Sanford Heisler Sharp and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee wish everyone a very happy Hispanic Heritage Month. Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as a weeklong celebration before being extended to a monthlong celebration in 1988. Hispanic Heritage Month is unique in that it extends from the middle of one month to the middle of the next to honor the history of various Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, and Belize all celebrate their respective independence days during this time.
There are over 60 million Latinos (i.e., persons who come from a Latin American country or are of Latin American descent) in the United States today, making up 18 percent of the population. Yet, according to statistics from the Hispanic National Bar Association, Hispanics (i.e., persons who come from a primarily Spanishspeaking country or are descended from residents of such a country) make up only about 4 percent of U.S. attorneys, 1.8 percent of law firm partners, and 4.5 percent of federal and state judicial positions. Once in the legal profession, Latino lawyers face additional barriers to full participation. For example, a 2011 survey of Latino attorneys in Washington State revealed that 46 percent had experienced discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, including stereotyping, presumptions of incompetence, and disparate treatment.
The Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Sanford Heisler Sharp are committed to promoting Latinos in the legal profession and ending discrimination against Latinos not only in the legal workplace, but anywhere it manifests itself. We celebrate the diversity and history of Hispanic Americans, who hail from twenty-one unique countries, and we’d like to highlight a few influential Latino attorneys and judges both past and present:
- Sonia Sotomayor: Justice Sotomayor is the first Latin person and the third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. After serving on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, she was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama in 2009. She dissented from the majority in her very first case on the Court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), and has authored 22 opinions, concurrences, and dissents.
- Gustavo Garcia: Garcia led the legal team that won Hernandez v. Texas, 346 U.S. 811 (1954), at the U.S. Supreme Court, which extended the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment to Latinos and allowed Mexican-Americans to serve on juries. He also helped win a case that made the segregation of Mexican-American children in Texas schools illegal.
- Reynaldo Guerra Garza: Appointed by President Kennedy in 1962 to the Southern District of Texas, Garza was the first Latino federal judge in the United States and served as the Chief Judge of the District from 1974 to 1979. He became the first Latino appointed to any federal circuit court when he was appointed by President Carter to the Fifth Circuit in 1979.
- Miriam Naveira de Merly: Merly was the first Latina to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 and did so as the first female Solicitor General of Puerto Rico. She became the first female justice on the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico in 1985 and later became its first female Chief Justice in 2003.
- Vanessa Ruiz: Ruiz is a senior judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals who was appointed in by President Clinton in 1994. She has served as a mentor to other Latino attorneys, including David Herrera Urias, her former clerk and President Biden’s recent nominee for a seat in the District of New Mexico.
We hope that you take a moment to learn about these and other trailblazers, and we wish everyone a happy Hispanic Heritage Month. We encourage anyone who feels comfortable doing so to share their thoughts or reflections with the Committee via email at DiversityCommittee@sanfordheisler.com.