At 34, Thomas Saenz is fast earning a reputation as
one of the foremost civil rights attorneys in California. He has battled the state over
the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and challenged the Los Angeles Unified School District
earlier this year over its school construction policies.
recognition of his impressive record of fighting for Latino civil rights, Saenz last month
received the Jack Berman Award of Achievement for Distinguished Service to the Profession
and the Public. The award, given by the California Young Law-yers Association, honors the
memory of a young pro bono attorney who was slain in the 101 California St. massacre in
San Francisco and recognizes service to the legal profession and the public and dedication
to issues of concern to attorneys.
A graduate of Yale University and Yale Law School, Saenz is regional
counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) in Los
Angeles. He manages the office, which serves southern California, Nevada and Arizona, is
its lead counsel in numerous federal court cases, and oversees a wide variety of
litigation, appeals, consent decree monitoring, and public policy analysis in areas such
as education, employment and immigrants rights.
Last year, MALDEF was instrumental in blocking the implementation of
Prop. 187; when Saenz decided to cross-appeal the states desire to send the case to
mediation, Gov. Davis dismissed the appeal. Prop. 187, approved by the voters in 1994,
called for barring illegal immigrants from government services, including public
education, welfare and non-emergency health care. Most of the major provisions of the
measure were overturned by a federal district court judge, but the ruling was appealed by
former Gov. Pete Wilson. Wilson left office before the case was argued, and Davis asked
the court to submit the case to mediation.
This year, Saenz assisted in the filing of a major lawsuit to
challenge the lack of school construction in overcrowded minority districts in urban Los
Angeles. His strategy is to target the system under which bond monies are distributed on a
first come, first serve basis rather than by need. Thousands of Californians are
both directly and indirectly affected by Toms work, says Antonia Hernandez,
MALDEFs president and general counsel. In particular, innumerable individuals
are protected by the civil rights enforced through his litigation.
In addition to his professional activities, Saenz is involved in
numerous community groups, including the National Conference for Community and Justice and
Califor-nia LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens).