South Florida Sun-Sentinel
July 9, 2005

South Florida group makes case for Hispanic Supreme Court justice

Group advises Bush on filling court vacancy
By Mc Nelly Torres and Madeline Baro Diaz
Miami Bureau

The Cuban American Bar Association is urging President Bush to make history by nominating a Hispanic jurist from Florida to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

In a letter sent to the White House on Thursday, bar association president Tony Castro said such an appointment would put the first Hispanic and the first Floridian on the high court. He mentioned as potential candidates Florida State Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero and federal judges Cecilia Altonaga, Adalberto Jordan, Jose E. Martinez and Federico Moreno.

"I think Florida represents the future of the United States in terms of the diversity that exists here as well as the challenges and opportunities it presents," Castro said Friday. "We are trying our very best to let him know to look at Florida."

Since O'Connor announced her retirement on July 1, Hispanic advocates have pressed Bush to name the nation's first Hispanic justice, possibly Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Emilio Garza. But with the departure of O'Connor, a key swing vote on the high court, and the possible retirement of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a conservative, some experts say Bush likely will try to strengthen the conservative ranks of the court with his first Supreme Court nomination.

"O'Connor's resignation really very much could change the trajectory of the court and really have a substantial impact on American policy," said George Gonzalez, a political science professor at the University of Miami.

Historically, regional origins have had little to do with a president's choice for Supreme Court justices, Gonzalez said. Instead, he said, the potential justices' ideology has traditionally been more important.

But a Hispanic nominee could reap political benefits for the Republican Party, Gonzalez said.

"You would make a big issue about this, presumably," he said. "The Republicans are going to gain a lot of traction out of it."

That could pressure Democratic senators to be receptive to a Hispanic during confirmation hearings, particularly if Republicans use the Democrats' rejection of a Hispanic nominee against them.

"It makes it more difficult for Democrats to reject that candidate," Gonzalez said. "Whether the Democrats are going to be cowed by that, I don't know. We can imagine that something like that is going to go on."

Castro does not think Bush would choose a nominee to curry political favor in Florida, the state that was key to Bush's victory in 2000 and also important in his 2004 presidential bid.

"I think that when you're considering the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, it's a much longer-term view," he said.

While the president might be inclined to choose a Hispanic for the Supreme Court, experts said Bush likely will choose a conservative, regardless of ethnicity. David Yalof, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut who has written a book on the Supreme Court nomination process, said the best candidates would be jurists who are presiding on federal circuit court cases.

"It is a difficult proposition, in general, to choose a judge from the state Supreme Court because they don't see the type of cases you see in the Supreme Court," Yalof said, noting the last Supreme Court justice coming from a state Supreme Court was O'Connor, whom conservatives consider a disappointment.

Yalof said Bush is more likely to nominate someone he knows well, a conservative like him who mirrors his stand on controversial issues such as abortion and the death penalty.

Al Cardenas, former chairman of Florida's Republican Party, said although Bush could nominate a Hispanic for O'Connor's seat, he could also have two more opportunities if Rehnquist, 81, and Justice John Paul Stevens, 85, retire before Bush's term ends.

"I feel confident that a Hispanic will be appointed to the Supreme Court at some point during President Bush's last term," Cardenas said.

Cardenas said it is important for groups such as the Cuban American Bar Association to suggest Supreme Court candidates.

"It is important that the community let their voice heard because jurists can't start a campaign," he said.

Castro agreed.

"I think the fact that we're sending the letter is important in and of itself," he said. "It sends the message that we're mindful as Hispanics, as Cuban Americans, that this is a momentous decision."

Madeline Baro Diaz can be reached at or 305-810-5007.