National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1970-1987: We wrestle with our democratic freedoms, arguing issues old and new

1973
Vilma S. Martinez elected president and general counsel of Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Vilma Martinez

Vilma S. Martinez, (1943 - )

She Fought Discrimination in Many Forms

Attorney Vilma Martinez is a civil rights activist whose major tool has been constitutional law. She’s used it to bring bilingual education into public schools, expand voting rights for Spanish-speaking citizens, and strike down discriminatory hiring policies. As head of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) for nine years, Martinez led the fight to require school districts to meet the needs of non-English-speaking students. She successfully based many lawsuits on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and on the 14th Amendment’s promise of equal protection of the law.

Martinez grew up in Texas. After earning her law degree, she went to work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and then for the New York State Division of Human Rights. She is now an attorney in Los Angeles.

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