Reuters reports that Latino-led organizations are in “bewilderment” after a bizarre move that now threatens the appointment of the first Latino judge to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
U.S. District Judge David Hurd informed President Joe Biden last November that he was taking senior status, “a type of semi-retirement for long-serving federal judges over 65 in which they agree to hear a reduced number of cases,” NBC News reports. Hurd, a Bill Clinton appointee, is 85. But just one day after the president announced in July that he was nominating Letitia James litigator Jorge Alberto Rodriguez to the seat, Hurd said he was taking back his decision to take senior status.
“According to the letter, Hurd seemed to have taken issue with Rodriguez's nomination because he is based in Albany, not in Utica, where Hurd's judicial chamber is located,” NBC News reports. Latino organizations are not convinced by the explanation—especially when the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Rodriguez was “committed” to moving to Utica, addressing Hurd’s supposed concern.
“Judge Hurd’s decision to exploit his lifetime tenure to block the appointment of a highly qualified Latino to fill his seat is a slap in the face to not only Mr. Rodriguez, but also to the people of New York the judge swore to serve,” Latinos for a Fair Judiciary Executive Director Andrea Nill Sanchez said in a statement. She called Hurd’s “pretextual demands” about where Rodriguez lives “baffling and inappropriate.”
Nill Sanchez is also among advocacy group leaders who in an Aug. 15 letter urged Hurd directly to stop blocking Rodriguez’s confirmation. They noted that the vacancy Hurd filled over two decades ago “was based in Albany, until you requested a personal accommodation to stay in Utica. Nonetheless, you are still refusing to step aside.”
“You made the wise decision earlier this year to take senior status and make way for a new generation of jurists,” they continue. “It is unclear what changed between now and then other than President Biden’s decision to nominate the first-ever Latino who would serve on the N.D.N.Y. bench. Your inexplicable about-face raises troubling questions and threatens the legacy you have spent decades of honorable service building.”
“It has always been the expectation that Judge Hurd’s successor would sit in the Utica courthouse, and Jorge Rodriguez has committed to doing so,” Jess Fassler, chief of staff to Gillibrand, told Times Union. Another Gillibrand aide told Times Union that Biden “was extremely impressed with Jorge Alberto Rodriguez.”
His confirmation would begin to boost the low number of Latino judges currently serving on the federal judiciary. “An estimated 7% of all current federal judges in the U.S. are Latino, even though Latinos make up 19% of the nation’s population,” NBC News said.
”The diversity that Mr. Rodriguez would bring to the N.D.N.Y. bench matters,” the organizations said. “Public confidence in the judiciary as a whole is strengthened when, as Justice Elena Kagan explained, the public ‘look[s] at an institution and they see people who are like them, who share their experiences, who they imagine share their set of values, and that’s a sort of natural thing and they feel more comfortable if that occurs.’ Mr. Rodriguez’s professional and lived experiences would benefit N.D.N.Y.’s jurisprudence and add a new perspective that is not currently reflected on the region’s federal courts.”
Hurd told Biden he was rescinding his decision to leave the seat on July 14 and officially notified him last week. “Hurd did not respond to email and telephone messages with his chambers seeking comment,” NBC News said.
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