A Nov. 12 article on the reaction of Hispanic groups to the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general mischaracterized the reaction of the National Council of La Raza. The group expressed no reservations about the choice. (Published 11/13/04)
Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organizations yesterday hailed President Bush's nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, which put the Texas Republican on track to become the nation's most powerful Hispanic public official.
But while some embraced the nomination as a big step toward wider acceptance of Hispanics, others joined People for the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union in calling for thorough hearings on Gonzales's role in shaping anti-terrorism policies that led, they said, to the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Many Hispanic leaders agreed that a Senate confirmation of Gonzales would make Bush even more appealing to Hispanics, who gave the president about 44 percent of their vote a week ago, more than any previous Republican presidential candidate.
"This is probably the most meaningful nomination ever for the Latino population," said Brent A. Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "I think Hispanics pay close attention to these types of things."
Larry Gonzalez, Washington director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEAO), agreed. "Oftentimes in our community people look at things and say, 'We'll never have a person in a position like that,' " he said. "Well, it's happening, folks. It's only taken hundreds of years."
The Gonzales nomination comes on the heels of the election of two Hispanics to the Senate, Mel R. Martinez (R-Fla.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.). In addition, Hispanics recently overtook black Americans as the nation's largest ethnic minority. Black Americans remain the nation's largest racial minority because Hispanics, also widely known as Latinos, are an ethnic group of people who can be of any race, and a majority declared in the 2000 census that they are white.
Gonzales, a Mexican American who was born in San Antonio and lived in Houston, would have a better grasp on civil rights and immigration matters than the current attorney general, John D. Ashcroft, said Fernando J. Guerra, who studies Latino political power at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
But Guerra also said that while Gonzales is a brilliant lawyer, he can be insensitive to the impact of his decisions. Guerra cited a memo Gonzales wrote defending policies on the treatment of prisoners taken in the war on terrorism.
"As good as his legal logic is, he has to know there are political and social consequences to that logic," Guerra said. "That memo of his, there's a sort of smugness that says, 'Look at how smart we are.' "
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights praised the nomination, but not without qualification.
"We are obviously very disturbed about the issues of the rationale for ignoring the Geneva Conventions," said Nancy Zirkin, deputy director of the conference. "We have lots of questions about overriding a policy that has been in effect for a long time. But overall we are very pleased that a Latino has been nominated for the first time in history."
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) of Los Angeles and the Washington-based National Council of La Raza offered praise and expressed similar concerns in statements released Wednesday, the day Gonzales was nominated.
"We are profoundly concerned about all aspects of the attorney general's responsibilities, not only its enforcement and prosecutorial duties, but also important due process questions, including right to counsel," said Ann Marie Tallman, MALDEF president and general counsel. "It has yet to be seen whether or not Judge Gonzales would be the best fit for our community, but we are encouraged by this development."
Gonzalez, of NALEAO, said Hispanics' concern about the appointment is fair, even though Gonzales has been a frequent supporter of affirmative action and a frequent presence at events held by civil rights organizations.
"It's not enough to say you support civil rights," he said. "The question is, do you support it in its current form? I think there are some folks in his party who are going to try to make the argument that we no longer need the Voting Rights Act. But our organization has known him long before he came to Washington to work for the president. He has said the right things when questioned by our own members."