Law school to honor Joaquin Avila with Latino Amicus Award

March 21, 2012

Joaquin Avila, director of the law school's National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative, was honored by the law school for his lifelong work to ensure fairness in voting.

Avila received the Latino Amicus Award at the Latina/o Community Awards. A distinguished practitioner in residence at the law school, Avila developed his passion for ensuring equal representation for minorities while working for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the 1970s in rural Texas.

Joaquin Avila and Jennifer Davis

Jennifer Davis '09, president of the Latino/a Bar Association, congratulates Joaquin Avila on his award. Photo by Jennifer Richard.

His early work with MALDEF defined his career. Avila is a nationally recognized expert on Latina/o voting rights. He spent many years filing 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.

He has received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including 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. He most recently was awarded the President's Award from the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Ohtli Award from the Mexican government.

Avila is recovering from a stroke last fall, but he remains committed to his voting rights work and was thilled to see colleagues and friends at the celebration in his honor.