Dominguez v. State of Texas (Hazlewood Act)
In appreciation for the service of men and women in the U.S. military during a period of conflict, Texas’s Hazlewood Act provides a tuition waiver at Texas public colleges and universities for returning veterans. Although the program is intended to further the education of all honorably-discharged Texas veterans, the state interpreted the Act to exclude those veterans who were legal permanent resident immigrants and not U.S. citizens at the time they entered the service, including those veterans who subsequently became citizens.
In 2007, MALDEF filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of the American GI Forum, Latino veterans, and veterans of other national origins challenging the state’s administration of the Hazlewood Act. The lawsuit alleged that denying the tuition waiver to veterans who enter the military as legal permanent residents violates the Equal Protection and Supremacy Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In January 2008, the plaintiffs represented by MALDEF filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, asking the Court to immediately halt the discriminatory practices of the State of Texas and its institutions of higher learning. Rather than contest the merits of the motion, Texas instead filed a response admitting that two prior opinions issued by its Attorney General in 2006, which had interpreted the Hazlewood Act to deny tuition benefits to thousands of legal permanent resident immigrants who served in the U.S. military, made the Hazlewood Act unconstitutional and, thus, withdrew those opinions.
As a result, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted temporary, and then permanent, rules to provide that all qualified veterans are eligible for the Hazlewood exemption, regardless of their immigration status at the time they entered the military.
This case ensured that the rights of all Texas veterans who fought for our country will be upheld, including the right to equal access to higher educational opportunities in the state.