Four Decades of Protecting Latino Civil Rights

For the past 40 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has been changing the way Latinos live their lives in the United States and the way our country has lived up to its ideals. We embark on a year-long celebration and recognition of the important role LatinoJustice PRLDEF has played in our community.

By litigating precedent-setting impact cases across the country and training young people to be leaders in their community, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has profoundly improved the way Latinos are treated in U.S. society, working to ensure that they have more opportunities for political, economic, social and educational equality

Gaining more equitable treatment for Puerto Ricans and Latinos was one of the goals that brought three young Puerto Rican attorneys from New York together in 1972. Jorge Batista, Victor Marrero and Cesar A. Perales wanted to change the discriminatory practices they saw taking place in their communities, and they thought the best way to do that was through advocacy and litigation.

Inspired by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Perales, Batista and Marrero sought to create a similar organization that would protect the civil rights of Puerto Ricans. They got funding from the Ford foundation, and in 1972, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund opened its doors with an impressive collection of leaders on its founding Board of Directors including Jose Cabranes (later appointed as a federal appellate judge); John Carro (NY State appellate judge); Robert Abrams (later elected as NY State Attorney General); Robert Mogenthau (NY County District Attorney); Herman Badillo (first Puerto Rican elected to Congress); Geraldo Rivera (media personality); Nicholas Katzenbach (former U.S. Attorney General); William vanden Heuvel (later appointed U.S. Ambassador); and Jacob Javits (U.S. Senator).

The three founders agreed that litigation was one of the best ways to provide relief for many of the problems faced by Puerto Rican and Latino residents of the United States. They decided they would bring class action lawsuits to obtain remedies that would benefit large groups. Class action litigation would make it possible for them to leverage limited resources to challenge discrimination that affected hundreds of thousands of individuals. Litigation, especially during those expansive times, was the best vehicle to pursue social change for national racial / ethnic minorities in the face of a recalcitrant executive and legislative branch.

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