WASHINGTON — Latino groups joined other civil rights organizations Friday in opposing the nomination of a controversial Miami judge who told Senate aides that "Cubans always show up two hours late" for weddings.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth L. Ryskamp, President Bush's nominee to a federal appeals court in Atlanta, already faced strong opposition because of a series of rulings that overturned civil rights verdicts.
But his chances for confirmation grew even slimmer this week after he answered the queries of Senate aides prior to the confirmation hearings and defended his membership in an exclusive private club in Coral Gables, Fla., that for a time imposed an "English-only" policy on its premises.
"Miami is like a foreign country," he explained. "Club members just wanted a place where we didn't have to hear Spanish.
"My wife gets very frustrated because the grocery store she has gone to for 20 years now has Spanish clerks," he added, "and they have all the Spanish food on the shelves, and she can't find food I can eat."
Nonetheless, the club does "have Hispanic members," Ryskamp said. "We have had Hispanic guests at wedding receptions. In Miami, you send out two wedding invitations--one with the Anglo time for Anglos and another for Cubans. Cubans always show up two hours late."
When the quotes were read to Ryskamp during a Judiciary Committee hearing this week, he confirmed that he had made them but said they were taken out of context.
The judge said he considered the English-only policy a "mistake" and was only trying to explain why some club members favored it.
Do Cubans "always show up two hours late?" Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) asked Ryskamp.
"I'm saying the Cubans do that, they send out the two announcements, because they know it is going to be two hours later, so they send it to the Anglos, to let them know what time to really be there," he said.
Simon: "And you think that is generally true for the Cuban-American population?"
Ryskamp: "I do not know if it is generally true, but I have heard of it on several occasions."
The exchange was one of several during the daylong hearing that spurred a number of Latino groups and Cuban-American leaders to call on the Senate panel to reject Ryskamp's nomination.
"It's unbelievable he would make those statements, especially when he was under such scrutiny," said Florida state Sen. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami in a telephone interview. "But he didn't deny he said it."
In a statement, nine Cuban-American members of the Florida Legislature, including Diaz-Balart, urged the Senate committee to reject Ryskamp because he has "demonstrated an insufficient sensitivity toward ethnic minorities."
"His promotion to the court of appeals at this time would constitute an act of disrespect to the Cuban-American community in the United States."
Antonia Hernandez, president of the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, issued a statement calling Ryskamp's statement "outrageous" and urging the committee to block his confirmation. "If Ryskamp is elevated to the appeals court seat, it will be catastrophic for those who seek equal justice under law."
Since Bush took office in January, 1989, the Senate committee has voted on 76 of his nominations to the federal bench and approved them all.
The committee, which has eight Democrats and six Republicans, expects to schedule a vote during the week of April 8.