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A Latinx Resource Guide: Civil Rights Cases and Events in the United States

1954: Hernandez v. Texas

"The exclusion of otherwise eligible persons from jury service solely because of their ancestry or national origin is discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment"

—Chief Justice Earl Warren

https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2014/05/before-brown-v-board-of-education-there-was-mendez-v-westminster/
Supreme Court Decision delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954). "Hernández v. Texas: A Legacy of 60 Years," by Francisco Macías (In Custodia Legis Blog: May 5, 2014). Law Library of Congress.

In 1951, Pete Hernandez, a young Mexican-American cotton picker, was accused of murdering Joe Espinoza and charged with life imprisonment by an all Anglo-Saxon jury in Edna, Texas. Mexican American civil rights lawyers Gus Garcia and Carlos Cadena from San Antonio and James de Anda from Houston, Texas took the Hernandez’ case to the United States Supreme Court. On May 2, 1954, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was governor of California during the Mendez v. Westminster case in 1947, the Court unanimously ruled that the 14th Amendment protects those beyond the members of the “two class theory” and that Mexican Americans were a “special class” in Jackson County, Texas.

Despite more than 100 years of citizenship rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and post WWII integration into the local economy, Mexicans Americans in Texas endured segregation in systemic jury discrimination, which reached a climax in 1951 with the Hernandez case. Despite being 14% of Edna's population, no Mexican American had executed their citizenship rights as jury commissioners, petit jurors, or grand jurors in over 50 Texas counties with a predominant Mexican American population since 1926. The lawyers claimed that the all Anglo-Saxon jury, which indicted Hernandez, denied him his equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

The Texas Court of Appeals held that the 14th Amendment applied to a “two class theory”—classifying Mexican Americans as a special class within the white race while legal journal arguments pointed to inclusion of interclass discrimination under this clause. With financial assistance from LULAC, the Pan American Union, the American G.I. Forum, and locals from Edna, Garcia, Cadena, and de Anda convinced the Supreme Court to grant Hernandez another trial with a jury of his peers. They indicted and imprisoned him for murder. There remains limited documentation on this case because records have been vanished or hidden.

Timeline

May 30, 1848  Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo granted Mexicans rights of citizenship—categorizing them white by law.
July 9, 1868 Passage of the 14th Amendment guaranteed the Equal Protection Clause.
Mid to late 1940s
(Post World War II)
Mexican American veterans came home to encouragement to participate in civic life, get better jobs, and receive an education.
August 7, 1951 Pete Hernandez and Joe Espinoza of Edna, Texas got into an argument resulting in the killing of Espinoza by Hernandez.
October 4, 1951 Gus Garcia quashed the court decision by affirming the court’s violation of Hernandez’ constitutional rights in excluding Mexican American jurors.
October 11, 1951 An all Anglo jury indicted Pete of “murder with malice” and sentenced him to life in prison.
June 18, 1952 The Texas appellate court affirmed the Jackson county court decision and denied a rehearing.
January 21 1953 The Hernandez lawyers filed a writ of certiorari.
October 12, 1953 The court accepted the writ of certiorari petition and transferred the case to the appellate docket.
February 1954 The American G.I. Forum announced a contribution of $1,236.95 to the Hernandez case, reflecting a collective contribution raised by chapters throughout the state.
May 2, 1954 The Supreme Court ruled that exclusion of eligible jurors due to their ancestry of national origin violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
December 27, 1954 Pete pleaded guilty and received a twenty year sentence.

Resources

The following resources are available online at the Library of Congress.

Staff in the Hispanic Reading Room can provide access to these books at the Library of Congress. If you cannot visit the Library in person, please contact us using Ask a Librarian for assistance. In many cases, you can also find these materials at your local library.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The following external websites can be useful for expanding your research on the Hernandez v. Texas, and the lives of Gustavo García and Carlos Cadena.

Featured Video

On May 01, 2014, this discussion of the landmark Supreme Court decision giving Mexican-Americans equal protection under the 14th Amendment featured speakers Hilda G. Tagle and Veronica Villalobos.