Neither mundane nor pointless, but nothing to debate, either.
Learned about this case today (Wikipedia link) and frankly I was shocked that it isn’t taught in schools. I had never heard of it and I was with some pretty intelligent and well-read people who had never heard of it, either.
The story goes something like,
A Mexican-American (Jose “Joe” Espinosa) makes fun of another Mexican-American (Pedro “Pete” Hernandez) for being crippled. Pete goes home, gets a rifle, and comes back and shoots poor old Joe in the heart. When the trial comes, Pete’s lawyers don’t seem too interested in getting him off (he was clearly guilty), but they want to get him a trial by his peers, and a Mexican hadn’t served on a jury in that district in over 25 years. There were over 70 Texas counties at the time that had never had a hispanic person on a jury. This is where it gets tricky.
I don’t pretend to know the intimate details, but basically, Mexicans who lived in the areas that became part of America after the Mexican/American war were given US citizenship and declared “white” under the law at the same time, for some reason. While this would seem to be a benefit, it turned out to be a double-edged sword. Texas could legally argue that 12 white men were a jury of a chicano’s peers, but when that chicano went to take a piss during recess, he had to go to the outhouse, instead of the indoor “No Mexicans or Negroes” restroom.
Two lawyers named Gus Garcia and Carlos Cadena unsuccessfully argued the unconstitutionality of this in Texas, but were successful in getting the Supreme Court of the United States to hear their case. When they approached the nine and started talking about Mexican-Americans, one of the justices stopped them and asked what a Mexican-American was, if they spoke English, and if they were citizens. Mr. Garcia boldly replied, “my people were in Texas a hundred years before Sam Houston, that wetback from Tennessee.” When the red light came on that meant he must stop talking, Garcia immediately stopped himself in mid sentence. Chief Justice Earl Warren then told him to continue, and he did - for 16 minutes. This was unprecedented.
Garcia and Cadena won their case in a unanimous decision, and Pete Hernandez was later re-tried (and convicted) by a jury of his peers.
The case was decided two weeks before Brown Vs. the Board of Education.