Latinos For Texas Blog

2005-Sep-15

John Roberts and Latinos

Filed under: — LaGirlFriday @ 8:55 am

Editorial writer Mary Sanchez of the Kansas City Star discusses the implications of a Roberts’ confirmation on Latino issues. From the article:

Latinos themselves hold many of the keys to their own destiny. But there will be some instances where courts may be asked to rule.

Fair housing, voting rights, access to jobs and a quality education are a few likely examples.

Will a Roberts-led court be open to those cases?

Read it all…

How would a Roberts-led court handle Latino issues?

BY MARY SANCHEZ
Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) - If the decision were up to Judge John G. Roberts Jr., thousands of immigrant children would likely be barred from a public education.

At least that is what Roberts thought in 1982, when the question of educating the children of illegal immigrants was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court ruled the children must be educated.

Roberts, then a special assistant to the attorney general in the Reagan White House, co-wrote a memo on the Texas case, Plyler v. Doe.

Roberts indicated he thought the case could have gone the other way: denying the children an education.

And he chastised the government for not taking a more active role in pressuring the court through the solicitor general’s office.

Roberts used the much bantered about term “judicial restraint” in the memo.

Never mind that virtually all public school boards disagree.

Or, that the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court wisely acknowledged the still present problem of the United States wanting a cheap labor source while it also seeks to deny that labor from enjoying the benefits of society - in this case an education for the laborers’ children.

Roberts says many of the memos were more an expression of the administration he worked for rather than his own beliefs.

That could very likely be true. But there are reasons he was working for that administration, likely many commonalities of thought.

Still, it is impossible to surmise how Roberts’ views may have changed through the years.

A few things are indisputable: Cases involving the rights of Latinos - legal and illegal - will most certainly come before future U.S. Supreme Courts.

And the coming years are a critical period for the Latino population.

Latinos number more than 40 million, the nation’s largest minority.

But as a group, Latinos hover at or near the bottom of many social indicators: education attainment, savings, home buying, etc.

How the courts address those disparities, when appropriate, will be critical to how Latinos, and therefore the nation, fare for generations to come.

Latinos cannot afford to become a massive underclass in society. And the nation cannot be complicit in allowing them to become one.

Latinos themselves hold many of the keys to their own destiny. But there will be some instances where courts may be asked to rule.

Fair housing, voting rights, access to jobs and a quality education are a few likely examples.

Will a Roberts-led court be open to those cases?

Scrutinizing how Roberts has viewed cases involving African-Americans may not be a good indicator.

The experience of Latinos is vastly different.

For one, they never had legalized segregation. Discrimination was more often the result of a community’s whim.

So remedies that are race-based, or seek to right old legal wrongs, may not apply.

Consider the Plyler case.

The case came out of Tyler, Texas, where officials used a 1975 state statute to keep state funds from schools that dared to enroll the children of illegal immigrants.

A class action lawsuit was brought on behalf of the children.

The case argued that the children deserved the courts’ attention for several reasons: Their parents, not them, chose to live illegally in the country; they had no political power to right their situation; and lawyers argued the importance of an education.

The decision upheld the lower court’s view that denying schooling would make children “already disadvantaged as a result of poverty, lack of English-speaking ability, and undeniable racial prejudices … permanently locked into the lowest socio-economic class.”

And that, the court reasoned, would not be good for anyone.

Similar statements could be made today about the conditions of many Latino immigrants, both legal and illegal.

In 1982, Roberts the legal assistant thought this rationale caused the court to assume a “legislative role.”

If asked today, how would Roberts the potential U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice hear the plea?

ABOUT THE WRITER

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.

© 2005, The Kansas City Star.

Visit The Star Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.kcstar.com

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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