Tom Saenz is president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Saenz had previously served as MALDEF’s lead counsel for 12 years. During that time he successfully challenged California’s unconstitutional Proposition 187 and led numerous civil rights cases in the areas of immigrants’ rights, education, employment, and voting rights. Saenz achieved several victories against ordinances unlawfully restricting the rights of day laborers, served as lead counsel in the 2001 challenge to California’s congressional redistricting, and initiated the employment discrimination lawsuit resulting in a $50 million settlement with Abercrombie and Fitch. Saenz was also the lead drafter of the Amicus brief on behalf of Latino organizations supporting affirmative action in the Supreme Court case, Grutter v. Bollinger. Prior to joining MALDEF early in his legal career, Saenz clerked at both the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after graduating summa cum laude from Yale University and receiving his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.
Saenz was born and raised in southern California. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale University, and he received his law degree from Yale Law School. Saenz then served as a law clerk to the Honorable Harry L. Hupp of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and to the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Saenz joined MALDEF as a staff attorney in 1993; he became Los Angeles Regional Counsel in 1996, National Senior Counsel in 2000, and Vice President of Litigation in 2001. At MALDEF, Saenz served as lead counsel in numerous civil rights cases, involving such issues as educational equity, employment discrimination, immigrants’ rights, day laborer rights, and voting rights. For example, he served as MALDEF’s lead counsel in successfully challenging California’s Proposition 187 in court; as such, he presented extensive written and oral arguments on numerous occasions in three different cases involving the anti-immigrant initiative. He was also MALDEF’s lead counsel in two court challenges to Proposition 227, the English-only education initiative that voters enacted in 1998, and he successfully challenged several ordinances barring day laborers from soliciting employment. Saenz also served as MALDEF’s lead counsel in challenging California’s congressional redistricting in 2001.
For eight years, Saenz taught “Civil Rights Litigation” in the spring semester as an adjunct lecturer at the U.S.C. Law School. Saenz currently serves on the Los Angeles County Board of Education, and he previously served on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.