President’s Message

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) is the leading civil rights voice of the Latino community.

December 2019

President’s Message

As we reach the end of 2019, we pause to share just a sample of some of MALDEF’s most important recent work.  But, before you read the stories below, I want to share one example of how MALDEF’s work made a huge difference this past year.  You will not read this analysis in any newspaper or online journal, but it shows how MALDEF’s tenacious commitment to racial justice matters — and delivers a tremendous impact.

This year, our tenacity in the Census citizenship question litigation made all the difference in ultimately removing the question.  There were six cases in three district courts challenging the citizenship question.  The two trial courts that considered claims of intentional racial discrimination rejected those claims, but all six of the cases prevailed on other claims, including the specific claims considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the New York cases.  In the other cases that included a claim of racial intent – that the Trump administration added the citizenship question specifically in order to reduce the Latino population count – the litigators decided not to appeal the denial of the racial intent claims.  MALDEF alone insisted on appealing the denial of its racial intent claim, even as we prevailed on other claims. 

This decision to appeal might have been unremarkable except for what subsequently occurred.  As a result of these decisions, only the MALDEF case had a live claim of racial intent, pending before the court of appeals, when critical evidence of racial intent unexpectedly emerged in documents on a deceased Republican political operative’s computer drives.  MALDEF was then able to convince the district court to re-try the intent claim in light of the new evidence, and we convinced the court of appeals to remand the case for the retrial.  Among the many cases and counsel, we were the only ones who could take this step because we had not abandoned our racial intent claim.

Our threatened re-trial on racial intent caused the Trump administration lawyers to send an extraordinary letter to the Supreme Court, urging the justices to preclude other claims challenging the citizenship question (meaning our pending racial intent claim) from going forward even if those claims were not heard or argued before the high Court.  This request rested heavily on an assertion that June 30 was the drop-dead, absolutely final deadline to begin to print the Census 2020 questionnaire. 

This public assertion to the justices, in turn, undoubtedly played a major role in the Trump administration ultimately deciding in mid-July that it had to abandon any plan to get the question back on Census 2020, even despite Donald Trump’s tweet in early July that the administration would work to satisfy the Supreme Court decision and restore the citizenship question. 

In this way, MALDEF’s earlier, unique decision not to abandon the denied racial intent claim led to the letter to the Supreme Court and to the ultimate demise of the citizenship question.   This is a narrative that the press will never report, but accurately reflects the impact of MALDEF’s aggressive litigation strategic approach.

I am as proud as ever of our important work, and we expect to accomplish much more in 2020.  Thank you for your ongoing support!

Thomas A. Saenz

President and General Counsel

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund