Civil Rights Groups Warn in Advance of Hearings: 'We Are Watching'
By Krissah Thompson
NEW YORK -- Leaders of civil rights groups gathered today to issue a warning to participants in Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings this week. “We are watching,” NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said.
He spoke at a news conference at the opening of the NAACP’s centennial convention, where he was joined by the leaders of the Puerto Rican and NAACP Legal Defense Funds to raise concerns about the potential for racially tinged rhetoric to creep into the confirmation hearings of the first Hispanic nominated to the court.
They pointed to the recent focus by conservatives on Sotomayor’s past involvement with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, now called LatinoJustice PRLDEF, as an example.
In a floor speech last month, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) -- the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- called LatinoJustice PRLDEF "a group that has taken some very shocking positions with respect to terrorism.” He cited PRLDEF leaders who had taken up for Puerto Rican nationalists who attacked the House of Representatives in 1954 and a former PRLDEF president who made news in the 1990s when he said the nationalists were viewed by many in Puerto Rico as "fighters of freedom and justice."
Others have suggested Sotomayor's longtime association with the fund is an indication that she may favor certain groups one the bench because of the legal defense fund's liberal stances on issues such as capital punishment and affirmative action.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said Sessions' “description of our sister organization as ‘extreme’ is reminiscent of his previous comment about us as ‘communist’ and ‘un-American.’” Sessions has since said those comments about the NAACP and ACLU were distorted.
Cesar Perales, president of LatinoJustice PRLDEF and a founder of the fund, said in defense of his organization: “We have sought justice and equality.”
Sotomayor held leadership roles on the legal defense fund's board throughout the 1980s. She left it when she became a federal judge.
Jealous said NAACP members are monitoring hearings this week and have instructions to contact their senators if they are displeased with the nature of the questions Sotomayor faces.
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