Joaquin G. Avila

A nationally recognized expert on Latino voting rights, Joaquin G. Avila is the distinguished practitioner in residence and director of the National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative at Seattle University School of Law.

He has also worked in a private practice devoted exclusively to the protection of the voting rights of racial and ethnic minority communities. He served as staff attorney (1974-1976), director of political access litigation and associate counsel (1976-78), and president and general counsel (1982-1985) of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Avila has devoted his career to a vision of voting rights advocacy that is premised on the conviction that government functions best if it is reflective and representative of the range of its constituents. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 codified and articulated legal strictures that prevent government officials and private citizens from interfering with the rights of minority citizens to vote and to choose their representatives. Through meticulously crafted legal suits, Avila challenges election systems that function to disenfranchise and discriminate against minority voters and their chosen candidates.

Avila spearheaded various legislative efforts in California to make the electoral process more accessible to Latinos, including the passage of the 2001 California State Voting Rights Act. The only state voting rights act in the nation at the time, the Act permits challenges to discriminatory at-large methods of elections in state courts without requiring proof of a host of evidentiary factors such as are required under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Avila has received numerous awards, including a 1996 MacArthur Fellowship, the Vanguard Public Foundation’s Social Justice Sabbatical for his work providing political access to minority communities. He received the President’s Award from the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Ohtli Award from the Mexican government.

Avila received a B.A. (1970) from Yale University and a J.D. (1973) from the Harvard University Law School. He is a member of the California and Texas State bars.