Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

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Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Founded 1963
Type Nonpartisan
Focus Civil rights and voting rights
Area served
United States
Key people
Barbara R. Arnwine, Executive Director
Slogan A nonpartisan, nonprofit legal organization formed at the request of President Kennedy in 1963

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law, or simply The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights or Lawyers' Committee, is a civil rights organization founded in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy.


Origins: 1963–1973

During a June 21, 1963, meeting at the White House, in the midst of the American civil rights movement, President John F. Kennedy suggested the formation of a group of lawyers to counter and reduce racial tensions by way of volunteer citizen actions.[1] On July 10, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law was publicly announced. The first co-chairs of the Committee were two well-known figures in the civil rights and legal fields, Bernard Segal and Harrison Tweed.[2] Over a hundred lawyers volunteered to serve in the organization, with both white and black attorneys being represented. Membership also included five past presidents of the American Bar Association and four members of its board, as well as twelve current presidents of state bar associations, and officials from the NAACP and its legal defense fund.[2] On August 9, 1963, the group officially registered as a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.[1] Its first executive director, David Stahl, was named in December 1963.[3]

The group's first goal was to counter legal efforts to preserve segregation in Mississippi.[1] The Mississippi office of the organization opened on June 14, 1965, with a mission of getting the bar to take on the professional responsibility for leading the American civil rights movement and providing legal services where they would otherwise be unavailable.[4]

In 1967 and 1968, the Committee began providing assistance for human and civil rights problems in South Africa, litigating on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement and the Congressional Black Caucus within the United States.[5] The Southern Africa Project continued for more than 30 years, up through the liberation of Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa with free and open elections in 1994.[6]

The Committee began its Urban Areas Project after the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. This project received financial support from private foundations to organize and staff local lawyers committees in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington.[7] The committee initially focused on defensive issues, but eventually evolved to become affirmative in nature.[8]


The Lawyers' Committee continued to engage in major public policy issues. Work included affirmative positions on the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1975, the 25-year extension of that Act in 1982, and on the Attorneys Fees Awards Act of 1976.[9] In 1982, the Committee’s Lloyd Cutler represented the NAACP in Clairborne Hardware Co v. NAACP, a case where several businesses sued the NAACP and received a judgment that would have made the NAACP insolvent. Cutler argued and won the case in the U.S. Supreme Court, reversing the previous judgment.[10]

Barbara Arnwine became the Executive Director in February 1989, succeeding Bill Robinson. The Committee added separate Fair and Affordable Housing and Environmental Justice Projects.[11] The Southern Africa Project was created to aid the evolution to majority rule in Namibia and South Africa. The project endorsed the "Free South Africa Movement", funding legal assistance for the defense of political prisoners in southern Africa, supporting lawyers challenging apartheid laws and rent and housing cases, representing of rent-boycotters in the townships, and helping bring awareness to policymakers in the United States about human rights issues in the South African area.[12]

The Committee challenged Mississippi congressional districts in Brooks v. Winter, which helped Mike Espy to become the first black congressmen from Mississippi in 100 years; it also challenged municipal and county redistricting in Greenville, Jackson, Mississippi; Annapolis, Maryland; and Petersburg, Virginia.[13] In Mississippi, the committee challenged at-large elections of state court judges in Martin v. Mabus, leading to the election of eight black judges.[14]


In public policy, the Lawyers' Committee wrote President Bill Clinton recommending a "Second Call" to the bar to promote diversity. The Committee leadership helped developed a collaboration for a one-year effort to advance this cause, which was known as the Lawyers for One America Collaboration.[15] The Committee also supported the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Motor Voter"), hate crime legislation, and pushing for a better version of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.[11] The Committee helped construct the framework for President Clinton's Executive Order on Environmental Justice.[16]

Internationally, the Lawyers' Committee presented a seminal National Conference on African-American Women and the Law about the effects of discrimination of gender and race for women of color, and took part in the Non-Governmental Organization Forum in Beijing in August 1995.[17]

