Twenty-five years ago this fall, I began my journey as a lawyer when I commenced law school. Even as a first-year student, I went to law school intending to do civil rights work after graduation. I knew that my desire and ambition was what was going to get me through the difficult times that I expected to experience in law school. The law students here in the audience are all far enough along to know that, even at the best of law schools, there can indeed be some difficult times; you have to have something to sustain you through those times. The opportunity to work on behalf of the Latino community in civil rights is what I knew would empower me and enable me to endure the tough times and make it through law school.
I entered law school with a particular belief about what “civil rights law” meant. This belief rested on both my learning in history—as a history major in college studying, in particular, the Latino community’s experience with the United States legal system—and on my limited experience with and exposure to the law. I went into law school believing that I should study the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and related federal statutory law. My rudimentary understanding, then, was that “civil rights law” was about taking the post-Civil War amendments—the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in particular—and applying them to deter and prevent the kind of ongoing discrimination still affecting the Latino community.
Looking back now, of course, I was woefully wrong about what “civil rights law” is. And I learned this almost immediately when I began as a practicing civil rights lawyer at MALDEF in 1993, after two years of clerking for federal judges. The first case to which I was assigned—involving an issue that I ended up working on throughout my career to date—was a First Amendment case. Some of you might conclude that that is not really such a stretch for a civil rights lawyer, that the First Amendment is a civil rights amendment. However, back then, free speech was generally viewed as a civil liberties issue, and the First Amendment was ordinarily seen as a provision to be used to protect the right to political engagement.
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal∞ From a lecture delivered October 25, 2016 ¡Buenas noches! Good evening! I want to thank the Latinx Rights Scholars Program for inviting me to speak tonight. I also want to thank the Latino Law Students Association, OUTLaw, the
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