U.S. Supreme Court
Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954)
Hernandez v. Texas
Argued January 11, 1954
Decided May 3, 1954
347 U.S. 475
CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS
The systematic exclusion of persons of Mexican descent from service as jury commissioners, grand jurors, and petit jurors in the Texas county in which petitioner was indicted and tried for murder, although there were a substantial number of such persons in the county fully qualified to serve, deprived petitioner, a person of Mexican descent, of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and his conviction in a state court is reversed. Pp. 347 U. S. 476-482.
(a) The constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws is not directed solely against discrimination between whites and Negroes. Pp. 347 U. S. 477-478.
(b) When the existence of a distinct class is demonstrated, and it is shown that the laws, as written or as applied, single out that class for different treatment not based on some reasonable classification, the guarantees of the Constitution have been violated. P. 347 U. S. 478.
(c) The exclusion of otherwise eligible persons from jury service solely because of their ancestry or national origin is discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 347 U. S. 478-479.
(d) The evidence in this case was sufficient to prove that, in the county in question, persons of Mexican descent constitute a separate class, distinct from "whites." Pp. 347 U. S. 479-480.
(e) A prima facie case of denial of the equal protection of the laws was established in this case by evidence that there were in the county a substantial number of persons of Mexican descent with the qualifications required for jury service, but that none of them had served on a jury commission, grand jury or petit jury for 25 years. Pp. 347 U. S. 480-481.
(f) The testimony of five jury commissioners that they had not discriminated against persons of Mexican descent in selecting jurors, and that their only objective had been to select those whom they thought best qualified, was not enough to overcome petitioner's prima facie case of denial of the equal protection of the laws. Pp. 347 U. S. 481-482.
(g) Petitioner had the constitutional right to be indicted and tried by juries from which all members of his class were not systematically excluded. P. 347 U. S. 482.
___ Tex.Cr.R. ___, 251 S.W.2d 531, reversed.
Page 347 U. S. 476
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner, Pete Hernandez, was indicted for the murder of one Joe Espinosa by a grand jury in Jackson County, Texas. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. 251 S.W.2d 531. Prior to the trial, the petitioner, by his counsel, offered timely motions to quash the indictment and the jury panel. He alleged that persons of Mexican descent were systematically excluded from service as jury commissioners, [Footnote 1] grand jurors, and petit jurors, although there were such persons fully
Page 347 U. S. 477
qualified to serve residing in Jackson County. The petitioner asserted that exclusion of this class deprived him, as a member of the class, of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motions. At the trial, the motions were renewed, further evidence taken, and the motions again denied. An allegation that the trial court erred in denying the motions was the sole basis of petitioner's appeal. In affirming the judgment of the trial court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered and passed upon the substantial federal question raised by the petitioner. We granted a writ of certiorari to review that decision. 346 U.S. 811.
In numerous decisions, this Court has held that it is a denial of the equal protection of the laws to try a defendant of a particular race or color under an indictment issued by a grand jury, or before a petit jury, from which all persons of his race or color have, solely because of that race or color, been excluded by the State, whether acting through its legislature, its courts, or its executive or administrative officers. [Footnote 2] Although the Court has had little occasion to rule on the question directly, it has been recognized since Strauder v. West Virginia,100 U. S. 303, that the exclusion of a class of persons from jury service on grounds other than race or color may also deprive a defendant who is a member of that class of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. [Footnote 3] The State of Texas would have us hold that there are only two classes -- white and Negro -- within the contemplation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decisions of this Court
Page 347 U. S. 478
do not support that view. [Footnote 4] And, except where the question presented involves the exclusion of persons of Mexican descent from juries, [Footnote 5] Texas courts have taken a broader view of the scope of the equal protection clause. [Footnote 6]
Throughout our history, differences in race and color have defined easily identifiable groups which have at times required the aid of the courts in securing equal treatment under the laws. But community prejudices are not static, and, from time to time, other differences from the community norm may define other groups which need the same protection. Whether such a group exists within a community is a question of fact. When the existence of a distinct class is demonstrated, and it is further shown that the laws, as written or as applied, single out that class for different treatment not based on some reasonable classification, the guarantees of the Constitution have been violated. The Fourteenth Amendment is not directed solely against discrimination due to a "two-class theory" -- that is, based upon differences between "white" and Negro.
