Recipient: Orrin Hatch
The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
Senate Judiciary Committee
104 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Hatch:
On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we write to express our opposition to the confirmation of Miguel Estrada to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
A review of Mr. Estrada’s record to date indicates that his positions, opinions, and legal activities in numerous areas are troublesome and raise serious questions about his commitment to equal justice and civil rights for all Americans. In addition, by refusing to adequately answer numerous questions posed to him at his September 26, 2002 hearing, as well as written questions following the hearing, Mr. Estrada has failed to demonstrate a commitment to the continued vigorous enforcement of critical constitutional and statutory rights in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties.
Mr. Estrada’s nomination has special significance for the communities we represent for a number of reasons, including the unique status of the D.C. Circuit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has a critical role in our federal judicial system and is widely regarded as the second most important court in the United States, after the U.S. Supreme Court. Because of the importance of this court and because several Senators have spoken out about the prospects of Mr. Estrada being subsequently elevated to the Supreme Court if confirmed, it is extremely important that his nomination be carefully scrutinized.
In our review of Mr. Estrada’s record made public to date, we are troubled by many of the positions that he has taken in litigation for public and private clients. For example, Mr. Estrada has devoted a good deal of time to defending so-called anti-loitering statutes, which have been shown to have a disproportionately negative impact on African-Americans and Latinos. These statutes have been attacked on several grounds including concerns that they inhibit expression in violation of the First Amendment and that they are inconsistent with the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. State and federal courts across the country, including the United States Supreme Court, have struck down these statutes as unconstitutional. Moreover, we are troubled by claims made by Mr. Estrada regarding the standing of civil rights organizations to pursue constitutional challenges to these laws.
Mr. Estrada’s career thus far also reveals a troubling tendency to favor powerful corporate interests over the interests of normal citizens. For instance, his work in at least one case hints at a troubling bias against organized labor, his work for the health insurance industry suggests a lack of commitment to basic patient rights, and his work for a large pharmaceutical company suggests a cavalier attitude toward the rights of consumers to obtain reliable information about the drugs they need.
In addition, Mr. Estrada has made disturbing public statements expressing disdain for judicial review of legislative enactments. In an appearance on “Justice Talking” defending the Chicago anti-loitering ordinance, Estrada argued that once the Chicago City Council passed the ordinance, the opponents of the law had no business taking their constitutional challenge to court. According to Mr. Estrada, in our democracy “we” do not bring challenges to laws in court, but rather “try out” the laws to see if they “work” and only “scrap” them if they don’t. This understanding of our constitutional democracy dramatically undermines the role of the judiciary in reviewing executive and legislative branch decisions to ensure that the constitutional rights of minorities (racial, religious, or otherwise) are protected.
Given the strong indications in Mr. Estrada’s record of hostility to important equal opportunity principles, and his unwillingness to respond to questions regarding his judicial philosophy or opinions on important legal principles that would shed more light on his views in these areas, we have no choice but to oppose Mr. Estrada’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit. If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Nancy Zirkin, LCCR Deputy Director/Director of Public Policy at (202) 263-2880, or Julie Fernandes, LCCR Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 263-2856.
Dr. Dorothy I. Height