The Committee represented the NAACP in litigation over discriminatory practices by the city of Leesburg, Florida, and the local hospital for minority communities in Pine Street, Carver Heights, and Mont Clair (Tri-City Branch NAACP v. City of Leesburg).[18] The Committee received a consent decree that provided $7 million in funding to desegregate and redevelop Section 8 housing in Dade County, Florida (Adker v. HUD).[19] The Committee also received $26 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds for desegregation and community building for seven African American communities in Pennsylvania (Sanders v. HUD).[19][20]

The Committee's voting project protected against attack congressional districts and state senate districts on behalf of black citizens in Florida (Fouts v. Harris; Chandler v. Harris) and preserved voting districts of county commission and school board members in Dooley County, Georgia (Sanders v. Dooley County, Georgia).[11] In employment law's Phillips v. Hooters of America case, the Committee obtained a circuit court ruling allowing a client to pursue a sexual harassment claim in federal court, and in Dowdell v. Ona Corp. and Brewer v. Miller Brewing Co. the Committee obtained $2.5 million and $2.7 million settlements, respectively, for racial harassment.[21][22][23]

In education law, the Committee negotiated $300 million in state funding to engage reforms in Prince George's County, Maryland, in NAACP v. Prince George's County, Maryland Board of Education.[24][25]


In 2004, the Committee's amicus work in Tennessee v. Lane helped achieve a decision that confirmed a fundamental right of access to the courthouse and that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act was a valid exercise of Congress's power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to abolish state immunity from suits that violated this right.[26] The Lawyers' Committee main focus for 2004 was its Election Protection Program, a non-partisan coalition committed to protect the voting rights citizens on Election day through prompt solutions for voters experiencing problems and through grassroots efforts, education and outreach, and litigation.[27] Over 25,000 volunteers participated and 8,000 legal volunteers worked as poll monitors and field attorneys were ready to provide immediate legal help. Thousands of reports of possible election inconsistencies were received and processed, which served as the foundation for several lawsuits against Ohio, Louisiana, and Florida.[11]

The largest effort of 2005 was the response to the humanitarian crisis of Hurricane Katrina. The Lawyers' Committee, in partnership with the Mississippi Center for Justice, helped set up the legal aid groundwork necessary to help the thousands of displaced families to navigate the federal disaster relief bureaucracy and the property and insurance regulations.[28] In addition to assistance provided directly to survivors, the Committee filed suit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (McWaters v. FEMA) to compel the agency to provide adequate relief services and to enjoin the application of rules that impeded families' ability to receive assistance.[29]

In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional for school districts to use race to assign students to schools to achieve racial integration absent sufficient support that it was necessary as a "last resort".[30] Believing that the opinion of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision was threatened by these newer rulings, the Committee's Education Project created a formal response plan and raised funds to fund a staff attorney that would provide districts guidance to make race-conscious student assignment plans, offer litigation help to defend the plans, and provide public relations advice to raise public support to the plans.[11]


The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is structured around a number of projects that it operates on an ongoing basis:

