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Sotomayor a flashpoint for Hispanic vote

Phoenix Attorney Danny Ortega says the gOP will lose Hispanic votes because all 31 senators who voted against Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation were Republican. (Photo by Bill Coates)

Phoenix Attorney Danny Ortega (Photo by Bill Coates)

Stores have not reported stocking Sonia Sotomayor action figures. But as the first Hispanic and only the third woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she has become one of America’s top role models.

Her confirmation also led to lot of political guesswork – namely if the state’s Hispanic community will exact a political toll on the two Arizona senators who voted against seating her.

As a role model, Sotomayor is already having an impact, said Phoenix attorney Danny Ortega, an advocate for the Hispanic community.

“Kids are already talking about being lawyers in greater numbers than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Ortega said.

It’s not just Hispanic youth, he said. Sotomayor has shown to be an inspiration to those who come from poverty as well, he said. It’s the American dream realized, he said. Sotomayor, of Puerto Rican descent, was born and raised in the Bronx. She went to Princeton on a scholarship and graduated ~summa cum laude~, before going on to Yale Law School.

“This is the America that people have been talking about for so long, and it includes us now,” Ortega said.

Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and her husband Earl attended an Aug. 12 White House ceremony honoring Sotomayor. An estimated 200 Latinos and members of the judiciary were on hand. President Obama introduced the court’s newest member. Then Sotomayor spoke.

“Something that she said just really hit home and really expressed what I’ve been feeling,” Mary Rose Wilcox said. “She said … this means any and all of your children can achieve success at the highest level.

“It was just so magical. I don’t have any other way to describe it,” she added.

Nearly a third of the Senate, however, was not so inspired. Sotomayor, 55, was seated on the high court after a 68-31 vote on Aug. 6. Republicans cast all the negative votes, and that included John McCain and Jon Kyl.

McCain said Sotomayor’s record pegged her as a judicial activist. Kyl wondered if Sotomayor could set aside her personal biases in deciding cases. But Phoenix attorney Ortega said Sotomayor is highly qualified.

GOP opposition to her confirmation will not set well with Hispanics on Election Day, he added.

“To have the Republican Party oppose her is something that, I believe, the Latino community is going to remember,” Ortega said.

He said the Hispanic vote went heavily against Republicans in the 2008 presidential election – as many of them were put off by a hard-line stance on immigration often taken by GOP candidates.

Speaking of McCain, Wilcox said the senator can no longer take Hispanic support for granted and can no longer say he is a friend of the Hispanic community.

In prepared statements, a number of Hispanic groups have come down hard on Republican opposition to Sotomayor. The League of United Latin American Citizens said: “This vote matters and will have long-term consequences at the ballot box.”

In Aug. 7 news release, Roberto Reveles of Somos America made it personal. “Shame on you, John McCain,” Reveles said.

McCain will get the chance to see if he pays a political price for his vote against Sotomayor. He’s up for re-election next year.

From a purely political standpoint, Ortega said, McCain might have made the right move – by protecting his conservative base.

“On the other hand, he has also disenfranchised the Latino community,” he said.

Arizona State University Pollster Bruce Merrill agreed, in part. He has not polled Sotomayor’s support among Hispanics in Arizona, but – as an educated guess – puts it at about 80 percent.

“It wouldn’t be universal because there are, as you know, a lot of conservative, VFW kind of Hispanics,” Merrill said in a phone message.

In general, though, Hispanics are not happy with Republicans, he said.

“But my guess is that John is very strong in Arizona,” Merrill added. “It might cost him a little bit, but certainly not enough to cost him an election.”

Merrill disagreed with Ortega on one point. He did not see McCain’s vote against Sotomayor as a calculated political move. McCain voted out of conviction, Merrill said.

Despite his vote, McCain acknowledged that Sotomayor had an inspiring life story.

Alice Lara also praised Sotomayor for her accomplishments. Lara is a member of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, as well as an assistant to political consultant Stan Barnes and a board member of the Maricopa Integrated Health System.

“I’m very pleased,” Lara said. “I think it’s great. She’s a Latino. She’s a woman.” But Lara added: “I would have preferred somebody more conservative.”

Lara doubted whether Sotomayor could dispense justice blindly – that is, without letting her preconceptions get in the way.

Lara agreed with Republicans who voted against Sotomayor’s confirmation. On the other hand, she said it’s good to have minorities as role models in high-ranking political positions – whatever their politics.

Sotomayor is not only a role model for Latinos, but for women as well. She’ll join the second woman appointed to the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The first woman on the court, Sandra Day O’Connor, retired in 2006.

Scottsdale attorney Carrie Kercsmar, Maricopa County president of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association, said it was gratifying to see another woman – and as well as the first Hispanic – seated on the court.

Angie Crouse, vice president of the Phoenix/Scottsdale chapter of the National Organization for Women, said NOW members were thrilled to see the appointment of a Latina woman.

But Crouse said it didn’t go far enough. Women still hold only two of nine seats.

“This gives women a huge 22 percent representation on the court,” Crouse said, sarcastically.

“If women are truly equal, we need to be represented equally, and that goes for the Supreme Court on down,” she said.

Crouse said it’s unclear to her whether McCain’s vote will hurt him among women at the ballot box. But she added: “That indicates once again that he does not support women.”

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