Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court, which agreed with the arguments of Hernandez’s attorneys and overturned his conviction. The Chief Justice wrote: “In numerous decisions, this court has held that it is a denial of the equal protection of the laws to try a defendant of a particular race or color under an indictment issued by a grand jury, or before a petit jury, from which all persons of his race or color have, solely because of that race or color, been excluded by the state, whether acting through its legislature, its courts, or its executive or administrative officers.” Warren noted: “The State of Texas would have us hold that there are only two classes — white and Negro — within the contemplation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decisions of this Court do not support that view.”The Chief Justice continued: “When the existence of a distinct class is demonstrated, and it is further shown that the laws, as written or applied, single out that class for different treatment not based on some reasonable classification, the guarantees of the Constitution have been violated. The Fourteenth Amendment is not directed solely against discrimination due to a ‘two-class theory’ — that is, based upon differences between ‘white’ and Negro.” Warren then noted that Hernandez’s burden to substantiate the charge of group discrimination was “to prove that persons of Mexican descent constitute a separate class in Jackson County, distinct from ‘whites.’ … Here, the testimony of responsible officials and citizens contained the admission that residents of the community distinguished between ‘white’ and ‘Mexican.’ … Until very recent times, children of Mexican descent were required to attend a segregated school for the first four grades. At least one restaurant in town prominently displayed a sign announcing ‘No Mexicans Served.’ On the courthouse grounds at the time of the hearing, there were two men’s toilets, one unmarked, and the other marked ‘Colored Men’ and ‘Hombres Aqui.’ No substantial evidence was offered to rebut the logical inference to be drawn from these facts, and it must be concluded that petitioner succeeded in his proof.”
Warren concluded with the following: “But it taxes our credulity to say that mere chance resulted in there being no members of this class among the over 6,000 jurors called in the past 25 years. The result bespeaks discrimination, whether or not it was a conscious decision on the part of any individual jury commissioner. … Petitioner’s only claim is the right to be indicted and tried by juries from which all members of his class are not systematically excluded – juries selected from among all qualified persons regardless of national origin or descent. To this much, he is entitled by the Constitution.”
Sources: For a complete treatment of this case, see: Michael Olivas. “Colored Men” and “Hombres Aqui”: Hernandez v. Texas and the Emergence of Mexican-American Lawyering. Houston, Texas, Arte Publico Press, 2006. ISBN 10: 1-55885-476-2. Also, see Ignacio Garcia. White But Not Equal: Mexican Americans, Jury Discrimination, and The Supreme Court. Tucson, The University of Arizona Press, 2009.