As the petitioner acknowledges, the Texas system of selecting grand and petit jurors by the use of jury commissions is fair on its face and capable of being utilized
Page 347 U. S. 479
without discrimination. [Footnote 7] But, as this Court has held, the system is susceptible to abuse, and can be employed in a discriminatory manner. [Footnote 8] The exclusion of otherwise eligible persons from jury service solely because of their ancestry or national origin is discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Texas statute makes no such discrimination, but the petitioner alleges that those administering the law do.
The petitioner's initial burden in substantiating his charge of group discrimination was to prove that persons of Mexican descent constitute a separate class in Jackson County, distinct from "whites." [Footnote 9] One method by which this may be demonstrated is by showing the attitude of the community. Here, the testimony of responsible officials and citizens contained the admission that residents of the community distinguished between "white" and "Mexican." The participation of persons of Mexican descent in business and community groups was shown to be slight. Until very recent times, children of Mexican descent were required to attend a segregated school for the first four grades. [Footnote 10] At least one restaurant in town prominently displayed a sign announcing "No Mexicans Served." On the courthouse grounds at the time of the
Page 347 U. S. 480
hearing, there were two men's toilets, one unmarked, and the other marked "Colored Men" and "Hombres Aqui" ("Men Here"). No substantial evidence was offered to rebut the logical inference to be drawn from these facts, and it must be concluded that petitioner succeeded in his proof.
Having established the existence of a class, petitioner was then charged with the burden of proving discrimination. To do so, he relied on the pattern of proof established by Norris v. Alabama,294 U. S. 587. In that case, proof that Negroes constituted a substantial segment of the population of the jurisdiction, that some Negroes were qualified to serve as jurors, and that none had been called for jury service over an extended period of time, was held to constitute prima facie proof of the systematic exclusion of Negroes from jury service. This holding, sometimes called the "rule of exclusion," has been applied in other cases, [Footnote 11] and it is available in supplying proof of discrimination against any delineated class.
The petitioner established that 14% of the population of Jackson County were persons with Mexican or Latin American surnames, and that 11% of the males over 21 bore such names. [Footnote 12] The County Tax Assessor testified
Page 347 U. S. 481
that 6 or 7 percent of the freeholders on the tax rolls of the County were persons of Mexican descent. The State of Texas stipulated that,
"for the last twenty-five years, there is no record of any person with a Mexican or Latin American name having served on a jury commission, grand jury or petit jury in Jackson County. [Footnote 13]"
The parties also stipulated that
"there are some male persons of Mexican or Latin American descent in Jackson County who, by virtue of being citizens, freeholders, and having all other legal prerequisites to jury service, are eligible to serve as members of a jury commission, grand jury and/or petit jury. [Footnote 14]"
The petitioner met the burden of proof imposed in Norris v. Alabama, supra. To rebut the strong prima facie case of the denial of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Constitution thus established, the State offered the testimony of five jury commissioners that they had no discriminated against persons of Mexican or Latin American descent in selecting jurors. They stated that their only objective had been to select those whom they thought were best qualified. This testimony is not enough to overcome the petitioner's case. As the Court said in Norris v. Alabama:
"That showing as to the long-continued exclusion of negroes from jury service, and as to the many negroes qualified for that service, could not be met by mere generalities. If, in the presence of such testimony as defendant adduced, the mere general assertions by officials of their performance of duty were to be accepted as an adequate justification for
Page 347 U. S. 482
the complete exclusion of negroes from jury service, the constitutional provision . . . would be but a vain and illusory requirement. [Footnote 15]"
The same reasoning is applicable to these facts.
Circumstances or chance may well dictate that no persons in a certain class will serve on a particular jury or during some particular period. But it taxes our credulity to say that mere chance resulted in their being no members of this class among the over six thousand jurors called in the past 25 years. The result bespeaks discrimination, whether or not it was a conscious decision on the part of any individual jury commissioner. The judgment of conviction must be reversed.
To say that this decision revives the rejected contention that the Fourteenth Amendment requires proportional representation of all the component ethnic groups of the community on every jury [Footnote 16] ignores the facts. The petitioner did not seek proportional representation, nor did he claim a right to have persons of Mexican descent sit on the particular juries which he faced. [Footnote 17] 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.
