Victories for civil liberties have been few and far between over the last decade, but here's a happy story with a strange cast of heroes. It begins with a federal judgeship opening up in the Southern District of New York, and Senator Chuck Schumer suggesting a replacement:
Schumer recommended Nelson Román, a New York State judge with a bio seemingly copied from The West Wing's Justice Mendoza—a Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx who served for seven years as an NYPD officer before obtaining a JD from Brooklyn Law School, clerking, and then working his way up the state judicial hierarchy. By the time Schumer recommended his appointment, he was a member of the First Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court.
Schumer recommended Roman in April of 2012. Then in July of 2012, Roman issued a judicial ruling that brought a halt to stop-and-frisk policing in New York City. That led the NY Daily News editorial page to pronounce Roman's federal judicial aspirations dead. But Schumer did not back down, and Obama tapped Roman for the job for which both he and Schumer got another Daily News scolding. But of course this was the fall of an election year, so Senate Republicans refused to hold a vote in late September or in October or in early November. Then Obama got reelected, but Roman didn't get a vote during the lame-duck session. That killed Roman's nomination, but come January Obama once again appointed him to the vacancy. On May 9, 2013 he finally got his vote on the floor of the Senate and he was confirmed 97-0. And thus thanks in part to the hard work and political guts of Chuck Schumer did a civil libertarian hero get a seat on the federal bench, despite the best efforts of the local populist news media and the Republican Party.I'd offer my own analysis here, but I can't really improve on what Matt Yglesias says:
Does that make Schumer a civil liberties hero? No... If you actually know much about Schumer you'd know he really distinguishes himself as one of the least civil libertarian major figures in the Democratic Party...To be maximally ungenerous to Schumer, he did it because he is embedded in a New York State political coalition that heavily depends on the votes of people of Puerto Rican origin so he needs to do something or other to promote the careers of prominent Puerto Rican Democrats and it just so happens that you can't find any well-qualified Puerto Rican jurists who endorse systematic racial discrimination. Maybe if you could have found a judge like that, Schumer would have picked him instead. But of course it's not a coincidence that well-qualified Puerto Rican jurists are unlikely to endorse systematic racial discrimination. What we see here is an example of how when you empower the political coalition that includes racial and ethnic minority groups, you end up promoting the interests of racial and ethnic minority groups even in cases when the leaders of the coalition don't share their priorities because politics is complicated.