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September 8, 2006

Press Contacts: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330.

In Memoriam: The Honorable James DeAnda, 1925-2006

DeAnda graduated from UT Law in 1950 and was a trailblazer in Texas civil rights

Photo of James DeAnda
The Honorable James DeAnda
Photo Credit: Rocky Kneten

AUSTIN, Texas—The Honorable James DeAnda, an alumnus of The University of Texas School of Law who became the second Mexican American federal judge when he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, died of prostate cancer at his summer home in Traverse City, Michigan, on Thursday, Sept. 7. He was 81.

A funeral is planned for the Houston, Texas, native and co-founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) on Wednesday, Sept. 13, in Houston.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Judge DeAnda graduated from UT Law in 1950 when there were only a handful of Hispanic law students. It was also the year that the Law School’s first African American law student, Heman Sweatt, was enrolled.  As an attorney, DeAnda was known for fighting segregation of Hispanics within Texas’ schools.

"Judge DeAnda was an active member of the UT Law community and was one of our most honored and distinguished alumnus," said UT President and former School of Law Dean William Powers Jr.  "He was a true legal legend and a tireless advocate in watershed civil rights cases dealing with discrimination in the public education system in Texas," Powers said.

“Judge DeAnda was one of the pioneers to whom we all looked up and who, with Hernandez v. Texas, changed the hopes of all who followed him,” said UT Law professor Gerald Torres who came to know Judge DeAnda through his work with MALDEF and Torres’ work with other civil rights activists.

“I offer my condolences to the family, colleagues and friends of the Honorable James DeAnda,” said Norma V. Cantu, UT professor of Law and Education who is also a former MALDEF attorney and former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. “Judge DeAnda's life was marked by many personal sacrifices and by his courageous advocacy for his indigent and minority clients,” said Cantu, who attended the MALDEF annual banquet in San Antonio on Friday evening. “While most people know that Justice DeAnda was the youngest member of the litigation team that brought about a landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory in 1954 that insisted that Latinos must be allowed to serve as jurors, he should also be remembered as one of the founders of the premier national civil rights organization:  MALDEF.  When I read our UT mission statement—what starts here changes the world—I will always remember James DeAnda,” Cantu said.

The Tarlton Law Library at The Jamail Center for Legal Research at UT Law will publish an oral history interview of Judge DeAnda in October, 2006. The publication will include a speech that was given by DeAnda at the Hispanic Legal Archives Series held by The University of Texas School of Law’s Chicano/Hispanic Law Students’ Association on April 7, 2000.

To honor the memory of Judge James DeAnda (Class of 1950), the Tarlton Law Library has mounted an exhibit in the Susman Godfrey Atrium, at the entrance to the Law Library. "In Memoriam: The Honorable James DeAnda" features speeches and publications by DeAnda, as well as news articles about his distinguished legal career. The display also features excerpts from the speech that James DeAnda gave as part of the Hispanic Legal Archive Series at the Law School.

Before law school, DeAnda attended Texas A&M and served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific theater during World War II. After graduation from UT Law, DeAnda began practicing with Houston attorney John J. Herrera.

In the mid-1950s, DeAnda moved to Corpus Christi and through his associations with the American GI Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and MALDEF, DeAnda became involved in landmark cases dealing with discrimination in the public education system in Texas. Those cases include Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD and Hernandez v. Driscoll CISD. In Cisneros, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed a district court order that extended for the first time Brown v. Board of Education to Mexican Americans.

DeAnda was the last surviving member of a legal team of four Hispanic attorneys in the case of Hernandez v. State of Texas, which overturned an all-white jury’s murder conviction of a southeast Texas man. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all Hispanics were a separate group deserving the same constitutional protections as other minorities. Two of the other members of the legal team were also graduates of UT Law: Carlos Cadena, ’40, and Gustavo C. “Gus” Garcia, ’38.

DeAnda was co-founder, in 1968, of MALDEF and created Texas Rural Legal Aid in 1970 (now called Texas RioGrande Legal Aid).

In 1979, President Carter appointed DeAnda to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The judge became only the second Mexican American appointed to the federal bench after fellow UT alumnus Reynaldo G. Garza, ’39, who was named to the federal bench in 1961. DeAnda became the Southern District’s chief judge in 1988.

After retiring from the bench in 1992, DeAnda continued to practice law with the Houston law firm of Solar & Associates. He was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award for Community Service from The University of Texas School of Law Alumni Association in 2004.

“You will find law to be a most satisfying career because of the service you can give your fellow man,” DeAnda once said to a group of law students. “I know of no other endeavor in which you can bring about healthy change and make a decent living. You can live well and do good,” he said.

Judge DeAnda is survived by his wife, Joyce, and four children. A fund honoring DeAnda has been established at MALDEF to support the important litigation programs that he championed.

Related Links:
Alumnus James DeAnda, '50, Featured in Tarlton Law Library Oral History Series:
2004 Law Alumni Association Awards and Honorary Order of the Coif:
Symposium Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Hernández v. State of Texas, April 1:
In Memoriam: The Honorable Reynaldo G. Garza, 1915-2004:
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF):
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid: