Mendez v. Westminster

In this February 18, 1946 ruling, Senior District Judge Paul J. McCormick of Los Angeles found segregated schools to be a violation of the 14th Amendment.  
Senior District Judge Paul J. McCormick
Grade Level

Mendez, et al, v. Westminster School District, et al, 64 F.Supp. 544 (C.D. Cal. 1946), aff’d, 161 F.2d 774 (9th Cir. 1947) (en banc)






MENDEZ et al. v WESTMINSTER SCHOOL DIST. et al of Orange County


64 F.Supp. 544 (D.C.CAL. 1946)

McCORMICK, District Judge.

Gonzalo Mendez, William Guzman, Frank Palomino, Thomas Estrada and Lorenzo Ramirez, as citizens of the United States, and on behalf of their minor children, and as they allege in the petition, on behalf of ‘some 5000’ persons similarly affected, all of Mexican or Latin descent, have filed a class suit pursuant to Rule 23 of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. following section 723c, against the Westminister, Garden Grov and El Modeno School Districts, and the Santa Ana City Schools, all of Orange County, California, and the respective trustees and superintendents of said school districts.

The complaint, grounded upon the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States1 and Subdivision 14 of Section 24 of the Judicial Code, Title 28, Section 41, subdivision 14, U.S.C.A.,2 alleges a concerted policy and design of class discrimination against ‘persons of Mexican or Latin descent or extraction’ of elementary school age by the defendant school agencies in the conduct and operation of public schools of said districts, resulting in the denial of the equal protection of the laws to such class of persons among which are the petitioning school children.

Specifically, plaintiffs allege:

‘That for several years last past respondents have and do now in furtherance and in execution of their common plan, design and purpose within their respective Systems and Districts, have by their regulation, custom and usage and in execution thereof adopted and declared: That all children or persons of Mexican or Latin descent or extraction, though Citizens of the United States of America, shall be, have been and are now excluded from attending, using, enjoying and receiving the benefits of the education, health and recreation facilities of certain schools within their respective Districts and Systems but that said children are now and have been segregated and required to and must attend and use certain schools in said Districts and Systems reserved for and attended solely and exclusively by children and persons of Mexican and Latin descent, while such other schools are maintained attended and used exclusively by and for persons and children purportedly known as White or Anglo-Saxon children.

‘That in execution of said rules and regulations, each, every and all the foregoing children are compelled and required to and must attend and use the schools in said respective Districts reserved for and attended solely and exclusively by children of Mexican and Latin descent and are forbidden, barred and excluded from attending any other school in said District or System solely for the reason that said children or child are of Mexican or Latin descent.’

The petitioners demand that the alleged rules, regulations, customs and usages be adjudged void and unconstitutional and that an injunction issue restraining further application by defendant school authorities of such rules, regulations, customs, and usages.

It is conceded by all parties that there is no question of race discrimination in this action. It is, however, admitted that segregation per se is practiced in the above-mentioned school districts as the Spanish-speaking children enter school life and as they advance through the grades in the respective school districts. It is also admitted by the defendants that the petitioning children are qualified to attend the public schools in the respective districts of their residences.

In the Westminister, Garden Grove and El Modeno school districts the respective boards of trustees had taken official action, declaring that there be no segregation of pupils on a racial basis but that non-English-speaking children (which group, excepting as to a small number of pupils, was made up entirely of children of Mexican ancestry or descent), be required to attend schools designated by the boards separate and apart from English-speaking pupils; that such group should attend such schools until they had acquired some proficiency in the English language.

The petitioners contend that such official action evinces a covert attempt by the school authorities in such school districts to produce an arbitrary discrimination against school children of Mexican extraction or descent and that such illegal result has been established in such school districts respectively. The school authorities of the City of Santa Ana have not memorialized any such official action, but petitioners assert that the same custom and usage exists in the schools of the City of Santa Ana under the authority of appropriate school agencies of such city.

The concrete acts complained of are those of the various school district officials in directing which schools the petitioning children and others of the same class or group must attend. The segregation exists in the elementary schools to and including the sixth grade in two of the defendant districts, and in the two other defendant districts through the eighth grade. The record before us shows without conflict that the technical facilities and physical conveniences offered in the schools housing entirely the segregated pupils, the efficiency of the teachers therein and the curricula are identical and in some respects superior to those in the other schools in the respective districts.

