The future of Latinos depends on the courts
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After a heated confirmation process, all eyes are on Neil Gorsuch, the new junior Justice of the United States Supreme Court, as he takes the bench for a series of oral arguments in the coming weeks.

Already, Gorsuch was the decisive vote in a 5-4 decision that allowed the execution of an Arkansas inmate to proceed. Gorsuch will continue to play a critical role in cases that demonstrate the impact of our federal courts, the Supreme Court in particular.

Many of these cases threaten to have a significant impact on the Latino community across our nation.

As a Texan, retired Judge, civil rights activist, and professor of law, I find it imperative that Latinos across the country, and especially in a state like Texas, understand the critical role that our courts, both at the national and State level, play in our daily lives.

For example, a recent immigration case that made it all the way to The Supreme Court received a split decision vote in February 2017. 

The case, which is anticipated for a second round arguments this year, deals with a 15 year old Mexican national that was standing on Mexican soil and was shot to death by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on American soil on the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border in 2010. The family of the deceased seeks to sue the Border Patrol official for their son’s death for what they claim is a violation of their son’s constitutional and civil rights.

With the current tense U.S.-Mexico relations and sixty-one percent of Texans opposed to President Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, now more than ever, this is a case we should all monitor closely. The case, which is set to not only determine if noncitizens who are injured or killed outside of the U.S. can have their case heard in a U.S. court, but it will also help shape our immigration laws as a whole for decades to come.

Further, other key cases that could affect our community are Jennings v. Rodriguez, where the court is slated to decide the lawfulness of whether immigrants with a deportation order are subject to long-term detention without independent bond hearings.

And, Sessions v. Morales focuses on an immigration statute that defines a child’s eligibility to U.S. citizenship if born to unwed parents outside of the U.S. Further, the case looks into question whether U.S. citizenship of the father holds more weight than the U.S. citizenship of the mother.

Although cases at the level of the U.S. Supreme Court greatly affect our communities, cases at the circuit, state, and local levels, all play a key role in the daily lives of Latinos across the country.

Most recently, two key cases in my home state of Texas have been recently called out for intentional racial discrimination: redistricting and Voter ID law rulings.

First, the issue with redistricting deals with the need to determine if the state intentionally drew the congressional district maps in 2011 and 2013 with discriminatory intent.

The case was initially heard and dismissed by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court in 2014. This was followed by the Obama Justice Department arguing in November 2016 that given the state’s history on discrimination, it was apparent that the lawmakers consciously and purposefully drew discriminatory boundaries for districts.

Now that the Federal Courts have issued an opinion against the state in this case, Texas is on the path to have to undergo a preclearance process that will require it to get federal permission any time it wants to change its voting or election laws.

In addition, the argument against Texas’s voter ID laws, or Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), is if it discriminates against minorities, elderly and poor Texans who most likely do not have acceptable government-issued IDs.

In February 2017, the Department of Justice changed its longstanding position that lawmakers have purposefully discriminated against minorities and underprivileged individuals.

The case that the U.S. government was litigating in this regard was withdrawn by the current Attorney General in March.

With the Trump Administration’s original stance on voter ID laws deemed unconstitutional earlier this month, the hope for a final ruling is within reach. If the court outlaws these voter ID practices, Latino voters (often the targets of such laws) will be in a much better position to ensure their access to the polls.

Our federal courts are presided over by unelected judges, legal professionals appointed by the President of the United States. Without an election for these judges, there is only one way to influence the nomination and confirmation of these judges who Americans must be mindful of the impact the federal courts have on all levels of society.

Further, we must take note that no matter the level of our judicial system, the Latino community — which makes up one-sixth of the U.S. population — will continue to be affected. 

We play a critical role in the judicial system of our country, and we must continue elevating our voices to ensure our rights are always protected.

Lupe Salinas is a retired judge of the 351st Criminal District Court in Houston, Texas, and currently a Professor of Law at Thurgood Marshall School of Law of Texas Southern University.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.