Reflections on a Challenging Year for Civil Rights

As the year comes to a close, we are reminded of the many instances that challenged our communities and challenged us as civil rights advocates during 2015. Bold instances of overt racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and police brutality saturated media content and sparked protests throughout the nation. At times it seemed like the communities we serve were constant targets of one group or another. Amidst this evolving struggle for justice, we have been inspired by the resilience of our clients and encouraged by the depth of your commitment to civil rights. Working together, we held fast to our mission for equal treatment and forged ahead making a positive difference in people’s lives using the law to combat poverty, discrimination, and second-class citizenship for low income and marginalized clients. We thank you for your partnership in this new era for civil rights and we wish you justice, peace, and progress in 2016.

Civil Rights 2015

Together, we are stepping up to the challenge. Here is a small sample of our achievements this year:

Fighting for Justice

“Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California” 
Our report, written in collaboration with key partners, highlighted the deep inequities of the traffic court system and its disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color.

The national media attention resulted in action by the Governor, the legislature, and the Judicial Council to begin to address these inequities. A new Traffic Ticket & Infraction Amnesty program is now underway, and our Second Chance Legal Clinic is already assisting clients as they seek to regain their driver’s licenses under this new program.

High school or college African-American black female student sitting by the desk at math class. Blackboard with advanced mathematical formals is visible in backgroundSB 359: Lawyers’ Committee has worked extensively on the issue of the disproportionate placement of minority students in low level mathematics classes despite their high academic performance, and issued a report, “Held Back: Addressing Misplacement of 9th Grade Students in Bay Area Math Classes,” to highlight the troubling problem. Our work has prompted policy reforms at the local and state level. This fall, SB 359  (Mitchell) was signed into law by the governor and will help prevent successful minority students from being unfairly held back in mathematics and inappropriately excluded from the STEM pipeline by requiring that school districts develop written policies that are fair, objective, and  transparent for entrance into ninth grade mathematics.

There’s still time to join us in the fight for civil rights! Make your voice heard. Click here and donate today.

Defending Against Discriminatory Policing and Deportation

AB 1352: Rose Cahn, Senior Soros Justice Fellow at Lawyers’ Committee, provided expert testimony regarding the immigration consequences of inequities in the criminal justice system as the legislature considered this criminal justice reform bill to protect communities of color, including immigrants, from unjust criminal sentencing. AB 1352 was signed into law by Governor Brown and will allow a person who has successfully completed deferred entry of judgment and had his or her case dismissed, to withdraw his or her original guilty plea and enter a plea of not guilty, which will protect them from severe federal consequences, including deportation for legal permanent residents.

Client Profile

MT, a refugee from Vietnam who was raised in Oakland, can enjoy this holiday season with his family free from the threat of imminent deportation and he can begin looking for steady employment. MT pleaded guilty to a marijuana possesion charge a decade ago. Unbeknownst to him, that plea carried lasting and irreversible immigration consequences: it subjected him to mandatory immigration detention and mandatory deportation. Thanks to the Lawyers’ Committee and our pro bono partners at Gibson Dunn, MT won a post-conviction relief hearing in Alameda County just within the last two weeks. The judge dismissed his conviction with prejudice removing the conviction from his record.

Expansion of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people

In August of 2015, our lawsuit, Michael Scott, et al. v. Debra Bowen, established voting rights for thousands of formerly incarcerated Californians. The lawsuit, brought in collaboration with a coalition of civil rights organizations, sought to uphold the constitutional right to vote for all people who are not currently imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction.

As a result of this litigation, more than 72,000 Californians who were being unlawfully denied the right to vote now have had their voting rights restored.

Pursuing Economic Security for Communities of Color and Low-Income

  • Shop-LSE-2015cover52 law firms have participated in our Legal Services for Entrepreneurs
    program providing pro bono legal counsel and representation for 443 client matters.
  • Lawyers’ Committee has reached 795 people through our workshops designed to equip participants with business law basics to establish and support the growth of their business enterprise.

RSVP by January 15, 2016 for our
Martin Luther King, Jr. Pro Bono Awards Luncheon
on January 28, 2016

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