Bard College at Simon's Rock: the Early College

Fighting for Rights in Latino Communities

Nina Perales ’82

Civil Rights Attorney

Growing up, Nina Perales faced life experiences that challenged her perceptions of justice and fairness. Bard College at Simon’s Rock opened up avenues for her to explore these issues, and empowered her to fight injustice and unfairness in the court of law.

As a civil rights attorney and vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Nina battles discrimination against Latino communities in the United States, challenging municipal and federal governments, as well as private entities. She represents Latinos in cases involving unfair elections, voting rights, local ordinances, and employment practices.

Nina is proudest of the work she has done fighting state or city laws that violate the rights of immigrants settling in new communities. “We’ve been largely successful in combating those laws.”

Nina received her AA at Simon’s Rock, where she was captivated by all the offerings that allowed her to develop her intellectual interest and further explore issues of equality.

She received her BA at Brown University and her JD at Columbia University School of Law.

Champion for Voting Rights

Best known for her work on voting rights, Nina has successfully argued several redistricting and vote dilution cases, including statewide redistricting cases in Texas and Arizona. In LULAC v. Perry (2006), a Voting Rights Act challenge to Texas congressional redistricting, Nina led the case through trial and successfully argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2013, she led a challenge to an Arizona voter law under the National Voter Registration Act that required people registering to vote in federal elections to show proof of citizenship, and secured another victory in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2017, Nina was again at the forefront of the Texas redistricting litigation, when a trial panel of federal judges in San Antonio ruled that further changes would have to be made to cure racial discrimination in a handful of state house and congressional district maps adopted by the Texas Legislature in 2013. Serving as lead counsel for the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, Nina returned to the Supreme Court in April 2018 for the ruling in this case: to review the trial judges’ 2017 decision to make further changes to the redistricting maps enacted in 2013.

In a more recent decision, the high court ruled in favor of Nina’s clients. In Abbott v. Perez, the Supreme Court concluded that Texas had racially gerrymandered a state House district in Fort Worth and violated the constitutional rights of Latino voters. Nina responded, “The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Latino voters in Fort Worth is a strong warning to Texas that it cannot use race to manipulate district boundaries to favor incumbents. Like all other voters, Latinos have the right to live in election districts whose lines are not infected by the use of race for political ends.” The trial court in Texas has set a schedule to redraw the state House district boundaries in Fort Worth to cure the violation.

In 2018, Nina began litigating cases seeking to defend the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and challenge Texas Senate Bill 4, a law that forces counties and cities to enforce federal immigration law against local residents. Opponents of the bill, like MALDEF’s client the City of San Antonio, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to block the bill, and it went into effect on September 1, 2017. Since then, the Fifth Circuit Court has twice heard arguments from challengers and twice ruled the bill shall remain in effect. Immigrant advocates like Nina are committed to overturning Senate Bill 4 and continue to fight the case.

Nina has commentated on the Rachel Maddow Show, C-Span, and PBS Newshour, and serves on the Council for the American Bar Association’s Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

Feeling Welcomed at Simon’s Rock

Coming from a working class, single-parent home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Nina worried about fitting in.

Instead of a sense of alienation when I came here, I felt the greatest welcome I had ever had. It has been the most extraordinary experience of my life to attend Simon’s Rock.

When Nina left Simon’s Rock, she set her sights on being one person among many moving society toward great equality. “Each one of us has our own role to play and I’m proud to be a part of that effort.”

Commitment, resilience, and intellectual curiosity are qualities Nina learned at Simon’s Rock, and that have carried her forward in her career. Addressing Simon’s Rock graduates in her 2014 commencement speech, Nina assured them that despite the challenges they would face in pursuit of their dreams, their Simon’s Rock education would help them rise to the occasion.

Watch: Nina's 2014 Commencement Speech

“What can be very surprising about doing what you feel called to do is that you often end up doing something really special and really unique. You create something that’s never been made before, or you write something that’s never been written before, or you discover something totally new. Whatever that voice inside you tells you to do, do it with gusto.”

Said like a true Rocker.

One decision, unlimited possibilities

Simon’s Rock is college now for motivated younger students ready to realize their intellectual and creative potential.


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