Senator’s Switch to Spanish in High Court Hearings Called ‘Savvy’

‘Padilla was savvy enough to know that Spanish-language media would run his statements without filter, and on the A-block of their prime-time evening newscasts.’

Senator Padilla speaks during a confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, March 21, 2022. AP/J. Scott Applewhite, pool

In another sign of the growing clout of Hispanic voters in American politics, a United States senator took the unusual step of delivering part of his opening statement during an official proceeding in a language other than English.

During Monday’s Judiciary Committee hearings for the Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Senator Padilla began his opening statements in support of Ms. Brown Jackson’s nomination in English.

Before closing, however, he paused and said he wanted to share a few words in Spanish about the nomination.

“La Corte Suprema decide docenas de casos cada año que afectan nuestras vidas y derechos fundamentales de los estadounidenses,” Mr. Padilla said. “Espero escuchar mas sobre la jueza y las perspectivas importantes y necesarias que traería a la Corte Suprema.”

Translated, the Democrat of California said, “The Supreme Court decides dozens of cases every year that affect the lives and fundamental rights of the people of the United States … I hope to hear more about the judge and the necessary and important perspectives she will bring to the Supreme Court.”

A Republican political observer, Jorge Bonilla of the conservative Media Research Center, described Mr. Padilla’s remarks as “wholly performative” but effective nonetheless.

“Padilla was savvy enough to know that Spanish-language media would run his statements without filter, and on the A-block of their prime-time evening newscasts,” Mr. Bonilla, who runs the MRC’s Spanish-language arm, said. 

Hearing a language other than English in official proceedings of the Congress is not unheard of, but it is certainly unusual. Senator Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who learned Spanish while working at a Jesuit school in Honduras, made history in 2013 when he became the first senator to deliver a full speech on the floor of the Senate in a language other than English.

Mr. Kaine’s 13-minute speech in Spanish, on the topic of immigration reform, required the unanimous consent of the Senate. He also was obliged to enter an English translation of his remarks into the Congressional Record.

Prior to that, only snippets of Spanish had been heard during Senate floor speeches. Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma made some brief statements in Spanish on the floor in 2003 in support of a Hispanic nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He did so again in 2005.

That same year, Senator Martinez of Florida, a Cuban immigrant, spoke Spanish on the floor of the Senate in a speech about President Bush’s nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general.  

Mr. Inhofe made news a year later when he proposed an amendment to an immigration bill that would have made English the national language of the United States.

In the House of Representatives, Spanish has also been heard only sparingly over the years. In 1981, a Texas congressman — Mickey Leland — expressed his support for a language provision in the Voting Rights Act in Spanish, an effort that was greeted with words of solidarity in Italian from a representative from New Jersey, Millicent Fenwick.

The New York Sun

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