Latinos Support Barbara Lagoa Over Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, With Caveats

President Donald Trump dove into vetting his pick for the Supreme Court after the death of liberal pioneer Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Latino leaders say he should pick Cuban-American Barbara Lagoa over other top contender Amy Coney Barrett.

Democrats who spoke with Newsweek said the process under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rife with hypocrisy, after Republicans denied Barack Obama's pick Merrick Garland in an election year.

And they said Lagoa is more acceptable to them than Barrett, acknowledging her representation as a Cuban-American matters to them.

"I definitely think the president should wait until after the election, but it won't happen because there's power politics and hypocrisy at play," Domingo Garcia, the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told Newsweek. "At the same time I do believe Barbara Lagoa would be an excellent pick."

At 52-years-old, Lagoa would become the youngest justice on the Supreme Court, ensuring Trump's legacy as an influential president, at least in regard to the Court. She also has a record that Cuban-Americans in Florida would respond to, having been a pro bono attorney for the family of Elian Gonzalez, a saga that hardened the views of Cubans of Bill Clinton's administration, with images of machine gun-toting government agents seizing the terrified boy seared into the communal memory.

"Would I rather have a Latina woman than another white woman? Yes, I would," said Democratic strategist Cristina Antelo, the founder of Ferox Strategies in Washington.

Antelo noted that Lagoa was confirmed to the Florida Supreme Court in a bipartisan vote, while she believes Barrett to be "a radical conservative," who is "so opposite to what I believe and I don't think she would stand up for my rights as a woman."

The prospect of a Barrett nomination has thrilled religious conservatives, who feel a kinship with her due to her legal writings touching on faith. They felt she was targeted based on her faith during her own 2017 confirmation hearing, when Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said the "dogma lives loudly within you."

But a survey conducted of 363 Latinos across 29 states by H-Code, which collects data around Hispanic-American attitudes, provided to Newsweek, found that while they prefer a Latino justice, the nomination of Lagoa, in particular, misses the mark.

A total of 57 percent respondents said they support a Latino person, but not her, while 31 percent support Lagoa for the nomination, appearing to break roughly along partisan lines. Two-thirds of respondents also said Trump should not fill the Supreme Court seat before the election, and 60 percent said they did not think Trump's appointee would have the Latino community's best interest in mind.

The Latino Victory Fund, a Democratic group backing Biden, said Trump doesn't care about Latino representation, as evidenced by his cabinet, and the country can't allow him to use the Supreme Court as a political game.

"We need to see Trump's potential nomination of Barbara Lagoa for what it is—a political ploy to pander to Latinos in Florida," said Nathalie Rayes, the group's president. "If Trump really cared about the Latino community, he would stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, especially during the pandemic, attacking DACA, and undermining our voting rights."

As it does every cycle, Florida has again emerged as the electoral jewel both campaigns are fighting for, with Biden's outreach to Latinos in the state questioned in recent weeks. Daniel Garza, president of the Koch-backed LIBRE Initiative, a conservative Hispanic group, acknowledged the political implications of the pick, but said he would be happy as long as Trump chooses a constitutionalist, "interpreting law and not making new law."

"From a political observer's point of view, he would do well to choose Lagoa because of what is at stake politically, but I would be extremely satisfied with either one," Garza told Newsweek, adding that he never felt represented by Justice Sonia Sotomayor's "ultra-liberal, judicial activism style."

Antelo said Democrats are in a bad spot, finding themselves looking to the leadership and judgement of Chief Justice John Roberts in hopes that the court won't turn into a partisan weapon. The situation highlights the importance of electing Biden, she argued, who has already made his intentions regarding Supreme Court appointments clear.

"If Biden were president, he would have an African-American woman on that court to reward them for being the backbone of the Democratic Party, representation they've never had on the court," she said.

Barbara lagoa
MIAMI, FLORIDA - JANUARY 09: Newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSantis stands behind Barbara Lagoa as she speaks after he named her to the Florida Supreme Court on January 09, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty