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Paez Wins Judicial Post, Waited Longer For A Vote Than Any Judicial Nominee In U.S. History

by Richard Simon

March 10, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE TIMES MIRROR CO. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON -- After enduring a record 1,506-day wait, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Paez of Los Angeles won Senate confirmation Thursday to the federal appeals court.

The surprisingly lopsided 59-to-39 vote ended a bitter partisan fight over the long-stalled nomination -- one capped by Vice President Al Gore suspending his presidential campaign to stand by in the Capitol to cast a tie-breaking vote, if needed.

But Gore's vote was not needed. Fourteen Republicans broke with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and joined all 45 Senate Democrats in voting to confirm Paez as a member of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gore did not miss the opportunity to celebrate the vote, declaring in Spanish, "Amigos, hoy finalmente hemos logrado justicia." ("Friends, today we've finally achieved justice.")

Paez, the first Mexican American to sit on the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, waited longer for a vote than any judicial nominee in U.S. history. As a result, he had become the prime exhibit for Democratic accusations that the Senate GOP majority was subjecting minority and female judicial appointees to unfair scrutiny. The criticism was heightened last fall after the Senate, on a party-line vote, rejected Ronnie White, the first African American on the Missouri Supreme Court, for a federal judgeship.

Additionally, Democrats have vowed to use Republican opposition to Paez against GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush, who is aggressively courting the Latino vote. A Bush campaign spokeswoman said that the Texas governor does not comment on Senate judicial confirmations, but she said that 13% of Bush's nearly 2,600 appointments in his state have been Latinos.

Lott denied any Republican bias, noting that 18 of the 34 judges confirmed by the Senate last year were minorities and women. Earlier this week, the Senate confirmed another Latino judge, Julio Fuentes of New Jersey, to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, by a 93-to-0 vote. Fuentes was nominated a year ago.

Reached in Los Angeles after the vote, Paez, 52, said he was "pleased and honored by the Senate's decision to confirm my nomination. I'm very grateful."

"I'd like to thank President Clinton and all of his administration, including the vice president, for their unwavering and unlimited support of my nomination," said Paez, who was presiding over a trial during the vote. "I also would like to thank all of the senators who spoke on my behalf, supported my nomination and who voted for confirmation today."

Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said: "We're very, very happy." She added that she hopes the Senate vote will open the way for appointment of more Latinos to the federal bench.

Latinos hold 42 of about 879 positions in the federal judiciary--or about 4.8% of the total, even though Latinos make up 11% of the nation's population and are projected to become the nation's largest minority group in 2005, according to MALDEF.

Thursday's vote came after a flurry of last-minute lobbying, including calls to senators not only from Clinton but also from Paez's mother.