(CNN) - Mitt Romney has caught the attention of Latinos with campaign ads that highlight the significance of Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court - but it may not be the kind of attention he wants.
In a pro-Romney radio ad released this week in Ohio, conservative Jay Sekulow says that Rick Santorum's 1998 vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the federal circuit court "put her on a path to the Supreme Court."
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Sekulow heads the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative advocacy group founded by Pat Robertson that regularly files appeals to the Supreme Court on a range of hot-button issues, including same-sex marriage, affirmative action and abortion.
When Santorum voted for her confirmation in the late 90s, Sotomayor had been elevated by President Bill Clinton from the federal district court to a seat to the 2nd Circuit U-S Court of Appeals, based in New York.
In 2009, she was still a federal appeals judge when President Barack Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court. And by then Santorum had left the Senate.
In the ad, Romney notes that 29 of Santorum's colleagues voted against Sotomayor in 1998. The criticism echoes Republican attacks on "activist" or liberal judges.
But, that's not how it's being taken by some Latinos. "This unprovoked attack is another example of how Romney and the Republican Party are pushing the Latino vote to Obama," Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy said in his daily online message to pundits and press. "They forget that Judge Sotomayor is an icon for the Latino community. It's like attacking Martin Luther King or George Washington, for blacks and whites."
Back in February, Romney used a similar tactic in a Michigan television ad that asked if Santorum is ready to be president. In making its case, the ad uses as evidence that he voted for "liberal judge Sonia Sotomayor" and adds that Santorum "opposed creating E-Verify, a conservative reform to curb illegal immigration."
The Democrats jumped on the issue. "Mitt Romney has shown time and again that he is after the Tea Party vote, not the Latino vote, and with each attack he locks himself more to his extreme positions," Juan Sepulveda, Democratic National Committee Senior Advisor for Hispanic Affairs, said in a statement.
The tactic also caught the attention of Latino press. Univision's Tumblr reported on the ads and noted that the last direct attack on Sotomayor came when former candidate Rick Perry called her Montemayor accidently.
The Romney campaign responded to the Univision report with this statement from spokesman Albert Martinez: "Once again President Obama and his liberal allies are resorting to dishonest smears in an attempt to distract Hispanics from his abysmal record as President. Sonia Sotomayor is an activist judge who was handpicked by both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama because of her liberal sympathies and confirmed because Washington insiders like Rick Santorum did nothing to oppose her. This attack says a lot about how President Obama views the Hispanic community, as just another group of Americans he can pander to and divide for political gain."
Romney's not the only Republican to attack Sotomayor. Before he was a presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich was criticized by some Latino leaders and members of Congress when, during her confirmation hearings, he tweeted in 2009 that she was a racist for having once said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."