  • The Community Development Project provides pro bono legal assistance to community organizations engaged in connecting minority and low-income communities with economic opportunities, affordable housing, and healthier living.[31]
  • The Educational Opportunities Project has the goal that all students receive equal educational opportunities in public schools and institutions of higher learning. It does this by promoting school integration, supporting the mission of the No Child Left Behind Act, and challenging discriminatory discipline and classroom assignment practices.[32]
  • The Employment Discrimination Project strives to dismantle systemic barriers faced by women and minorities in hiring and promotion and challenges all forms of racial, national origin, and sexual discrimination in the workplace, both private and governmental, through high-impact class action litigation and public policy advocacy.[33]
  • The Fair Housing Project challenges discrimination in rental and private markets and public and assisted housing in lawsuits under the Fair Housing Act. It trains local private attorneys to manage fair housing cases and cases referred from fair housing councils.[34]
  • The Legal Mobilization Project provides legal expertise and support to the Committee's other projects.[35]
  • The Public Policy Department provides policy leadership, advocacy, visibility and materials for interacting with the United States Congress and on substantive priorities arising on the legislative calendar.[36]
  • The Voting Rights Project aims to protect advances in voting rights for racial and ethnic minorities and other traditionally disenfranchised groups through a combined agenda of litigation, voter protection, research, advocacy, and education, including being active in redistricting battles.[37]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Lawyers Asked to Aid Integration", Associated Press, Lakeland Ledger, August 14, 1963, p. 3.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Weart, William G. "100 Lawyers Join New Rights Group", The New York Times, July 11, 1963, p. 17.
  3. "Ex-State Official Joins Laywers' Rights Panel", Associated Press, The New York Times, December 24, 1963.
  4. Berl Bernhard, Executive Director, LCCR, "Report on the Committee Office in the South", Aug. 7 through Oct. 6, 1965, Jackson Mississippi File, Records of the LCCR, Washington, D.C.
  5. Diggs v. Schultz, 470 F.2d. 461 (D.C. Cir. 1972) and New York Times Co. V. City of N.Y. Comm’n on Human Rights, 349 N.Y.S.2d 940, 76 Misc. 2d 17 (1973).
  6. Goler Teal Butcher, Southern African Issues in United States Courts, No. 2, 26. Howard L. J. 1983, pp. 601-643.
  7. "The American Way of Giving", Newsweek, March 14, 1966, p. 87.
  8. Collection on Legal Change, Guide to the microfilm edition of southern civil rights litigation records for the 1960s, Clement E. Vose ed., Lawyers constitutional Defense Committee, LCCR, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (Wesleyan University), pp. 38-39.
  9. "The Voting Rights Act: Ten Years After" A Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.(January 1975). Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  10. "458 U.S. 886 - National Association for Advancement of Colored People v. Claiborne Hardware " Retrieved October 29, 2011.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 "The History of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 1963-2008" Lester, Charles T. Jr. Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
  12. "Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law". McDougall, Gay. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  13. 469 U.S. 1002- Mississippi Republican Executive Committee v. H Brooks. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
  14. Minium, Harry. (July 29, 2008). "NAACP Challenges Norfolk's Method of Electing the Mayor". (July 29, 2008). The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  15. Lawyers for One America Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  16. An Agenda to Strengthen our Right to Know. (May 2011). OMB Watch. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  17. Black Women and the World Conference. (December 1995). Ebony. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  18. Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms. Lawyers for One America. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Promoting Fairness in Public Housing. Andrew Cuomo. (March 2000). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
  20. King V. State BD. Of Elections. (1997). Leagle. Retrieved October 11, 2011.
  21. Notice of Proposed Settlement. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  22. U.S. 4th Circuit of Appeals. Hooters of America v. Phillips. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  23. Ethical Considerations in Class Actions. Seymour, Richard T. (May 4, 2007). Retrieved October 14, 2011.
  24. Hoots v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  25. National Litigation Monthly Report. (September, 1996). Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
  26. State of Tennessee, v. George Lane, Beverly Jones, and United States of America. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
  27. Volunteer for Election Protection. (August 31, 2004). Georgia Advocates. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  28. "Lawyers’ Committee Continues to Emphasize Need for Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice and Recovery Efforts Six Years Following Wrath of Hurricane Katrina" (August 29, 2011). Human Rights Network. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  29. McWaters v. FEMA Lawsuit Discussed on National Conference Call. (December 23, 2005). National Low Income Housing Coalition. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
  30. 127 S. Ct. 2738, 2792 (2007) (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment)
  31. "About the Community Development Project". Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  32. "About the Education Project". Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  33. "About the Employment Discrimination Project". Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  34. "About the Fair Housing Project". Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  35. "About the Legal Mobilization Project". Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  36. "About the Public Policy Project". Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 3, 2011
  37. "About the Voting Rights Project". Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Retrieved October 3, 2011.

External links