to Making the Case
CARLOS C. CADENA (1917–2001)
Carlos C. Cadena helped end the exclusion of persons of Mexican
descent from juries and the segregation of Mexican-American children in
Texas’ public schools. Cadena, the son of Mexican immigrants,
also became the first Hispanic to serve as a chief justice in Texas,
after his appointment to that position of the Texas 4th Court of Appeals
While a young lawyer in San Antonio, Cadena joined Gus Garcia and
other attorneys in appealing the conviction of Pete Hernandez, a
migrant cotton picker sentenced to life in prison for the 1950 murder
of Joe Espinosa in Edna, a small town in Jackson County, southeast of
San Antonio. Prior to the trial, Hernandez moved to quash the indictment
and the jury panel, alleging that persons of Mexican descent were
systematically excluded from Jackson County juries. The trial court
denied the motions, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed
The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently reversed Hernandez’s
conviction. In January 1954, the high court heard arguments in
Hernandez v. Texas. The state contended that the Fourteenth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution did not protect Mexican-Americans,
who were in the same class as whites. But evidence showed that persons
of Mexican descent were not treated the same as whites in Jackson
County. For example, of the two men’s toilets on the courthouse
grounds at the time, one was unmarked and the other was marked
“Colored Men” and “Hombres Aqui.” The unanimous
Supreme Court held that persons could not be excluded from jury duty
because of their national origin. On retrial, however, Hernandez was
convicted again and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Hernandez was not the first major civil rights case in which
Cadena was involved. He also was an attorney on Delgado v. Gracy,
which resulted in a precedent-setting agreed judgment in 1948.
Before the Supreme Court ruled in 1950’s Sweatt v. Painter
and 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,
the Delgado case successfully challenged Texas’ practice of
segregating Mexican-American schoolchildren and treating them as a
Cadena, who grew up in San Antonio, received his law degree from the
University of Texas School of Law in 1940. He worked as an assistant
city attorney in San Antonio before World War II interrupted his legal
career. From 1942 to 1946, he was in the U.S. Army Air Force, serving
as a radio operator on a B-24 bomber in the Pacific.
Following his discharge from the military, Cadena briefly practiced
law with the firm of Goodrich & Dalton in Mexico City before
returning to San Antonio to work in the city attorney’s office.
Cadena served seven years as the city attorney, resigning in 1961.
Also during this period, Cadena began his association with St.
Mary’s University School of Law. He taught at St. Mary’s
prior to working for the City of San Antonio and returned to teaching
at the law school after his resignation.
Cadena’s 25 years of service on the 4th Court of Appeals in San
Antonio began in 1965, when Governor John Connally appointed him to fill
Jack Pope’s unexpired term on the court. Pope left the court of
appeals to sit on the Texas Supreme Court. In 1977, Governor Dolph
Briscoe appointed Cadena as the 4th Court’s chief justice. Cadena
continued his judicial service after becoming a senior justice in
Cadena often disagreed with other justices on the 4th Court. In a
1999 interview, Cadena noted that he wrote 88 dissenting opinions while
on the court of appeals. In one dissent, Cadena disagreed with the 4th
Court majority’s holding that the father of an illegitimate child
had no duty to support the child. As Cadena recalled in the interview,
he wrote in the dissenting opinion that to stop having illegitimate
children, the best thing to do was to tell the man, “You be
careful now; if you are not, you are going to have to pay.”
Cadena died in 2001 at the age of 83.