Fennemore proudly celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we will look at a number of Latino and Latina attorneys who were some of the “first” in the legal profession.

How Many Hispanic Attorneys are in the United States?

As of the beginning of 2020, there were roughly 1.3 million active Hispanic lawyers in the U.S., which is a 10% increase in the past decade. About 5% of all U.S. attorneys are Hispanic, which is a 4% increase in lawyers from a decade earlier, despite the fact that 18.5% of the U.S. population is Hispanic, according to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey.

Who Are Some of the Most Notable Hispanic Attorneys?

Of this small percentage of Hispanic attorneys, a number have made notable contributions to the legal professions, the Hispanic community, and society at large.

Dennis Chavez was born and raised in New Mexico and took an early interest in politics. At 29, he moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue a position as an assistant clerk in the United States Senate. Chavez attended Georgetown University Law Center at night while maintaining his full-time position. He graduated in 1920 and moved back to New Mexico to start his own law practice. He began his political career shortly thereafter and in 1930, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1935, Chavez became the first Latino to serve on the U.S. Senate. He was re-elected several times thereafter and served in the Senate until his death in 1962.

Manuel Ruiz was the first Hispanic male lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1951. In 1930, the California native became the first Latino student to graduate from the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. After graduation, he started his own law practice and was heavily involved in community organizing and political activism. In 1970, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Judge Reynaldo G. Garza was the first Hispanic appointed to a federal court–U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (1961) and first to serve on a U.S. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals (1979). Born in Texas in 1915, Garza earned his law degree from the University of Texas Law School in 1939 and entered private practice before enlisting in World War II. After the war, he continued to practice privately.  In 1962, President Kennedy appointed him to serve on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.  Judge Garza served as Chief Judge from 1974 to 1979, and in 1979, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Judge Garza inspired generations of future lawyers who aspired to succeed in his footsteps.

Miriam Naveira De Merly was the first Hispanic female attorney to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 in her capacity as the Solicitor General of Puerto Rico (and yes, she was the first woman to hold that position). In addition, she was the first woman to serve in the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico in 1985, and was its first female Chief Justice in 2003.

Alberto Gonzales was the first Hispanic to serve as White House Counsel in 2001 and to be appointed as the U.S. Attorney General in 2005. Mr. Gonzales was recognized as the 1999 Latino Lawyer of the Year by the Hispanic National Bar Association, and received a Presidential Citation from the State Bar of Texas in 1997 for his dedication to addressing basic legal needs of the indigent.

Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, appointed by President Obama in 2009. Prior to this, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed her to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, making her the youngest member of the court and the first Latina to serve on a federal bench in New York. In 1998, upon her appointment by President Bill Clinton, Sotomayor became the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Catherine Cortez Masto is the former Nevada Attorney General who was the first Hispanic woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016. In addition to this, she was also the first female Attorney General of Nevada.


As we celebrate heritage rooted in all Latin American countries, we honor these individuals with true legal excellence.

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