Latina Lawyers Before the Supreme Court

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Maria Guadalupe Mendoza has published The Thirteen Known Latina Litigants Before the Supreme Court of the United States. Here is the abstract, updated April 3, 2011.

From 1935 to 2010, only thirteen known Latinas have argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. The first known Latina to argue before the United States, Miriam Naveira Merly, then serving as the Solicitor General to Puerto Rico, argued before the High Court in 1975. A year later, Vilma Martinez, the first known Mexican American woman to appear before the Supreme Court, argued East Texas Motor Freight Sys., v. Rodriguez, marking the last time the 1970s was known to entertain an appearance by a Latina advocate. Over the course of the 1980s, six Latinas are known to have litigated before the Court, and sadly, the 1990s only brought one known appearance by a Latina before the High Court. From 2000 to 2010, four known Latinas have argued before the Supreme Court.

Before the Supreme Court, these Latinas took on everything from the battles of the downtrodden and the impoverished – including the legal woes of the Latino community – and they took on the causes of the government. After defying odds and breaking down barriers, these Latinas went on to become the “firsts” to hold particular positions such as judgeships, Ambassador to Argentina, law school professor, and appellate attorney. They are perhaps the most underrepresented demographic to appear before the Court, which is unfortunate, because Latinas are now part of the nation’s largest, youngest, and fastest growing minority in the United States. Historically, advocates from all walks of life have powerfully shaped our nation’s laws to reflect the values, priorities and character of the American people, and the Supreme Court bar and greater legal profession must act aggressively to ensure that “we the people” continue to contribute to the development of the law.

These Latinas who powerfully shaped our laws deserve to go down in history along with the other “firsts” and champions of the Supreme Court, but unfortunately, never before has there been an attempt to learn who was the “first” Latina to argue before the Supreme Court or learn about the history of Latina litigants before the High Court. By interviewing these Latina litigants about their formative experiences, entry into the legal profession, and the pathway these remarkable Latinas took to present their argument before the High Court, this article tries to understand why so few Latinas have argued before the Supreme Court. Part one of this article addresses the lack of research on Latinas before the Court, and why caring about the history of Latina litigants before the Supreme Court matters. Part two of this article looks both at the salient barriers and opportunities that made it possible for these Latinas to argue before the Court, and part three of this article focuses on the life and career of these Latina litigants. Part four of this article describes how the dearth of appearances by Latina advocates is highly influenced by the rise of a small group of elite lawyers who focus on Supreme Court cases, the Court’s shrinking docket, and the bleak state of Latinas in the legal profession.

The full text is not available from SSRN, but Ms. Mendoza intends to make additional research via an article available in future. On the issue of Latina/Latino attorneys to argue before the High Court, see also Michael A. Olivas’ The First Latina and Latino Lawyers To Argue Before [the] Supreme Court. [Hat tip to Maria Guadalupe Mendoza].

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