American civil rights activist and jurist, Joaquin Avila, Died at 69

Joaquin Avila was born and raised in Compton, California and died on March 9, 2018.

He was a Mexican American voting rights attorney and activist. 

Avila spent more than two decades using the federal Voting Rights Act to increase election fairness for minority voters.

But as several court precedents weakened the federal Voting Rights Avila conceived of state voting rights acts as a way to again strengthen minority voting rights.

He crafted the California Voting Rights Act that was enacted in 2001.

He brought lawsuits that set important voting rights precedents.

Joaquin Avila also served as president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and directed the National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative at Seattle University School of Law.

Among the many honors Joaquin Avila received recognizing his work, he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1996.

After graduating from Harvard University Law School in 1973, Avila worked briefly on voting rights litigation in California before relocating to Texas.

There, Avila worked as a staff attorney for MALDEF and quickly rose in the organization, eventually becoming its president and general counsel.

Avila was drafted in the 2001 California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), which made it easier for plaintiffs to challenge at-large election systems by eliminating one of the criteria required to challenge such systems under the federal Voting Rights Act.

That law also required the government to pay the legal fees of plaintiffs who successfully challenge an election system under the law.

He died at 69 years old.