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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Had 'Tremendous Impact' On Latino Civil Rights, San Antonio Litigator Says

European University Institute

Texas political leaders, activists and members of the public offered their thoughts and condolences throughout the weekend over the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday.

TPR’s Jerry Clayton spoke with Albert Kaufmann, a professor of law at St. Mary's University School of Law, about Ginsburg's legal legacy and how her death affected him personally.

Professor Kaufmann has been a civil rights litigator specializing in the education, voting and employment rights of Latinos, and for nearly 20 years, he was the senior litigating attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, also known as MALDEF in San Antonio.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jerry Clayton: So how do you view Ginsburg's civil rights legacy in the context of the fight for Latino civil rights?  

Albert Kaufmann: Well, she believed in civil rights of all persons. She was a strong advocate for African Americans and Latinos and immigrants, as well as for women. I think she's best known for her work as both as an attorney and her opinions as a justice involving rights against gender discrimination. But she certainly was very supportive of all of our efforts of African Americans and Latinos for civil rights as well.  

Clayton: What do you make of the rush of many Republicans that want to replace Ginsburg as soon as possible?

Kauffmann: Well, it's obviously very political, and I think both sides are going to have their strong positions. I think that it's an effort to try to change the direction of the court. I think a lot of persons who are very involved in partisan issues see this as a almost a wedge issue, an issue which will bring new voters onto their side. But I think what bothers me the most about that position is that I remember 2016 pretty so well when Justice Scalia passed away in February 2016, and the Senate Republican Senate would not even allow a hearing for President Obama's nominee. And it was particularly upsetting because President Obama's nominee was extremely moderate judge who is highly respected by both Democratic and Republican senators. And I haven't read anyone or talked to anyone who feels that he would not have been confirmed if they'd put his nomination for the Senate. So that's that's a similarity and an analog that I think the present senators are going to have some trouble getting around.

Clayton: Professor Kauffman, do you worry about what a conservative court could do to a lot of the progress that's been made in civil rights, voting rights for Latinos and immigration and education issues?  

Kaufmann: Well, yes, I mean, I've followed the Supreme Court now for, I guess, almost 50 years. And I've noticed that in terms of making real progress in civil rights, it's usually taken a group of at least moderate to progressive justices. Now, there have certainly been important cases where there were coalitions of the more liberal justices and the moderate justices and a conservative justice. But in general, I think the greatest gains for Latinos and African Americans in civil rights and for women has been when there was a liberal majority or at least a strong plurality, hundreds, if they had at least three to five or six of the votes on their side. And I think about, obviously, all the way back to Brown v. Board of Education, but then they've been very important cases for Latinos, such as the White v. Regester and for voting rights in 1973 and and Plyler v. Doe for the rights of immigrants and education in 1982. And then some of the voting rights progress we made in the 1990s. But each time it did require that sort of coalition.

Clayton: Given your background as a civil rights litigator — a very passionate civil rights litigator — what did Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s tenure mean to you personally?  

Kaufmann: Well, I, of course, was impressed by her work in the '90s. She was always on the right side of the voting cases in the 2000s is always on the right side of voting cases and to the next last 10 years. So that's the part of her jurisprudence, for her cases and case law and opinions are most important, I think, directly to the Latino and African American communities. But certainly her whole career was always in support of civil rights. And and you have to look at her great focus and tremendous impact on cases about gender discrimination, which relates, of course, to race discrimination. I mean, she's one of those justices who saw a real comparison between race and national origin cases and gender cases. And because he really believed in everyone being treated fairly and equally and not being discriminated on the basis of their characteristics, whether that be race or national origin or gender or sexual preferences.  

Jerry Clayton can be reached at Jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @JerryClayton.

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