Hispanic tapped to State Supreme Court

Judge Carmen Espinosa became the first Hispanic justice to be nominated to the Connecticut Supreme Court when Gov. Dannel Malloy announced her selection earlier this month.

Espinosa, who is currently an appellate court judge in Connecticut, was also the first Hispanic to assume that role when Malloy elevated her from a superior court where she had served for nearly 20 years. If confirmed by the state Legislature, her appointment to the state’s highest court will represent growing Hispanic influence in Connecticut’s government.

“I would like to especially thank Governor Malloy for his continued commitment to diversity in our judiciary,” Espinosa said at a press conference earlier this month. “Not only does he honor me with this nomination, but he has honored the Hispanic community as well.”

In her work as a judge, Espinosa has served on the Sentence Review Division and the Client Security Fund Committee and was a member of the Judicial Branch Education Committee of the Connecticut Judges’ Institute. She was the first Hispanic to serve on both the state’s appellate court and the superior court, to which she was appointed in 1992. Prior to becoming a judge, she worked as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then as an assistant U.S. attorney.

She said that she hopes her latest appointment will serve as an example to Hispanic children that “anything is possible if they stay in school and use education as the bridge to success.”

If confirmed, Espinosa will join a growing number of Hispanics in Hartford. Of the 187 members of the legislature’s latest two-year class, a record dozen are Hispanic, including Connecticut’s first two Hispanic state senators, Andres Ayala and Art Linares Jr.

According to data released by the secretary of the state’s office after the 2012 election, Hispanics are estimated to comprise 8 percent of all registered voters in Connecticut, lagging behind their 14 percent share of the total state population. Hispanic lawmakers, by contrast, hold only 6 percent of legislative seats. Still, demographic trends — the Hispanic population in Connecticut and across the United States is young and growing — suggest Hispanics’ presence in political life will only continue to increase.

“In the state of Connecticut, we have a lot to count in terms of firsts for Latinos,” said Ayala, who represents the Bridgeport area. “But we need to continue the momentum. We need to get to a place where we’re counting sixths, 10ths and so on.”

He added that Espinosa’s nomination is a “huge deal,” comparable to the excitement surrounding Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court as its first Hispanic judge. But Carolina Bortolleto, a leader of Connecticut Students for a Dream — undocumented students and their allies from across the state who advocate for immigration reform — said the fact that Espinosa’s appointment comes after Sotomayor’s is not one to be celebrated.

“It’s time that we have some more on the state level when we have someone on the national level,” she said.

Malloy has demonstrated a desire to diversify his state’s highest court. Alongside Espinosa, he nominated his former chief legal counsel Andrew McDonald to the state Supreme Court in December. If McDonald is confirmed, he will be the first openly gay justice to serve on the high court.

If confirmed, Espinosa will replace Supreme Court Justice C. Ian McLachlan, who retired in June.

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