Thomas A. Saenz, Counsel to Los Angeles Mayor, Named MALDEF President and General Counsel

Civil rights veteran brings wealth of legal experience to nation’s leading Latino civil rights organization

July 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA – The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) today announced Thomas A. Saenz, Counsel to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as its new President and General Counsel. Saenz will join MALDEF in mid-August.

Since August 2005, Saenz has served as Counsel to Mayor Villaraigosa and as a member of the Mayor's four-person Executive team. Saenz has helped to lead the Mayor's legislative effort to change the governance of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in order to secure a quality education for all students in Los Angeles and has recently served as the Mayor's lead liaison on labor negotiations as the City strives in partnership with workers to address its serious financial situation.

“We could not ask for a better civil rights leader than Thomas Saenz to take the helm of MALDEF at this critical time,” said Patricia A. Madrid, Chairman of the MALDEF Board of Directors and former New Mexico Attorney General. “The Latino community is currently facing a drastic rise in hate crimes and witnessing an explosive rebirth of extremist anti-immigrant rhetoric and measures that adversely affect all Latinos. A highly respected attorney and community leader, Thomas brings a wealth of legal expertise and dedication to civil rights causes that fundamentally define the future of Latinos. We are looking forward to a great future under his leadership as we work together to advance the mission of MALDEF,” Madrid added.

“Tom Saenz has been a trusted advisor who understands the importance of public service and working on behalf of those in need,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “His zealous leadership, legal prowess and counsel have helped diversify our body of City commissioners, provide living wages for our City's workers, and demand a quality education for every child in Los Angeles. I thank Tom for his devoted service to the City of Los Angeles and wish him all the best in his new endeavor. MALDEF is not only inheriting a brilliant legal mind, but also a passionate and committed champion of civil rights.”

Saenz had previously served at MALDEF for 12 years. During that time he successfully challenged California’s unconstitutional Proposition 187 and led numerous civil rights cases in the areas of immigrants’ rights, education, employment, and voting rights. Saenz achieved several victories against ordinances unlawfully restricting the rights of day laborers, served as lead counsel in the 2001 challenge to California’s congressional redistricting, and initiated the employment discrimination lawsuit resulting in a $50 million settlement with Abercrombie and Fitch. Saenz was also the lead drafter of the Amicus brief on behalf of Latino organizations supporting affirmative action in the Supreme Court case, Grutter v. Bollinger.

Saenz said he is looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities. “Throughout its 40-year history, MALDEF has been a national leader on all legal and policy issues affecting the Latino community. I look forward to leading a very strong MALDEF staff in successfully addressing the next set of challenges facing what is now the largest minority group in this country, a group whose progress is essential to our nation’s success,” Saenz stated.

Prior to joining MALDEF early in his legal career, Saenz clerked at both the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after graduating summa cum laude from Yale University and receiving his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.

“Tom Saenz is an outstanding choice, he represents an extensive and celebrated record as a champion for civil rights and social justice. Throughout his career as Chief Counsel to Mayor Villaraigosa and as legal counsel for MALDEF, Saenz has proven to be a cornerstone for legal activism in our country,” stated Wade Henderson, President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). “I can think of no better leader to take on the challenge of continuing the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s nationwide movement for equality and justice.”

“MALDEF’s work is now more important than ever before. Tom has spent his professional life serving as a champion for civil rights and social justice. His legal career has been devoted to protecting the people’s civil and constitutional rights. His lawsuits overturned local ordinances banning day laborers from seeking employment and he will lead the fight to ensure that the promises of justice and equality are a reality for all Americans,” stated Dolores Huerta, Co-founder of United Farm Workers of America and President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

Saenz has an extensive and celebrated background.

At the beginning of August 2005, Thomas A. Saenz became Counsel to the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, where he serves as a member of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s executive team and provides legal and policy advice to the mayor. Previously, Saenz practiced civil rights litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a national organization dedicated to securing and promoting the civil rights of Latinos in the United States, where he served as Vice President of Litigation. As Vice President, Saenz oversaw MALDEF’s efforts nationwide to pursue civil rights litigation in the areas of education, employment, political access, immigrants’ rights, and public resource equity.

Saenz was born and raised in southern California. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale University, and he received his law degree from Yale Law School. Saenz then served as a law clerk to the Honorable Harry L. Hupp of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and to the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Saenz joined MALDEF as a staff attorney in 1993; he became Los Angeles Regional Counsel in 1996, National Senior Counsel in 2000, and Vice President of Litigation in 2001. At MALDEF, Saenz served as lead counsel in numerous civil rights cases, involving such issues as educational equity, employment discrimination, immigrants’ rights, day laborer rights, and voting rights. For example, he served as MALDEF’s lead counsel in successfully challenging California’s Proposition 187 in court; as such, he presented extensive written and oral arguments on numerous occasions in three different cases involving the anti-immigrant initiative. He was also MALDEF’s lead counsel in two court challenges to Proposition 227, the English-only education initiative that voters enacted in 1998, and he successfully challenged several ordinances barring day laborers from soliciting employment. Saenz also served as MALDEF’s lead counsel in challenging California’s congressional redistricting in 2001.

For eight years, Saenz taught "Civil Rights Litigation" in the spring semester as an adjunct lecturer at the U.S.C. Law School. Saenz currently serves on the Los Angeles County Board of Education, and he previously served on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund