After the lawyers left for San Antonio, Rodriguez went to the Buenos Aires bar to look for witnesses. At 10:50 p.m., when he and 10 friends were drinking beer and playing pool, a half-dozen police officers and officials from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided the bar. They ordered everyone outside and arrested Rodriguez’s friend Daniel Carbajal. Rodriguez asked for Carbajal’s keys so he could drive his car home. When he inquired what the charges against Carbajal were, an officer called Rodriguez a smartass.
Rick Dennis of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission came up from behind Rodriguez and struck him hard on the back of the head with a heavy flashlight. Dennis and four other officers kicked and beat Rodriguez to the ground and threw him into the squad car. He was charged with public intoxication, interfering with an officer, resisting arrest, and assault on a police officer.
When his sister, Modesta, arrived at the Frio County jail, the front steps were covered with Modesto’s blood. She called George Korbel of MALDEF and asked what she should do.
“Jesus Christ,” Korbel said, “take him to a hospital.”
“We can’t take him to a hospital,” she said. “They will kill him at the hospital.”
Unconscious and incoherent, Rodriguez was airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio, where he spent 24 hours recovering. He suffered a punctured eardrum and permanent hearing loss in his left ear. (The state later conceded damages; a judge awarded Rodriguez $10,000 for “pain, suffering, humiliation, and injury to his reputation.”)
“We always felt like the officers were ordered to do it,” said the MALDEF lawyer Al Kauffman, who worked in Frio County. “The word was out that Modesto was looking for people to work on the Voting Rights Act.”
If anyone had doubts about the scope of discrimination against Mexican Americans in places like South Texas, Rodriguez’s beating put them to rest. The House overwhelmingly passed a 10-year extension of the VRA, adopting Barbara Jordan’s new protections for language minorities, 341 to 70, on June 5, 1975, despite complaints from Representative Robert McClory, Republican of Illinois, that it would encourage “multilingualism” in the nation. Hugh Scott, Birch Bayh, and Philip Hart introduced similar legislation in the Senate. It was expected to pass easily until President Ford, in a bid to court southern delegates at the 1976 GOP convention, resurrected Richard Nixon’s southern strategy by pledging to apply the VRA to all 50 states, which would have made it unconstitutional.
The Senate blocked Ford’s last-minute attempt to weaken the law, defeating the amendment introduced by the Mississippi senator John Stennis, 48 to 38. The West Virginia senator Robert Byrd negotiated a compromise that extended the Act for seven years, instead of 10, but left the House bill otherwise intact. A “heavy consensus” for the VRA prevailed, said New York Republican senator Jacob Javits. The Senate bill passed, 77 to 12. Only six southern Democrats and six southern and western Republicans, including Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, voted against it.