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Latino Coalition Assails Judge Kennedy

December 09, 1987|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A coalition of Latino organizations on Tuesday assailed the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, saying his record on civil rights showed "shocking insensitivity" to the concerns of racial minorities.

Although the groups stopped short of formally opposing the nomination, they said that, if Kennedy does not satisfactorily answer their allegations, Democrats in the U.S. Senate should consider a filibuster to block his confirmation.

"We're concerned he could turn out to be a Bork in sheep's clothing," said Gilbert Guevara, state chairman of the American GI Forum, in a reference to President Reagan's first unsuccessful nominee to the post, Judge Robert H. Bork, whose conservative views came under heavy attack from liberals.

At a news conference, the groups distributed copies of a letter they had sent to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that some opinions Kennedy wrote in the 1970s, "viewed even in their most favorable light, display a shocking insensitivity to minority views and aspirations, including an indifference to the desire of minorities to resolve their conflicts peacefully through the courts."

The document was signed by Guevara, Beatriz Molina, national president of the Mexican-American Political Assn., and Manuel Marquez, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

In their letter and an accompanying analysis of Kennedy's record, the groups sharply criticized these opinions he wrote as a member of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

--A concurring opinion in 1979 upholding the summary dismissal of a legal challenge by Latinos to at-large city council elections in San Fernando. The challengers said that district elections should be ordered to counteract what they said were discriminatory practices, noting that, although Mexican-Americans then constituted 49% of the population (and about 29% of the registered voters), they had been able to elect just three council members since 1911.

Among other things, the suit charged that some Mexican-American poll watchers had been harassed by police officers in previous elections; most polling places had been placed in the homes of non-Latinos and that disproportionately few Latinos had been appointed to city commissions.

Narrower Action Suggested

Kennedy, supporting the unanimous three-member appellate panel, said that there was not enough evidence of intentional discrimination to justify throwing out the at-large system. He added, however, that narrower court action might be appropriate--such as an order requiring increased appointments of Mexican-Americans to city posts.

The coalition's analysis said that the case raised "serious questions" about whether minorities could ever gather enough proof of discrimination to go to trial under Kennedy's "restrictive and technical reasoning."

--A 1976 decision, overturning a trial court ruling, in which Kennedy held that members of a civil rights group in Torrance did not have legal standing to sue realtors for refusing to show blacks houses in white neighborhoods.

Kennedy found that the federal Fair Housing Act did not authorize suits by persons who had not actually suffered discrimination. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such suits were permissible and that denying access to the courts under such circumstances would frustrate the intent of Congress to promote racially integrated housing.

The decision, the Latino groups said, suggests "hostility to opening the courthouse doors to minority grievances."

--A 1979 concurring opinion in which Kennedy voted to reverse a trial court's decision to continue to monitor a court-ordered school integration plan in Pasadena. The action cleared the way for the return to neighborhood school assignments creating new racial imbalances.

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