In 1954, the landmark Hernandez vs. Texas case established Mexican-Americans as a separate class from whites and African-Americans, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The Supreme Court ruling challenged judicial discrimination against Mexicans by citing the 14th Amendment to prevent Hernandez from being convicted by an all-white jury.
In Jackson County, migrant worker Pedro Hernandez was indicted for the alleged murder of his employer, Joe Espinoza, in 1950, the Oyez Project states. He was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to life in prison. Despite the 14th Amendment provision that all citizens have the right to a trial by a jury of peers, no Mexican-Americans had served as jurors in Jackson County in over 25 years. The Supreme Court overturned the Texas ruling, honoring Hernandez's right to a new trial.
The Texas judiciary operated under a two-class system that categorized Mexican-Americans as part of the white race, making their exclusion lawful, the Legal Information Institute states. Attorney Gus Garcia argued that Hernandez was being denied the equal protection afforded to white and black citizens due to a murky racial distinction. Garcia also noted that 14 percent of Jackson County's population had Mexican surnames, but no Mexican-Americans were called to serve on juries.
When the appeal reached the Supreme Court, Garcia used the racially divided social norms of Jackson County to prove the judicial system discriminated against Mexican-Americans, according to the Legal Information Institute. For example, the men's bathroom of the Jackson County court provided one unmarked toilet for whites and one toilet labeled "colored men" and "hombres aqui," or "men here."