Hernandez v. Texas

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Hernandez v. Texas
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 11, 1954
Decided May 3, 1954
Full case name Pete Hernandez v. State of Texas
Citations 347 U.S. 475 (more)
74 S. Ct. 667; 98 L. Ed. 866; 1954 U.S. LEXIS 2128
Prior history Cert. to the Court of Criminal Appeals for Texas. Hernandez v. State, 160 Tex. Crim. 72, 251 S.W.2d 531, 1952 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1421 (Tex. Crim. App., 1952)
The Court decided that Mexican Americans and all other racial and national groups in the United States had equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Warren, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954),[1] was a landmark case, "the first and only Mexican-American civil-rights case heard and decided by the United States Supreme Court during the post-World War II period."[2]In a unanimous ruling, the court held that Mexican Americans and all other racial or national groups in the United States had equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling was written by Justice Earl Warren. This was the first case in which Mexican-American lawyers had appeared before the US Supreme Court.

The case was part of mid-century civil rights law, decided in the same year as Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional.


Pete Hernandez, a Mexican-American agricultural worker, was convicted for the 1950 murder of Joe Espinosa. Hernandez's pro bono legal team, including Gustavo C. García, wanted to challenge what they knew was "the systematic exclusion of persons of Mexican origin from all types of jury duty in at least seventy counties in Texas."[2] They appealed Hernandez's conviction based on the fact that Mexican Americans, a recognized minority in Texas who were treated as a class and subject to social discrimination in Jackson County, where the case had been tried, were systematically excluded from the grand jury and jury. His defense lawyers demonstrated that, although numerous Mexican Americans were citizens and had qualified for jury duty in Jackson County, during the previous 25 years no Mexican Americans were among the 6,000 persons chosen to serve on juries.

This resulted in Hernandez having been deprived of equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. Hernandez and his lawyers appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. They appealed to the United States Supreme Court through a writ of certiorari. The legal team included García, Carlos C. Cadena and John J. Herrera of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and James DeAnda and Cris Alderete of the G. I. Forum, both activist groups for civil rights for Mexican Americans. These were the first Mexican-American lawyers to represent a defendant before the US Supreme Court, which heard their arguments on January 11, 1954.


Chief Justice Earl Warren and the rest of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Hernandez, and required he be retried by a jury composed without discrimination against Mexican Americans. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects persons beyond the racial classes of white or black, and extends protection to other racial or national groups.


The ruling was an extension of protection in the American Civil Rights Movement to minority groups within the country and an acknowledgement that, in certain times and places, groups other than blacks (African Americans) could be discriminated against. The ultimate effect of this ruling was that the protection of the 14th Amendment was ruled to cover any racial, national and ethnic groups of the United States for which discrimination could be proved.

The oral arguments of this case have been lost. However, the United States Supreme Court docket sheet and letter from Justice Clark to Chief Justice regarding joining opinion are available online.

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