerto Rican.

The certificate was issued in October after Mari Brás successfully sued for the right to vote in local elections. Last month, the Secretary of State’s Office here offered citizenship to eligible islanders. About 450 have requested certificates, and legislators are drafting bills to codify the process of obtaining them.

The tangible value of the certificates is in doubt, even among some of Marí Brás followers.

”With this certificate, can I travel from here to some other country?” asked independence party legislator Víctor García San Inocencio. “When I come back, will Homeland Security let me in?” The answers: no and no.

For Mari Brás, the citizenship certificate is more legal test than meaningful evidence of nationality. He said his win is important because it marks the first time the government here has recognized a national identity not tied to the United States. But he shrugs off the significance of his long court battle, recognizing that while it may have been the most important achievement Puerto Rico’s tiny independence movement has seen in years, it is a far cry from the sovereignty he craves.

”Biologists experiment with plants and animals and chemists do so with elements,” he said in a recent interview at his office at the Eugenio María de Hostos Law School in Mayagüez. “Since I am a lawyer, I experiment with the law. The certificate is an achievement, but it’s not the independence of Puerto Rico.”

When Mari Brás was born to a deeply political Mayagüez family, the U.S. military had seized Puerto Rico from Spain barely 30 years earlier. People like nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos were frequent dinner guests at his uncle’s house next door.

”Back then, we thought independence would happen the day after next,” he said. “We never thought we would remain the most important colony of the most important empire.”

His father took him to political events, and he founded an independence movement in high school. It became a passion that got him jailed seven times, kicked out of law school and a heart attack at 36.

Mari Brás graduated from American University Law School in Washington. As a lawyer, he took on controversial cases such as the independence activists who opened fire on the U.S. House of Representatives. He founded the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and ran a spirited campaign for governor in 1976 until his son was murdered, a death Mari Brás blames on the CIA.

A Marxist with close ties to Havana, he was disbarred from practicing in federal court when he skipped a client’s appearance to attend a conference in Cuba.

But after decades of sometimes violent activism, even now the independence movement gets only about 4 percent of the popular vote. The vast majority of Puerto Rico’s 4 million people are split between wanting to become the 51st state and keeping some form of its current commonwealth status.

In a mission to prove Puerto Ricans had a separate national identity, Mari Brás in 1994 went to the American embassy in Caracas and renounced his U.S. citizenship. When he returned to Puerto Rico, a local statehood activist sued him, arguing that Mari Brás no longer had a right to vote in local elections. Puerto Rico’s electoral law says that only U.S. citizens can cast ballots.

”I wanted to see if in Puerto Rico you could continue breathing without being a U.S. citizen,” he said.

The case made the Puerto Rican Supreme Court, and, last fall, Mari Brás won.

”It’s extraordinary,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York group that has represented Puerto Rico’s independence activists. “He has been after this for 30 or 40 years. The next step is people will demand passports. What other things can flow from there?”

The Popular Democratic Party, which seeks more autonomy for Puerto Rico while keeping the island’s current relationship with the United States, agrees.

”An empty wallet does not have everything a full wallet has,” said legislator Charlie Hernández, who has submitted a bill to codify the citizenship process.

Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party (PNP), which supports statehood, is vehemently against the citizenship plan, calling it a useless and illegal residency certificate. It also alleges that current Secretary of State Fernando Bonilla, of the ruling Popular Democratic Party, agreed to go along with it in order to attract votes within the independence movement.

In a statement, Bonilla said he offered the certificate to obey the constitution and the court decision. He stressed that it doesn’t replace the U.S. passport.

‘I understand Juan Mari Brás’ purpose and respect it, but Puerto Rican citizenship does not exist,” said PNP Sen. Norma Burgos, a former secretary of state who once denied Mari Brás’ petition for citizenship.

To prove her point, Burgos, who was born in Chicago and moved to Puerto Rico when she was 5, asked for citizenship. Under rules that the Secretary of State drafted after Mari Brás’ court victory, she did not qualify.

”Was the Secretary of State going to tell me, Norma Burgos, ex-secretary of state, ex-lieutenant governor, and sitting senator, that I am not Puerto Rican?” she said.

Bonilla redrafted the requirements to include Burgos — and lots of other people. Now, if you live in Puerto Rico and one of your parents was born here, you qualify. U.S. citizens who have lived here more than a year are also eligible.

NILP 3
National Institute for Latino Policy
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New York, NY 10013

www.latinopolicy.org
Angelo Falcón, President and Founder
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afalcon@latinopolicy.org