Seattle University School of Law 


B.A., Yale University, 1970
J.D., Harvard Law School, 1973; Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review case and comments editor
Clerk to Justice James Fitzgerald, Alaska State Supreme Court


Civil Procedure
Constitutional Law
Voting Rights
Latinas/os and the Law

Joaquin Avila

Distinguished Practitioner in Residence


Professor Avila is a nationally recognized expert on Latina/o voting rights. After his clerkship, Professor Avila joined the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, initially as staff attorney, 1974-76, then as Associate Counsel, 1976-82, and finally as President and General Counsel, 1982-85. During this eleven year period, Professor Avila filed actions challenging discriminatory at-large methods of elections, gerrymandered election districts, violations of the one-person one-vote principle and non-compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. From 1981 to 1982, he testified before various legislative committees and was involved in the efforts to both amend and reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 1982.

In 1985, Professor Avila established a private practice, focusing exclusively on protecting minority voting rights. He was instrumental in the dismantling of many discriminatory methods of election throughout California and parts of the Southwest. During this time period he also successfully argued two appeals in the United States Supreme Court involving enforcement of the special provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 – one decision was unanimous and the other was 8-1. He also spearheaded various legislative efforts in California to make the electoral process more accessible to Latinas/os. His most significant accomplishment in the legislative arena was the passage of the 2001 California State Voting Rights Act. This Act permits challenges to discriminatory at-large methods of elections in state courts without having to prove a host of evidentiary factors as required under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is the only state voting rights act in the nation.

Professor Avila has taught courses at the University of California/Berkeley, University of Texas, and UCLA schools of law. Professor Avila has received numerous awards in recognition of his work in the voting rights area. He received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1996 for his voting rights work. In the same year, he received the Vanguard Public Foundation's Social Justice Sabbatical for his work in providing political access to minority communities. In 2001 he received the State Bar of California's Loren Miller Legal Services Award for providing outstanding legal services to disadvantaged and underserved communities. In 1986, he received the Hispanic National Bar Association's Benito Juarez/Abraham Lincoln Award for outstanding achievement and dedication to the Latino community.

At Seattle University School of Law Professor Avila has received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Black Law Students Association. He also spearheaded a collaborative faculty and Seattle University Law Review effort that resulted in the convening of an election reform symposium: “Where’s My Vote? – Lessons Learned from Washington State’s Gubernatorial Election.” He delivered the Keynote Address for the Legal Foundation of Washington’s 10th Annual Goldmark Award Luncheon. He established a project to assist attorneys and other election monitors to document any instances of voter intimidation during the November 2004 Presidential election. He served as a trainer representing Seattle University School of Law in a program sponsored by ProDerecho, an educational consulting services organization in Mexico City, to train Mexican law professors and other governmental officials to serve as instructors to students in preparation for a national moot court competition based upon the adversarial United States legal model. He works in collaboration with a Professor of Political Science at Whitman College to initiate student research to document discrimination against Latinas/os in the State of Washington that has been incorporated into a State of Latinas/os Report. One of his ultimate goals is the passage of a state voting rights act in the State of Washington. In addition, Professor Avila is working with national civil rights organizations to secure an amendment to the federal Bill of Costs statute to prevent the award of costs to prevailing party defendants in civil rights suits that are meritorious yet unsuccessful. Recent scholarship includes an article dealing with voting discrimination in California that formed the basis of his testimony before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the recent reauthorization and amendment of the federal Voting Rights Act and a response to an article that proposed an interpretation of the Voting Rights Act limiting the effectiveness of the Act.

Professor Avila has served as coaches to students competing in the National Black Law Students Association’s Frederick Douglass Moot Court Competition. During his first coaching experience a student team placed second in the regional competitions as well as placing in the top eight teams in the National Competition. During his second year, a student team won first place in the regional competitions.

Professor Avila is a member of the Bars for the State of California and the State of Texas (inactive) and is a member of the Bars for the United States Supreme Court, the federal Court of Appeals for the 5th, 9th, and 10th Circuits, and various federal district courts in Texas and California.

Recent Activity

Joaquin Avila, lion of voting rights, speaks

August 19, 2015
Voting rights legend Professor Joaquin Avila on Latino political power, Donald Trump, and district elections.