July 12, 2009 -- Latinos will be watching Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings "like hawks" for evidence that senators on the Judiciary Committee are mistreating the Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, or are mischaracterizing her record, leaders of Latino political, professional and advocacy groups tell ABC News.
"We accept tough questions. But what we are going to object to are questions that misrepresent the judge or that distort her record," says Estuardo V. Rodriguez, director of Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary. The nonpartisan umbrella organization includes the Hispanic National Bar Association, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Judiciary Committee member John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on "Fox News Sunday" that Sotomayor's nomination won't be blocked because Republicans don't have the numbers. But she is expected to explain her 2001 comment that she hoped "a wise Latina" was more likely to reach better conclusions than a white male without comparable experiences.
Fair game, but for many Latino political groups the game is, and has been, on. Earlier this month when Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top GOP lawmaker on the Judiciary Committee, called some of the decisions made by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) "extreme," the Hispanic National Bar Association fired off a letter to this panel's chair, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The document expresses "deep dismay" and warns that this kind of "mischaracterization" by Sessions or others will not be tolerated. A similar letter was sent to the Alabama Republican.
"LatinoJustice PRLDEF is a civil rights group like the NAACP," says Rodriguez. (The organization changed its name last year to LatinoJustice PRLDEF to reflect the national and pan-Latino nature of its work.) Sotomayor served on the organization's board from 1980 until 1992, when President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Sotomayor Confirmation Hearing Will Bring on 'Fiestas'
"Watch parties" are being planned throughout the country Monday for the confirmation hearings.
Undoubtedly, the atmosphere will be festive at restaurants, church halls and homes hosting these events because of the pride many in the Hispanic community feel as the first Latino is nominated to the nation's highest court. But these "fiestas" are also serving as staging grounds for immediate political action. Political radars, in overdrive, will be on the lookout for lawmakers' behavior that "crosses the line."
"We'll know it when we see it. We'll be watching carefully, not just Sotomayor, but the senators," Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the well-recognized Latino professional associaion National Council of La Raza, tells ABC News.
If Sotomayor is perceived to be abused, she believes the Sotomayor hearings could be the next watershed event in a continuum of events such as lack of immigration reform and the recent spike in hate crimes toward Hispanics that has politicized the fastest growing minority in the U.S.