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Let the game begin, say members of the Hispanic National Bar Association, who argue that they are forced to play a political game of chess in getting a Hispanic appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. During the four-day HNBA Convention held in Chicago Oct. 4-7, members of the association made sure their own political pawns were aligned for victory by spreading the word to some 700 guests — including influential judges, legislators and speakers — that now is also the time for another Hispanic appointment on the federal bench. Although by 1999 at least 11 Hispanics had been named as judges in the U.S. Courts of Appeals, in what has proven to be an extremely slow process, a Hispanic has yet to be named to the country’s highest court — an appointment, which many believe, is long overdue. “We started working on this when George Bush was in office,” said attorney Marty Castro, vice president and managing director of global business at Chicago-based Juritas. “Virtually a given, the next appointment [to the Supreme Court] will be a Hispanic. But we don’t take for granted that a lot of work still has to be done.” “Everything is positioned to make it happen,” said Lourdes Santiago, a New Jersey attorney and HNBA board member. “Shame on the country if it doesn’t happen. The Supreme Court should reflect its citizenry.” With the coming of the new presidential administration, some 63 federal judgeship vacancies will be open, including three or four slots on the Supreme Court bench, according to Manus Cooney, chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was one of several key speakers at the convention. But if the past is any indication, the HNBA will have a fight on its hands in getting Hispanic judicial nominations appointed in a timely fashion in the course of the coming year. “Historically, there’s been a lack of representation that needs to be remedied,” said Castro. Although the HNBA has been instrumental in promoting the recent appointments of Julio Fuentes to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Richard A. Paez of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court, the process has been daunting. President Clinton nominated Paez three times for the post, but he languished as a candidate for six years until his appointment last year. U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Jay Garcia Gregory, who was an attendee at the convention along with Fuentes and other noted judges such as Petra Maes, the first Hispanic justice of New Mexico’s supreme court, was the most recent federal appointment, according to Santiago. Santiago pointed out, however, that Garcia’s nomination to the Puerto Rican court was held for six years while the post remained vacant. Rafael Santiago, the new president of the HNBA, has been instrumental in helping to get people such as Fuentes appointed. He said the organization will push hard this year for a Supreme Court appointment. “It’s priority one,” Santiago said. “As you read the papers and the reports and you hear politicians … we are very close.” Santiago said that during the convention a videotape displaying representatives from presidential candidate George W. Bush’s camp was played repeatedly, with the representative stating that the first vacancy to be filled would be a Hispanic to the high court. One of Santiago’s first moves as HNBA president recently was to reconvene a dormant HNBA Supreme Court Committee, which had not revised its Supreme Court short list for at least four years. He appointed outgoing HNBA president Alice Vasquez and Roberta Sistos, a member of both the HNBA and the California Judicial Appointment Commission, to head the committee. Although the short list from the HNBA is likely to change with the reformation of the commission, at least two of the former candidates — Jose A. Cabranes, judge of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Joseph Baca, justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court — will remain strong contenders for the Supreme Court appointment. During a meeting of the HNBA board, Lourdes Santiago unveiled plans for an aggressive educational campaign, urging voters to write the president and other governmental officials, to garner support for their future short list candidates. Santiago said the HNBA would continue to meet with Senate leaders, White House officials and leaders in Hispanic communities across the country to carry out their mission. “There is unfinished business and judges to be supported,” HNBA Board Member Juan Carlos of Washington, D.C. said during the organization’s 25th anniversary dinner. “By the time we have this dinner again we will be joined by the next Supreme Court justice.”

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