Civil, Legal and Latino Advocates Applaud Smithsonian Museum for Standing Firm to Protect Program that Increases Opportunity

WASHINGTON—The parties have reached a settlement in the case American Alliance for Equal Rights v. Jorge Zamanillo, a lawsuit filed by Edward Blum challenging an internship program offered by the Smithsonian Museum of the American Latino which aims to increase the entry of Latinos into museum careers.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the Afro Latino Forum, ASPIRA National, and the Hispanic Federation in the case, defending the internship program for undergraduate students offered by the Smithsonian Museum of the American Latino. The amicus brief noted that the internship program is open to all applicants, irrespective of race and ethnicity, and that the museum does not use racial or ethnic classifications or preferences in selecting awardees for the undergraduate internship.

According to the US Census, there are nearly 64 million Latinos in the U.S.—19.1% of the population. However, government data show that Latinos only comprise about 5% of the total workforce of over 6,300 employees at the Smithsonian Museum, the world’s largest museum and research complex located in the nation’s capital.

AAER targeted this important program, arguing that it had a bias against non-Latinos and violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The settlement allows the internship program to proceed without interruption and requires the Smithsonian Museum of the American Latino to memorialize in its scoring rubric and website that its program operates on a nondiscriminatory basis, which was already the case before AAER filed its lawsuit.

The case was scheduled for oral argument on April 8. The settlement agreement reached doesn’t limit or prohibit targeted outreach to Latino students.

“We are pleased that the internship program will proceed as it was designed—open to all applicants while specifically addressing the underrepresentation of Latinos in the museum industry,” said Dariely Rodriguez, Deputy Chief Counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Given that only 5 percent of key museum positions are filled by Latinos, programs like the Smithsonian’s are necessary to help eliminate systemic barriers to opportunity.”

“LatinoJustice is thrilled that the Smithsonian Museum of the American Latino will continue its outreach to Latino students who are underrepresented in this field,” said Francisca Fajana Director of Racial Justice Strategy at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “It is a misapplication of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to suggest, as the plaintiff did, that the museum may not voluntarily take steps to expand opportunity to under-included Latino students of all races and ethnicities. Our work to further equal educational opportunity for all students will continue.”

“While we have little doubt that this lawsuit would have ultimately failed, we’re happy to see this case resolve quickly in a way that allows the internship program to remain a key resource for Latinos seeking to work in the museum industry,” said Ryan Downer, Legal Director for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.


About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real.

About LatinoJustice
LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For over 50 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout the country. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit

About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs is a nonprofit organization formed in 1968 that works to create legal, economic, and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While WLC fights discrimination against all people, it recognizes the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting, and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression.

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