Charlotte – Throughout his life, Judge Albert Diaz has been first in many ways: the first in his family to go to college, the first to enlist in the Marines, and the first Hispanic on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Now he wants to see other Latino firsts.
"Someone had to be first, but in the future I hope that won't be the case, that it will be common to see Hispanics stand out in different sectors of society, and that is achieved with study, work and dedication," Diaz told Efe.
His confirmation for the appellate post came last December, more than a year after his nomination in November 2009 by President Barack Obama.
In 2001, Diaz became the first Latino to serve on the North Carolina Superior Court and in 2005 he was named the first ever Business Court judge in Charlotte.
After almost a year on the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, Diaz told Efe that it has been an "enriching experience" with long working hours but that he has enjoyed "every moment."
The 4th Circuit hears appeals of decisions handed down by U.S. district courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas.
"It was necessary to have a Latino voice in this court and I hope that more Latinos serve our country the same way I do," the 51-year-old jurist said.
To reach that position, however, this native of Brooklyn, New York, had many obstacles to overcome since childhood, when at age 5 his parents divorced and his mother raised the two boys by herself.
He remembers that his school years were difficult, with many obstacles to conquer to achieve "the American dream."
Graduating from high school at 17, Diaz enlisted in the U.S. Marines and during his 25 years with the Corps he earned a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, a law degree from New York University and an MBA from Boston University.
After working as a prosecutor, defense lawyer and judge in the Marines, he retired from the service to enter private practice in Charlotte.
"Our system only works if advocates are willing to stand up and fight for a client's rights regardless of what moral opposition they may have to a particular issue," Diaz once said.
"I knew how to take advantage of the opportunities that arose, to fight to be the best, to stay in school, to work every day to achieve my greatest possible potential," he recently told students at a Charlotte high school.
[Editor's note: a previous version of this article misidentified the states covered by the 4th Circuit.]