1954 May 3

All Racial and Ethnic Groups Guaranteed Equal Protection: “Hernandez v. Texas”


Hernandez v. Texas, decided on this day by the U.S. Supreme Court, was a major civil rights case holding that Mexican-Americans and all other racial and ethnic groups were guaranteed equal protectionof the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. Pedro Hernandez was a Mexican agricultural worker charged with murder. His lawyers argued that he could not receive a fair trial because non-Caucasians were excluded from jury pools in the county where he was tried. A unanimous Supreme Court agreed and ordered that he be retried by a jury selected without discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Warren explicitly pointed out that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was not limited to the racial categories of “Negro” and “white.”

The decision came exactly two weeks before the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, on May 17, 1954, declaring racially separate-but-equal schools to be unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Warren for the Court: “His only claim is the right to be indicted and tried by juries from which all members of his class are not systematically excluded – juries selected from among all qualified persons regardless of national origin or descent. To this much, he is entitled by the Constitution.”

Learn more about the case: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jrh01

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