Norma V. Cantu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Norma V. Cantu
Born (1954-11-02)2 November 1954
Brownsville, Texas
Occupation Lawyer, Educator

Norma V. Cantú (born November 2, 1954) is an American civil rights lawyer and educator. She is currently a professor of both its law and education at the University of Texas at Austin. She served as the Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office for Civil Rights under President Bill Clinton and as regional counsel for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).[1]


In 1977, at the age of 22, Cantú received her law degree from Harvard Law School. She received her B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Texas-Pan American in 1973. She graduated from Brownsville High School(now Hanna High School) in Brownsville, Texas in 1971.


Cantú started her career as an English teacher in Brownsville, Texas, in 1974. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she worked with the Nursing Home Task Force of the Texas Attorney General's office and as an English teacher in San Antonio, Texas.

She joined MALDEF in 1979, serving as a trial and appellate lawyer in federal and state courts in class action impact civil rights cases. In 1983, she was named the National Director of the Carnegie Endowment-funded Education, Litigation and Advocacy Project at MALDEF and also worked as a Staff Attorney on the Chicana Rights Project. In 1985, she became the regional counsel and education director of MALDEF, overseeing its offices in Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico. That same year, she was named as one of the "100 Most Influential Hispanics in the U.S." by Hispanic Business Magazine. While at MALDEF she litigated scores of important cases affecting educational funding, disability rights, student disciplinary policies, access to special services for English-language learners, and racially hostile environments.

Significant cases for which Cantú served as lead or co-counsel[edit]


Case Citation Significance
Edgewood vs. Kirby 777 S.W.2d 391 (Tex. 1980) This case prompted Texas legislature to reform its school funding laws and to appropriate approximately $1 billion to property-poor school districts
U.S. v. Texas Education Agency 506 F. Supp. 405 (E. D. –Tyler- 1981) A partially successful suit to require state education agency to raise quality of services to limited English proficient students. The appellate court found the appeal moot after Texas legislature responded to trial court with significant investments in state funds for hiring and training of teachers of limited English proficient students
Graves v. Barnes 700 F.2d 220 (5th Cir. 1983) A successful appeal of award of attorneys’ fees in suit to require State of Texas to comply with federal Voting Rights Act.
Diaz v. San Jose Unified School District 808 (N.D. Cal. 1985) A successful school desegregation case that resulted in the school district implementing changes in programs for educating limited English proficient students.
Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver 609 F. Supp. 149 (D. Colo. 1985); also reported at 895 F.2d 659 (10th Cir. 1990); 653 F. Supp. 1536 (D. Colo. 1985) and 670 F. Supp. 153 (D. Colo. 1987). A successful school desegregation case that resulted in the school district agreeing to major changes affecting quality of services to limited English proficient students. This case produced the first appellate ruling that admonished federal courts to consider the impact of school desegregation cases on language minority students.
Castañeda v. Pickard 781 F.2d 456 (5th Cir. 1986) A partially successful suit to require local districts to hire more qualified bilingual education teachers. The Fifth Circuit set a new rule on the lawful use of standardized tests for non-English speakers, announced a 3-part test for measuring effectiveness of education services for limited English proficient students and prohibited ability grouping of student unless it served a valid educational purpose.
Gomez v. State Board of Education of Illinois 614 F. Supp. 342 (E. D. Ill. 1987), affirmed 811 F.2d 1030 (7th Cir. 1987) A successful challenge to the State’s failure to enforce and monitor the quality of local programs for limited English proficient students. First case to decide that state agency could not delegate away to local districts its responsibility under federal law for removing barriers to the effective education of limited English proficient students.
Adams v. Bennett 675 F. Supp. 667 (D. D.C. 1987) A successful challenge to failure by federal agency to enforce civil rights laws. This case prompted the U.S. Department of Education to comply with court-ordered timetables for investigating and negotiating settlements with statewide systems of higher education.
U.S. v. Overton; Price v. Austin Independent School District 722 F.2d 1182 (5th Cir. 1983) A case where Ms. Cantu represented CRUCIAL, a coalition of black, white and Latino parents in Odessa, Texas, in successful efforts to desegregate a school system. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the order by the trial court to have the school district provide quality instruction to students on both sides of the railroad tracks. The facts in this case regarding the role of high school football in a West Texas town undergoing desegregation formed the basis of national best-seller and movie Friday Night Lights
League of United Latin American Citizens, et al., v. Richards 863 S.W. 2d 449 (Tex. S. Ct. 1993) A partially successful challenge to state funding system brought by low-income residents of counties along Texas-Mexico border. While the Texas Supreme Court declined to extend their rulings in Edgewood to the higher education context, this suit prompted the Texas Legislature to appropriate about $600 million in extra funds for state border colleges and universities that served one-fourth of the state’s population but received approval to offer only 3 percent of Ph.D. and professional school degree programs. The suit provided the impetus to create medical and engineering programs in South and border Texas. New campuses started with the border initiative funds include downtown UT-San Antonio and Texas A & M at Laredo.

Public service[edit]

On March 5, 1993, President Clinton nominated Cantú to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. She was sworn in on May 24, 1993.[3][4]

She served the nation for eight years in this capacity, where she oversaw a staff of approximately 850 in implementing governmental policy for civil rights in American education. Within the first two years, her office increased the number of illegal discrimination complaints resolved by 20%; more than a third of the cases were disposed of without adversarial proceedings based on voluntary corrective action. By her final year in office, the number of cases resolved each year had risen almost another 20%.[5]

In 1996, Cantú reshaped the environment for women athletes at educational institutions. She interpreted Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal statute that was created to prohibit sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance, as requiring schools to offer "proportional opportunity" for female and male athletes. She led the effort to redefine opportunity to mean the number of women playing sports, not the number of spots available on a school's teams.[6] This reinterpretation, while opening doors for a number of women athletes, was not without criticism. Some have argued that this approach has resulted in a cut in some male sports programs, specifically wrestling and gymnastics.[7] According to some critics, universities have had to drop these less lucrative and less popular male sports programs to make way for women sports programs. Her work on Title IX resulted in her being named to the Women’s Institute on Sports and Education Hall of Fame on September 27, 1996 and as one of the "50 Most Influential People in College Sports" by College Sports Magazine.


Since 2001, Cantú has served as a visiting professor of law and education at the University of Texas at Austin. While at UT, she has developed and taught courses on disability law, school reform, performance management in education, politics and policy in education, and the intersection of law and policy in education.

In 2002, Cantú co-founded the Mexican-American Legislative Leadership Foundation, a not-for-profit organization to encourage students to gain experience on staff to the Texas legislature. She currently serves on its board.[8]

In 2004, the American Bar Association's Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession honored Cantú with its Spirit of Excellence Award for "opening doors for many and preventing other doors from closing."[9] The award is given each year to "celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession." [10]


Preceded by
Michael L. Williams
Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office for Civil Rights
Succeeded by
Gerald A. Reynolds