Joaquin G. Avila: Civil Rights Lawyer and Voting Rights Champion Dies

The death of Joaquin G. Avila, after a protracted battle with cancer, is a great loss for the Latino community in California. He was previously afflicted with a stroke. Avila can be regarded as one of the greatest civil rights activist in the Latino community. He was second to none when it came to the political empowerment of the community and its representation. He won multiple cases- many of them precedent and landmark ones. His legal acumen showed everywhere- even in the United States Supreme Court.

Correcting faults

Avila specialized in setting correct discriminatory legal systems which diluted the political power of minorities all over Southwest, especially California. The result of his work led to the dramatic change in the method voters get to elect Judges and local officials. Present-day minorities owe a huge debt to his efforts.

Joaquin G. Avila's zeal to put things right came from his own experiences. He grew up in Compton- the impoverished and tough neighborhood populated mainly by Latinos and African-Americans. His parents were poor but drilled into him the importance of education. He was the class valedictorian of the 1966 batch from Centennial High School. He then went on to become one of the first Latinos to be a Yale University graduate in 1970. Harvard soon followed in 1973. His first legal job was in the Supreme Court of Alaska State as a law clerk.

Sterling career

Avila's first taste in legal fighting happened when he joined Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) in 1974. He took notice of voting rights litigation. He challenged all discriminatory voting systems all over Texas. He won multiple landmark cases and became the president of MALDEF in 1982. He started his own office relating to private voting rights in 1985. He shortly took up the case of Gomez v. City of Watsonville, a legal tangle which will become a pathbreaking landmark in the future. He and the other Latino plaintiffs claimed that the then-election system was actually unconstitutional. It violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act of the federal government.

Avila's best work was being the architect of the 2001 era California Voting Rights Act. The legislation was authored by Richard Polanco, the State Senator at that time. The state legislation drawn up by Avila made sure that the proof of burden must be shown and also offered a number of extra remedies.

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