Mendez vs Westminster School District
Mendez, et al v. Westminster School District of Orange County, et al, was a 1946 federal court case that challenged racial segregation in Orange County, California schools. Five Mexican-American fathers from Orange County (Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Gonzalo Mendez, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez) challenged the practice of school segregation in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. They claimed that their children, along with 5,000 other children of “Mexican” ancestry, were victims of unconstitutional discrimination by being forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans” in the Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and El Modena school districts of Orange County. The plaintiffs were represented by an established Jewish American civil rights attorney, David Marcus. Funding for the lawsuit was primarily paid for initially by the lead plaintiff, Gonzalo Mendez, who began the lawsuit when his three children were denied entrance to their local Westminster school.
Senior District Judge Paul J. McCormick, sitting in Los Angeles, presided at the trial and ruled in favor of Mendez and his co-plaintiffs on February 18, 1946, finding segregated schools to be an unconstitutional denial of equal protection. The school district appealed to the Ninth Federal District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which upheld Judge McCormick’s decision, finding that the segregation practices violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Governor Earl Warren, who would later become Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and preside over Brown vs. Board of Education, signed into law the repeal of remaining segregationist provisions in the California statutes. Several organizations joined the appellate case as amicus curiae, including the NAACP, represented by Thurgood Marshall and Robert L. Carter.