Our Grants by Issue Area


The Barbara McDowell Foundation has supported since 2011 over 56 social justice litigation cases with over one million dollars in grants to 40 organizations.

While the causes benefiting from this effort have varied, they all have been in support of the overarching mission of the Barbara McDowell Foundation: to improve the economic well-being, social conditions, and civil liberties of disadvantaged persons in the United States.

The amazing efforts of the Foundation’s grantees in furthering social justice are highlighted below.

Click on each Issue Area to read more about the grantees and their cases.

Access to Benefits +

Withholding or delaying the payment of public benefits, such as food stamps to the poor, or doing so on a discriminatory basis causes human suffering for which litigation is often the only recourse.

The following grantees filed lawsuits in order to correct those injustices.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Legal Services of Alabama (2018)
$25,000
National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2011)
$2,500
National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2012)
$10,000
National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2016)
$16,667
Nebraska Appleseed (2015)
$13,000
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (2013)
$10,500
The Public Justice Center (2012)
$5,000

Legal Services of Alabama (2018)

Legal Services Alabama (LSA) is the only statewide non-profit provider of free legal services in Alabama. LSA and its predecessor offices have been leading the war against poverty in Alabama for over forty years. LSA provides access to justice and quality civil legal assistance to educate and empower Alabama's low-income community.

LSA provides legal aid and assistance in civil matters including, community education about rights and responsibilities; counsel and advice, administrative and judicial representation and appeals. Our advocates use a variety of strategies and tactics to ensure that poor people have a roof over their heads, food to eat, access to health care, educational opportunities, freedom from domestic violence, protection from economic predators, and access to emergency legal assistance when disaster strikes.

LSA’s goal is to reduce the causes and consequences of poverty in Alabama by providing comprehensive legal services that help low-income and vulnerable people.

THE CASE: LSA is currently preparing litigation against the Alabama Department of Human Resources with the assistance of a grant from the Barbara McDowell Foundation regarding the implementation of the portion of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act related to Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents or “ABAWDs.” The Act limited certain “able-bodied” adults who were not working or attending work training at least 20 hours a week to receiving only three months of SNAP (or “food stamps”) in a 36 month regardless of whether or not jobs or work programs were available. Consequently, tens of thousands of Alabama citizens were terminated from the program in 2016 and 2017 after receiving assistance for years.

LSA believes that thousands of Alabamians were unfairly and unnecessarily terminated from the program in spite of the fact that they qualified for an exception. LSA intends to prove that DHR violated the due process rights of Alabama citizens when it failed to provide notices which gave sufficient notice of the basis for termination and exemptions to recipients. LSA also intends to prove that Alabama has imposed overly restrictive interpretations of the exemptions making it unnecessarily difficult for individuals to receive the benefits that individuals are entitled to receive.

Contact: 
Jaffe Pickett, Interim Executive Director, jpickett@alsp.org 334-223-0232 
Michael Forton, Director of Advocacy, mforton@alsp.org 256-551-2671

National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2011)

The NCLEJ, founded in 1965, works to secure fairness in the delivery of income support and related human services particularly in access to public benefits (food stamps), health care, and childcare.

THE CASE: A grant was made for legal work in connection with Davis v. Henneberry, a case in Colorado brought to enforce federal and state mandates to process applications and redeterminations for Medicaid and food stamps in a timely manner.

Contact: Henry A. Freedman, Executive Director, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, 275 Seventh Avenue, Suite 1506, New York, New York 10001.

National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2012)

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement.  From the very start, NCLEJ joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground breaking victories in the courts and committed resources to bring about legislative reform.  Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

For the past 46 years, NCLEJ has led the way in promoting economic justice, fairness and opportunity for those in need; securing systemic reform in the delivery of income support and related human services; and safeguarding important legal and constitutional rights.  Our mission today continues to be to advance the cause of economic justice for individuals, families, and communities through litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grass roots organizing.

THE CASE: NCLEJ will advocate to (1) require the State to timely process applications for Medicaid and CHiP and (2) prevent implementation of a policy that will force hundreds of eligible families from the Medicaid rolls.  Previously, Hawaii continued Medicaid uninterrupted until it had reason to believe the family ineligible.  It is estimated that, the new policy, by forcing all families to periodically recertify for eligibility, even in the absence of a change in circumstances (a process known as churning), will result in 30% of eligible households being terminated for reasons unrelated to eligibility.

During the grant period, we plan to use a variety of tools to compel timely processing of applications and, if necessary, to stop unlawful terminations of eligible families.  We will leverage the experience acquired in comparable work in other states to achieve improvements in agency practices and to institute oversight that will serve both as a management tool and as a means of measuring process.

Contact: Marc Cohan, cohan@nclej.org

National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2016)

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement. From the very start, NCLEJ joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground breaking victories in the courts and committed resources to bring about legislative reform. Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

For the past 50 years, NCLEJ has led the way in promoting economic justice, fairness and opportunity for those in need; securing systemic reform in the delivery of income support and related human services; and safeguarding important legal and constitutional rights. Our mission today continues to be to advance the cause of economic justice for individuals, families, and communities through litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grass roots organizing.