Texas law provides that, at each term of court, the judge shall appoint three to five jury commissioners. The judge instructs these commissioners as to their duties. After taking an oath that they will not knowingly select a grand juror they believe unfit or unqualified, the commissioners retire to a room in the courthouse where they select from the county assessment roll the names of 16 grand jurors from different parts of the county. These names are placed in a sealed envelope and delivered to the clerk. Thirty days before court meets, the clerk delivers a copy of the list to the sheriff who summons the jurors. Vernon's Tex.Code Crim.Proc. arts. 333-350.
The general jury panel is also selected by the jury commission. Vernon's Tex.Civ.Stat. art. 2107. In capital cases, a special venire may be selected from the list furnished by the commissioners. Vernon's Tex.Code Crim.Proc. art. 592.
See Carter v. State of Texas,177 U. S. 442, 177 U. S. 447.
"Nor, if a law should be passed excluding all naturalized Celtic Irishmen [from jury service], would there be any doubt of its inconsistency with the spirit of the amendment."
100 U.S. at 100 U. S. 308. Cf. American Sugar Refining Co. v. Louisiana,179 U. S. 89, 179 U. S. 92.
See Truax v. Raich,239 U. S. 33; Takahaski v. Fish & Game Commission,334 U. S. 410; cf. Hirabayashi v. United States,320 U. S. 81, 320 U. S. 100:
"Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are, by their very nature, odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality."
Sanchez v. State, 147 Tex.Cr.R. 436, 181 S.W.2d 87; Salazar v. State, 149 Tex.Cr.R. 260, 193 S.W.2d 211; Sanchez v. State, Tex.Cr.App., 243 S.W.2d 700.
In Juarez v. State, 102 Tex.Cr.R. 297, 277 S.W. 1091, the Texas court held that the systematic exclusion of Roman Catholics from juries was barred by the Fourteenth Amendment. In Clifton v. Puente, Tex.Civ.App., 218 S.W.2d 272, the Texas court ruled that restrictive covenants prohibiting the sale of land to persons of Mexican descent were unenforceable.
Smith v. Texas,311 U. S. 128, 311 U. S. 130.
We do not have before us the question whether or not the Court might take judicial notice that persons of Mexican descent are there considered as a separate class. See Marden, Minorities in American Society; McDonagh & Richards, Ethnic Relations in the United States.
The reason given by the school superintendent for this segregation was that these children needed special help in learning English. In this special school, however, each teacher taught two grades, while, in the regular school, each taught only one in most instances. Most of the children of Mexican descent left school by the fifth or sixth grade.
The 1950 census report shows that, of the 12,916 residents of Jackson County, 1,865, or about 14% had Mexican or Latin American surnames. U.S. Census of Population, 1950, Vol. II, pt. 43, p. 180; id., Vol. IV, pt. 3, c. C, p. 45. Of these 1,865, 1,738 were native born American citizens and 65 were naturalized citizens. Id., Vol. IV, pt. 3, c. C, p. 45. Of the 3,754 males over 21 years of age in the County, 408, or about 11%, had Spanish surnames. Id., Vol. II, pt. 43, p. 180; id., Vol. IV, pt. 3, c. C, p. 67. The State challenges any reliance on names as showing the descent of persons in the County. However, just as persons of a different race are distinguished by color, these Spanish names provide ready identification of the members of this class. In selecting jurors, the jury commissioners work from a list of names.
R. 55. The parties also stipulated that there were no persons of Mexican or Latin American descent on the list of talesmen. R. 83. Each item of each stipulation was amply supported by the testimony adduced at the hearing.
294 U.S. at 294 U. S. 598.
See Akins v. Texas,325 U. S. 398, 325 U. S. 403; Cassell v. Texas,339 U. S. 282, 339 U. S. 286-287.
See Akins v. Texas, supra, note 16, at 325 U. S. 403.
Hernandez v. Texas, 347U.S. 475 (1954) 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." In a unanimous ruling, the court held that Mexican Americans and all other nationality 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.
Pedro 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." They appealed Hernandez's conviction based on the fact that Mexican Americans, a recognized minority in Texas, were treated as a class and subject to social discrimination in Jackson County, where the case had been tried. They were systematically excluded from the grand jury and jury. Hernandez' defense lawyers demonstrated that, although numerous Mexican Americans were citizens and had otherwise qualified for jury duty in Jackson County, during the previous 25 years no Mexican Americans (or, more precisely, no one with a hispanic surname) 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, as juries were restricted by ethnicity. 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 JusticeEarl 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 nationality groups as well.
The ruling was an extension of protection in the 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 national or 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.