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Supreme Court Black Belt:
Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina
Photos by Roshon Divinci
The scenario for this version of the American Dream is Hitchcock, Texas, where Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina grew up.
Maybe you’ve heard of Hitchcock.
You most likely have driven past it on your way to the beach.
It sits on the periphery of your vision, the next to last exit off of Houston’s I-45 south before you arrive in Galveston.
It sits there, on the outskirts of your imagination, just like the last name—“Medina.” Just like most of our last names sit on the periphery of the American imagination.
The last names most obvious in our minds might be the names carved on to buildings and monuments in these parts: Moody, Rice and Allen.
However, this story of the American Dream is about how education can be the great equalizer. So that in just half a generation, the last name “Medina” now signs judicial opinions lobbied for by the blood or business descendants of the Moodys, Rices and Allens.
Now, one of our last names is chronicled in shaping history around us. This feat has not been accomplished easily, but it is now, more than ever, within our reach, and it is now more vital than ever.
Broad Shoulders and a Broader Imagination
The Aztec Imperial Court had two high orders of nobles called the Eagle Knights and the Jaguar Knights. Today’s Eagle Knights are our legal and judicial warriors with broad shoulders and broader imaginations. Judge Medina has earned both through a law degree and a black belt.
David earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas State University where he was twice a Texas collegiate champion. He also competed on the baseball club, worked as an underwater swimmer and found time to make the Dean's List. He earned his law degree from South Texas College of Law while working full time at Cooper Industries. He recently began studying Filipino martial arts and already has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and in Kajukenbo, the original mixed martial arts, which combines karate, jujitsu, kenpo and Chinese boxing.
Last July, David won the 60th Annual Kajukenbo Open Karate Tournament in Las Vegas. The trophy is displayed on our cover.
He is the epitome of broad shoulders and a broader imagination. And as is the case more often than not, he was inspired by an even broader pair of shoulders.
David comes from strong stock with deep values. His father inspired him to memorize and recite Bible scripture to their church congregation. That familiarity with time-honored rhetorical tropes was the training that would evolve into his participation in the American Bar Association Moot Court national competition where his law school team won the Regional Championship. Success due to diligence continued post law school. David was enjoying a stellar law career at Cooper Industries when Governor George W. Bush appointed him to a State District bench in Harris County. After winning two elections, Judge Medina returned to Cooper Industries as an Associate General Counsel where he was responsible for their national and international litigation and safety compliance matters.
In January 2004, David Medina was called to public service once again.
Governor Rick Perry appointed him as his General Counsel. That November, the governor chose him to fill a vacancy on the highest court of the state to create Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina. Texans elected him to a full term in 2006. The rest is History in the making.
The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword . . . and Talk Radio
Nations dehumanize opponents before war, so that it is easier for their legions to commit violence against them. The term “illegal alien” does that to our culture, when used inappropriately.
You may have won an argument over use of the term at your dinner table. Maybe you’ve heard talk radio hosts use the term to incite listeners for ratings by comparing “Illegal Aliens” to roaches that scatter when the light comes on. However, in Texas, our Supreme Court understands the racial bias and prejudice those words convey, and it certainly understands the implications it has in the courtroom.
On March 12, 2010, Judge Medina delivered a unanimous opinion for our Supreme Court addressing that very term in TXI v. Hughes. The court reversed this case because “illegal alien” was used to bring attention to a TXI employee’s—Mr. Rodriguez’s-immigration status. The record indicates that the counsel for Hughes sought to hedge his argument by calling attention to Rodriguez’s illegal immigration status whenever he could. Justice Medina wrote, “Such appeals to racial and ethnic prejudices, whether ‘explicit and brazen’ or ‘veiled and subtle,’ cannot be tolerated because they undermine the very basis of our judicial process.” He referred to a more than 100- year old precedent regarding discrimination by citing the 1889 Moss v. Sanger case. Justice Medina wrote; “Cases ought to be tried in a court of justice upon the facts proved; and whether a party be Jew or gentile, white or black, is a matter of indifference.”
This landmark case now forbids the immigration status of an individual to be used during judicial proceedings because it can be highly prejudicial and result in an unjust verdict.
As the Arizona Legislature grabs headlines by passing sensational laws screaming for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, the TXI decision quietly and powerfully shapes the nature of discourse in Texas courtrooms.
Paving the Way
Driving through downtown Hitchcock, the muses provide us with a manifestation of the irony of our time.
There are three of us, the judge, the photographer, and myself.
We visited Judge Medina’s high school, the band hall, his barrio, the fields where he played baseball and the waters he fished.
David is quick to point out that there are many success stories arising from this unsung town. He takes great pride in letting us know that his teachers have helped produce musicians, lawyers, teachers; he names his classmates who’ve become military academy graduates, nurses, mechanics, tradesman, restaurateurs, as well as a CEO for a major natural gas company. Yet, it is abundantly clear that there are still things that have not changed.
As we drive through the small town, we see road repair construction everywhere.
Somewhere, someone like Medina (as he was called by his classmates) has signed legislation to create funding for these roads.
We are surrounded by construction workers, by cranes, bull dozers.
And every single worker is Latino.
There we are, among the houses of America, among the construction work.
Our photographer Roshon Divinci is African American. He has an M.B.A. and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
I, a writer, Mexican American, hold an M.F.A. and a black belt in Tang Soo Do.
Three black belts on the set, documenting this evolution in the American dream where we participate at so many levels, from the shovel, to the bull dozer, to the Texas Supreme Court.
David roles up his sleeves, with a huge smile, grabs a shovel, and gets to work, continuing to help build the American Dream for others.