The judge who presided over young Barack Obama’s successful housing discrimination lawsuit against Citibank was part of Chicago’s progressive political machine, and he got his reward from President Obama 14 years later.
That reward was a suitcase of prestige: White House officials leaked news that Judge Ruben Castillo was among nine candidates Obama considered nominating to the Supreme Court in May 2009.
The public validation was a coup for Castillo, even though the prized nomination went to Sonia Sotomayor.
“She had a compelling life story, Ivy League credentials and a track record on the bench,” said a May New York Times report. “She was a Latina. She was a woman. She checked “each of the grids,” as Mr. Obama’s team later put it. And by the time the opportunity arrived, it became her nomination to lose.”
A Castillo nomination would have prompted the GOP and the media to examine his record, including his adjudication of Obama’s Citibank lawsuit. That examination would have highlighted their cooperative and complementary role in the city’s Democrat-heavy politics.
Castillo did not return a phone call from The Daily Caller seeking comment. He joined the Chicago Democratic machine by working as the city’s local lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), helping to deliver Illinois’ the first majority-Hispanic congressional district.
MALDEF delivers Hispanic votes for Democrats on election day, filling up its account in the city’s “favor bank,” which is the domain of the city’s mayor.
In the 1990s, the banks and the city were run by Mayor Richard Daley, who ran the city from 1989 to 2011. Now the city is run by Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff.
In 1991, Castillo departed MALDEF for a job at the politically connected law firm of Kirkland & Ellis.
His Chicago friends then promoted his name for a federal judgeship, and President Bill Clinton appointed him as the first Hispanic federal judge in Illinois. He took his seat in May 1994, just in time to take up the gavel in Obama’s 1995 case.
“I am proud to be here today to introduce Mr. Ruben Castillo. … I am even prouder to be able to say that I was able to play a part in selecting this outstanding nominee,” Illinois Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley Braun said during Castillo’s March 1994 confirmation hearing.
She specifically praised Castillo by highlighting his contribution to the Chicago machine.
Castillo’s redistricting case “resulted in the first majority Hispanic district to be created in Illinois, and that, of course, led to the election of Luis Gutierrez, the State’s first Latino Congressman,” said Moseley Braun, a one-term African-American liberal from Chicago.
“He was appointed by Mayor Daley to serve on a blue ribbon panel to recommend revisions to Chicago’s minority and female set-aside programs,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired at the time by then-Senator Joe Biden.
When Obama’s case appeared in Castillo’s court, he favored the plaintiffs and leaned against Citibank, according to a lawyer who worked on the case.
For example, in 1995, Castillo approved the lawyers’ claim that their few plaintiffs were the tip of a much larger problem at Citibank, converting the relatively small discrimination case into a high-payoff class-action lawsuit.
Castillo also applied the controversial disparate-impact legal theory, which says banks can be found guilty of discrimination when color-blind policies yield a customer base that is significantly different ethnically or racially from the community in their local market.
He also had connections to his fellow progressives at Miner Barnhill & Galland, the firm where Obama practiced law.
In 1997 and 1998, for example, Nancy Maldonado worked as a legal clerk in the firm while it settled the Buycks-Roberson case and collected $950,000 in fees.
She then walked through the legal industry’s revolving door to work as a clerk for Judge Castillo from 2001 to 2003.
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