The ultimate question for decision may be thus stated: Does such official action of defendant district school agencies and the usages and practices pursued by the respective school authorities as shown by the evidence operate to deny or deprive the so-called non-English-speaking school children of Mexican ancestry or descent within such school districts of the equal protection of the laws? …

The Education Code of California provides for the requirements of teachers’ qualifications, the admission and exclusion of pupils, the courses of study and the enforcement of them, the duties of superintendents of schools and of the school trustees of elementary schools in the State of California. The appropriate agencies of the State of California allocate to counties all the State school money exclusively for the payment of teachers’ salaries in the public schools and such funds are apportioned to the respective school districts within the counties. While, as previously observed, local school boards and trustees are vested by State legislation with considerable latitude in the administration of their districts, nevertheless, despite the decentralization of the educational system in California, the rules of the local school district are required to follow the general pattern laid down by the legislature, and their practices must be consistent with law and with the rules prescribed by the State Board of Education. See Section 2204, Education Code of California. …

We therefore turn to consider whether under the record before us the school boards and administrative authorities in the respective defendant districts have by their segregation policies and practices transgressed applicable law and Constitutional safeguards and limitations and thus have invaded the personal right which every public school pupil has to the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment to obtain the means of education.

We think the pattern of public education promulgated in the Constitution of California and effectuated by provisions of the Education Code of the State prohibits segregation of the pupils of Mexican an[548]cestry in the elementary schools from the rest of the school children.

Section 1 of Article IX of the Constitution of California directs the legislature to ‘encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement’ of the people. Pursuant to this basic directive by the people of the State many laws stem authorizing special instruction in the public schools for handicapped children. See Division 8 of the Education Code. Such legislation, however, is general in its aspects. It includes all those who fall within the described classification requiring the special consideration provided by the statutes regardless of their ancestry or extraction. The common segregation attitudes and practices of the school authorities in the defendant school districts in Orange County pertain solely to children of Mexican ancestry and parentage. They are singled out as a class for segregation. Not only is such method of public school administration contrary to the general requirements of the school laws of the State, but we think it indicates an official school policy that is antagonistic in principle to Sections 16004 and 16005 of the Education Code of the State.3

Our conclusions in this action, however, do not rest solely upon what we conceive to be the utter irreconcilability of the segregation practices in the defendant school districts with the public educational system authorized and sanctioned by the laws of the State of California. We think such practices clearly and unmistakably disregard rights secured by the supreme law of the land. Cumming v. Board of Education of Richmond County, supra.

‘The equal protection of the laws’ pertaining to the public school system in California is not provided by furnishing in separate schools the same technical facilities, text books and courses of instruction to children of Mexican ancestry that are available to the other public school children regardless of their ancestry. A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage.

We think that under the record before us the only tenable ground upon which segregation practices in the defendant school districts can be defended lies in the English language deficiencies of some of the children of Mexican ancestry as they enter elementary public school life as beginners. But even such situations do not justify the general and continuous segregation in separate schools of the children of Mexican ancestry from the rest of the elementary school population as has been shown to be the practice in the defendant school districts—in all of them to the sixth grade, and in two of them through the eighth grade. …

This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    A “plaintiff” is a person who initiates or sets in motion a lawsuit against another person or entity. A “defendant”
    is a person who is accused or sued in a lawsuit. Who are the plaintiffs and defendants in this case?
    Gonzalo Mendez, William Guzman, Frank Palomino, Thomas Estrada, Lorenzo Ramirez and “some 5000 persons
    similarly affected” are the plaintiffs. Westminster, Garden Grove and El Modeno school districts, and the Santa Ana
    City Schools, all of Orange County, California, and all of the trustees and superintendents of those school districts
    are the defendants.
  2. Question
    What do the plaintiffs allege happened according to the text?
    They allege that for several years, all children of Mexican or Latin descent were required to attend certain schools
    in their school district, while white children attended other schools; in other words, the Mexican and Latino children
    were segregated based on their ethnicity.
  3. Question
    What do the defendants say in response to the plaintiffs’ allegations?
    They say that they segregated the Spanish-speaking children and the English-speaking children until the Spanish-
    speaking children were able to achieve some proficiency in English.
  4. Question
    How do the schools’ facilities, teachers and curricula compare across the segregated schools?
    According to the text and the “record” provided to the court, the facilities, teachers and curricula are identical and
    sometimes even better in the Spanish-speaking schools.
  5. Question
    Reread the section that begins, “Our conclusions in this action.”
    Put this section into your own words.
    Not only does the segregation go against the laws set out by the state of California, but also the rights secured by the
  6. Question
    Using words and phrases from the text, explain the court’s decision and rationale.
    Singling out an entire class of people based on their “lineage” is against the Education Code for California. The
    conditions of the schools are irrelevant. Further, social equality is a “paramount requisite in the American system
    of public education.” Even if students enter school with “English language deficiencies,” that does not justify the
    “general and continuous segregation in separate schools.”
Reveal Answers
Add to an Existing Learning Plan
    Illustration of person holding and looking at laptop.

    New Virtual Workshops Are Available Now!

    Registrations are now open for our 90-minute virtual open enrollment workshops. Explore the schedule, and register today—the first workshop begins October 16th and space is limited!

    Sign Up!