It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month through October 15, when Americans honor the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans and the heritage rooted in all Latin American countries. Although we aren’t able to single out every one of the thousands of outstanding lawyers and leaders of Hispanic heritage who got their start at Texas Law and who have made our community stronger, over the next weeks we will honor people who are special to our school and country. We will begin with The Hon. Reynaldo Garza ’39, the first Mexican-American federal judge.
Reynaldo Guerra Garza was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He was the first Mexican-American appointed to a federal court when he was appointed as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and would later become the first Mexican-American, as well as the first Latin American, appointed to any circuit of the United States Court of Appeals.
Born in Brownsville in 1915, Garza received an Associate of Arts degree from Brownsville Junior College (now Texas Southmost College) in 1935 and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1937. His good friends at U.T. included future governor John B. Connally, Texas Supreme Court Justice Joe Greenhill, and U.S. Rep. Jake “J.J.” Pickle After graduating from Texas Law he was in private practice Brownsville from 1939 to 1942.
He served in the United States Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1945, after which he returned to his law practice in Brownsville, where he remained until 1961. Garza was nominated to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. He served as Chief Judge from 1974 to 1979.
Garza was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, to a seat vacated by Judge Homer Thornberry, Class of 1936. Pres. Carter had asked Garza to serve as the Attorney General of the United States, but Garza declined. He served on the Fifth Circuit for the remainder of his life, taking senior status in 1982. He died in 2004.