Puerto Rican Legal Organization Smacks Down Republican ‘Guilt By Association’ Attacks

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July 8, 2009 7:47 a.m.

Last week, we noted that conservatives were mining hundreds of pages of documents, released by LatinoJustice PRLDEF (formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund), related to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s tenure on the organization’s board of directors.

Sotomayor’s opponents have sought to tie the group’s legal defense of minorities to her decision as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Ricci v. Destefano–a decision conservatives contend was unfair to white people. Of the many problems with that strategy, the biggest is probably that PRLDEF board members don’t do litigation. Its leaders made that clear in a letter to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)–ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee–who’s been the most prominent Republican to object to Sotomayor’s affiliation with the organization.

“Neither the Board as a whole nor any individual member selects litigation to be undertaken or controls ongoing litigation,” the letter reads.

In fact, ABA Model Code 6.03 provides that Board members have no attorney-client relationship with the clients of a legal services organization and therefore do not control the activities of staff lawyers in individual cases. The Board’s role is thus limited to overall policy questions such as whether to emphasize employment, housing, or education. Operational decisions were and are appropriately delegated to the organization’s President and General Counsel; the President reported generally on the organization’s docket at Board meetings. Judge Sotomayor, and the full Board, understood their advisory role and did not step outside of that role. Understanding this factual context, we hope you will see that your description that “Judge Sotomayor served in senior leadership roles” at PRLDEF is a mischaracterization.

You can read the letter in full here. Democrats will cite it on the Senate floor today, in advance of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, which begin next week.

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