Why the Judiciary Matters
The judicial branch has played an impactful role in the lives of minorities by extending equal protections and rights. The courts are often the last resort – and sometimes the only resort – for minorities seeking redress from inadequate or unfair laws.
Like other minorities, Hispanics have faced discrimination, which often can only be addressed by the courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court, with its power to find discriminatory practices unconstitutional.
Past Supreme Court rulings on voting rights, immigration, affirmative action, labor and education have had long-lasting and far-reaching impacts on the lives of Latino families, for better or for worse. A list of some of those cases can be found below.
Many of these rulings have been decided by one vote. That’s why it’s so important that we have judges who are sensitive to the issues that Latinos face.
Some appointees to the Supreme Court have aggressively undermined constitutional protections for the most vulnerable in our society. That is why we especially need nominees who will stand up to them and be a strong, effective voice for equal justice and basic freedoms for all.
Examples of Significant Supreme Court Cases for the Latino Community
League of United Latin American Citizens, et al v. Perry, et al., 548 U. S. 399 (2006)
5-4 decision in favor of re-drawing congressional district to give Latino voters a voice
In an appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), along with other appellants, challenged the constitutionality of the 2003 redistricting of Texas’ Congressional districts. LULAC and the other appellants argued that the statewide redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act because it diluted the influence of Latino voters and occurred in between census takings, in order to create a permanent Republican majority. Voting 7-2, the Court rejected the appellants’ argument that the redistricting constituted an unconstitutional statewide partisan gerrymandering. A majority of the Court also upheld the possibility that States can redistrict without limit in between census-takings. By a 5-4 vote, however, the Court held that the newly redrawn 23rd Congressional District impermissibly diluted the voting power of the Latino majority in violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Court therefore remanded the case in order for the 23rd District and adjacent Districts to be redrawn in line with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
Georgia v. Ashcroft, 539 U.S. 461 (2003)
This litigation challenged a new Georgia redistricting plan in which the Democratic-controlled General Assembly attempted to increase the number of “influence” districts where African American voters would be able to exert a significant, if not decisive, force in the election process by “unpacking” the most heavily concentrated African American majority districts. In Georgia, it is generally uncontested that a substantial majority of Georgia's black voters vote Democratic, and all elected black representatives in the General Assembly are Democrats. The proponents of the new plan believed that leaving African-Americans concentrated in heavily African-American districts would result in more Republican districts, thus diminishing the power of African-Americans overall. Under the Voting Rights Act, Georgia was required to pre-clear this plan under Section 5, and the United States argued that pre-clearance should be denied because it unlawfully reduced black voters' ability to elect candidates of their choice. The Supreme Court held that states could have the flexibility to maximize a minority group’s electoral success through a variety of methods, either by creating a certain number of "safe" districts in which it is highly likely that minority voters will be able to elect the candidate of their choice, or a greater number of districts in which it is likely, although perhaps not quite as likely that minority voters will be able to elect their candidates. Additionally, Section 5 allows states to risk having fewer minority representatives in order to achieve greater overall representation of a minority group by increasing the number of representatives sympathetic to the interests of minority voters.
University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978)
5-4 decision allowed affirmative action within specific parameters
The Medical School of the University of California at Davis (Davis) had two separate admissions programs for its entering class of 100 students. Anyone could compete for the regular admissions program and those who were considered under this program had to meet a grade point average cut-off. There was also a special admissions program under which “economically and/or educationally disadvantaged” students or members of a “minority group” could apply. Students considered for the special admissions program did not compete for admission with the applicants for the regular admissions program. Over a number of years, only minority students were selected in the special program. In 1973 and 1974, 16 slots each year went to students in the special admissions program. A white student, Bakke, was denied admission in 1973 and 1974 to Davis through the regular admissions program. His admissions “score” was higher than the “scores” of a number of admittees under the special admissions program. Bakke sued alleging he was discriminated against because of his race under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the California Constitution. Although the Court ultimately issued a judgment that the special admissions program was unlawful, it also issued a judgment that Davis could continue to take race into account in its admissions process.
Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)
5-4 decision upheld affirmative action at University of Michigan Law School
A Caucasian student denied admission to the University of Michigan Law School sued the law school claiming its admission policy discriminated against her on the basis of race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U. S. C. §1981. She claimed that she was rejected because the Law School uses race as a "predominant" factor, giving applicants belonging to certain minority groups a significantly greater chance of admission than students with similar credentials from disfavored racial groups. The law school contended its policy complied with the Bakke decision and attempted to achieve student body diversity by requiring admissions officials to evaluate each applicant based on all the information available in the admissions file, including a personal statement and essay, letters of recommendation, and the applicant's undergraduate grade point average and Law School Admissions Test score. The policy does not define diversity solely in terms of racial and ethnic status, but it does reaffirm the law school's commitment to diversity with special reference to the inclusion of African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American students, who otherwise might not be represented in the student body in meaningful numbers. The Supreme Court held that the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body is not prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause, Title VI, or §1981.
Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003)
6-3 decision struck down affirmative action policies at University of Michigan undergraduate college
Two Caucasian students who applied to the University of Michigan's (University) College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) were ultimately denied admission, even though both were considered to be within “qualified range” for admission. The students sued the University alleging violations of their rights to equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment, and for racial discrimination in violation of federal statute. The University's Office of Undergraduate Admissions (OUA) used a selection method under which every applicant from an underrepresented racial or ethnic minority group is automatically awarded 20 points of the 100 needed to guarantee admission. The Supreme Court held that the University’s use of race in its freshman admissions policy is not narrowly tailored enough to achieve educational diversity. While the Bakke decision would permit a university to employ an admissions program in which race or ethnic background may be deemed a 'plus' in a particular applicant's file, the automatic distribution of points to minority applicants does not allow the University to consider each particular applicant as an individual, assessing all of the qualities that individual possesses, and in turn, evaluating that individual's ability to contribute to the unique setting of higher education.
Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974)
Unanimous decision provided basis for bilingual education
In a class action suit, non-English speaking students of Chinese ancestry claimed that the educational practices of the San Francisco Unified School District denied them equal educational opportunity. The Supreme Court held that the failure of the school system to provide English language instruction to the students, or to provide them with other adequate instructional procedures, denied them a meaningful opportunity to participate in the public educational program and thus violated 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based "on the ground of race, color, or national origin," in "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982)
5-4 decision won education rights for undocumented children
A class action brought on behalf of school-age Mexican American students who could not establish that they were legally admitted into the United States challenged Texas statutes authorizing school districts to deny enrollment to such students. The statutes also withheld state funds from local districts for the education of these students. The Supreme Court held that the statutes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
NOTE: We know from memos that were made public during John Roberts’ confirmation hearings, that he lamented that the Reagan Administration had not filed a brief in support of the Texas state law.
Hoffman Plastics Compounds v. National Labor Relations Board, 535 U.S. 137 (2002)
5-4 decision that barred wrongly fired undocumented workers from getting back pay
An employee named Jose Castro was laid off by his employer, Hoffman Plastics Compounds, when he joined with other workers in a union-organizing campaign at the employer’s plant. The National Labor Relations Board (Board) found that the employer had violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and ordered back pay and other relief. In a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge to determine the amount of back pay to which Castro was entitled, Castro admitted that he was undocumented and that he had succeeded in obtaining employment with Hoffman by providing a friend’s birth certificate. The Court held that Castro was not entitled to the back pay for the period after he was discharged because federal immigration policy, as found in the Immigration and Reform Control Act which prohibits employers from hiring undocumented workers and workers from using false documents, foreclosed such relief.
Adarand Constructors, Inc v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200 (1995)
5-4 decision created obstacles to minority contracting
The United States Department of Transportation entered into a contract with a prime contractor to perform highway construction. Under the federal rules, the prime contractor had a financial incentive to hire subcontractors that were certified as small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Under the federal rules, minority owned businesses were presumed to be socially and economically disadvantaged. When the prime contractor asked subcontractors to submit bids to perform work, a non-minority owned firm, Adarand Constructors, Inc. submitted the lowest bid. A Latino-owned firm submitted the second lowest bid. The prime contractor awarded the subcontract to the Latino-owned firm. Adarand sued the federal government claiming that the race-based presumption in the subcontractor compensation clauses violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. When the Supreme Court considered the case, it held that all racial classifications, including those imposed by the federal government, must be analyzed according to strict scrutiny. To meet the strict scrutiny standard, the government must prove that it has a compelling interest to use a racial classification and that the means it has chosen to serve that interest are narrowly tailored. The Court did not make a finding at that time as to whether the federal government met the strict scrutiny test, but rather remanded the case back to the district court to see if the government met the test.