Pete Hernandez, an agricultural worker, was indicted for the murder of Joe Espinoza by an all-Anglo (white) grand jury in Jackson County, Texas. Claiming that Mexican-Americans were barred from the jury commission that selected juries, and from petit juries, Hernandez’ attorneys tried to quash the indictment. Moreover, Hernandez tried to quash the petit jury panel called for service, because persons of Mexican descent were excluded from jury service in this case. A Mexican-American had not served on a jury in Jackson County in over 25 years and thus, Hernandez claimed that Mexican ancestry citizens were discriminated against as a special class in Jackson County. The trial court denied the motions. Hernandez was found guilty of murder and sentenced by the all-Anglo jury to life in prison. In affirming, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that “Mexicans are…members of and within the classification of the white race as distinguished from members of the Negro Race” and rejected the petitioners’ argument that they were a “special class” under the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, the court pointed out that “so far as we are advised, no member of the Mexican nationality” challenged this classification as white or Caucasian.
In a unanimous opinion delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects those beyond the two classes of white or Negro, and extends to other racial groups in communities depending upon whether it can be factually established that such a group exists within a community. In reversing, the Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment “is not directed solely against discrimination due to a ‘two-class theory'” but in this case covers those of Mexican ancestry. This was established by the fact that the distinction between whites and Mexican ancestry individuals was made clear at the Jackson County Courthouse itself where “there were two men’s toilets, one unmarked, and the other marked ‘Colored Men and ‘Hombres Aqui’ (‘Men Here’),” and by the fact that no Mexican ancestry person had served on a jury in 25 years. Mexican Americans were a “special class” entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
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Hernandez v. Texas. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/347us475