Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Judge Sotomayor, Ethnicity and a Texas Perspective

A lot of airtime and column inches have been devoted to Judge Sotomayor’s ethnicity as a Hispanic. As I travel throughout Laredo and other cities in South Texas, I hear people speak with pride when discussing the first Hispanic nominee to the US Supreme Court and that’s a good thing. It is quite an accomplishment for anyone to reach the Supreme Court, and having a Hispanic on the Court will certainly add diversity and richness to the court’s make-up.

But the question shouldn’t be about her ethnicity, it should be about her qualifications. She no doubt has strong credentials, an impressive education, and a unique personal story. Judge Sotomayor has a different skill set of experiences and prejudices. That’s why appellate courts and the Supreme Court have more than one justice – because it takes a wide variety of experiences, frames of reference and perspectives to judge the deeply complex cases that come before them.

Unfortunately, these hearings have once again become political theatre and that might explain why South Texans don’t appear to be glued to the televisions during this process. Some Democrats have tossed out softball questions, and Republicans have been delicately balancing what to say and how to say it without offending Hispanics. The Democratic softball pitchers have lost an opportunity to zero in on key issues and the Republicans are still suffering from the nasty immigration debate that turned many Hispanics against them.

I see things from a unique vantage point. I run the largest Hispanic-owned bank in the continental United States, and our hometown of Laredo, Texas is 94-percent Hispanic. Six flags fly over Texas, including those from Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, The Confederate States of America and the US. Seven flags fly over Laredo because our city has the unique distinction of having once been a country unto itself – known then as the Republic of the Rio Grande.

Amidst the national media attention and punditry focused on Sotomayor’s ethnicity and comments from her speeches, I must admit that it has not been an issue of dinner conversations or coffee break chatter. In this corner of the world, while the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee is serious business, it’s business as usual. In the business world, that’s a good thing, but in Congress, “business as usual” takes on a whole different meaning. The Senate would be wise to stay focused on whether she is qualified and fit to serve on the highest court in the land.

Feelings and opinions in South Texas toward Judge Sotomayor haven’t changed much since President Obama nominated her. What has changed is the growing concern over our economy. Since her naming in May, healthcare reform, energy reform, immigration reform, and financial services regulation reform, to name a few have consumed Congress. As I travel across Texas and Oklahoma, I hear more worry about unemployment, layoffs, and the government’s increasing ownership role in General Motors, banks, and coming soon -- your next healthcare provider.

Congress needs to do their due diligence on Judge Sotomayor, but then they need to quickly re-evaluate where we are and what the federal government is doing to choke off the economic engine of this country through burdensome regulation and the lack of thinking through all of the consequences of their actions.

Stay tuned.

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