THE CASE: In the ground-breaking litigation to enforce the preliminary injunction requiring Connecticut to timely provide food stamps to eligible households, NCLEJ will work with local colleagues and advocate to (1) enforce the injunction which requires the State to timely process applications for food stamps and (2) prepare for trial on the merits. Here, we and our colleagues won a first of its kind victory at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals setting forth that the provisions of the Food Stamp Act under which we sued were federally enforceable by applicants.

During the grant period, we plan to use a variety of tools to compel timely processing of applications. We will leverage the experience acquired in comparable work in other states to achieve improvements in agency practices and to institute oversight that will serve both as a management tool and as a means of measuring progress. We expect considerable resistance as Connecticut has fought hard at every step of the case.

Contact: Marc Cohan, cohan@nclej.org

Nebraska Appleseed (2015)

Founded in 1996, Nebraska Appleseed is a nonprofit organization that fights for justice and opportunity for all Nebraskans. With expertise in addressing systemic problems and opportunities affecting thousands of people, we incorporate legal advocacy, community activism, and policy expertise to make a positive, sustainable difference in our four main areas of concentration – health care access, poverty, child welfare, and immigration. We take our work wherever we believe we can do the most good, whether that’s at the courthouse, in the statehouse or in the community. For more information about our programs and successes, please visit www.neappleseed.org.

THE CASE: On August 1, 2014, the case of Leiting-Hall v. Winterer commenced. Nebraska Appleseed filed this class-action lawsuit on behalf of two clients (a working, single mother and a three-person family) who have been unlawfully delayed from receiving urgent and necessary help providing food for their families though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), seeking to represent a class of hundreds of households that receive SNAP.

The suit is against Kerry Winterer, the CEO of Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and Thomas Pristow, the Director of the DHHS Division of Children and Families. Winterer and Pristow are responsible for administering SNAP in Nebraska. Throughout the state, the SNAP program helps about 175,000 Nebraskans know where their next meal is coming from. Nearly 75 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children; more than one-quarter of participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, DHHS has systematically failed to follow federal and state rules which require SNAP to be provided to eligible households within set timeframes. Following these timeframes is vital, because the failure to do so means that hundreds of SNAP households do not receive assistance to purchase food when they need it. The suit seeks to enforce federal timeliness requirements in order to ensure these low-income Nebraska households are able to access SNAP in a timely way.

Contact: Mindy Bilderback, Grant Coordinator, 941 O St #920, Lincoln, NE 68508

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (2013)

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

THE CASE: In the second poorest state in the country, healthcare and food and cash assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and General Assistance, are essential to help low-income families meet their basic needs. If the state improperly denies, discontinues, or reduces those benefits for any reason, the consequences on a family can be devastating. The Fair Hearing process is meant to prevent such improper denial, reduction, or termination of benefits and protect families from losing essential financial, nutritional, and healthcare assistance. It is an essential safeguard for clients.

Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Fair Hearing process is not being properly administered by the state, and clients are often wrongfully denied the benefits for which they are qualified. The New Mexico Human Services Department does not timely provide clients with the Summary of Evidence it will use to justify the adverse action it proposes to take against the client’s benefits at the hearing. As a result, many clients do not have enough time to adequately prepare for the hearing and are far more likely to unfairly lose benefits to which they are entitled. The Human Services Department’s failure to provide a Summary of Evidence in a timely fashion violates statutes and regulations, as well as the Constitution’s due process protection.

The NM Center on Law and Poverty will use the funds from its grant to litigate to improve the Fair Hearing process, specifically, by ensuring clients have access to all the information and evidence they need to meaningfully challenge the state’s termination, reduction, or denial of benefits. We will compel the Human Services Department to come into compliance with the law and ensure that the Fair Hearing process is properly serving clients in need.

Contact: Craig Acorn, Senior Attorney, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, 720 Vassar Dr. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106.

The Public Justice Center (2012)

The Public Justice Center is a nonprofit public interest law office, founded in Maryland in 1985, that seeks to enforce and expand the rights of people who are denied justice because of their economic status or discrimination. The PJC uses individual, class action, and appellate litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, and public education to advance our mission of “pursuing systemic change to build a more just society.”

THE CASE: A grant was made to the PJC to support litigation to require that the State of Maryland comply with legal requirements for the timely processing of applications for Medicaid for adults who are blind or disabled (MA-ABD) and for those seeking long term care benefits (MA-LTC). Recipients of MA-ABD are very poor and, by definition, extremely ill or severely impaired and in need of medical care. There were approximately 17,494 pending applications for MA-ABD statewide in May 2011, well past the 60 and 90 day deadlines for processing applications. Under Maryland and federal law, applications for  MA-LTC must be processed within 30 and 45 days.  In spite of these requirements and intense pressure from advocates, nursing homes and consumer groups, applicants for MA-LTC typically wait six months to one year or longer to receive a long-term care eligibility determination. Thus families and applicants do not know whether they are going to be able to pay the nursing home bill accumulating each day, suffer from high levels of anxiety and stress due to the lingering uncertainty, and daily face the possibility of involuntary discharge for nonpayment.  Nursing homes are providing care without knowing whether or when they will be paid for that care. 

Contact: John Nethercut, Executive Director, Public Justice Center, nethercutj@publicjustice.org; 1 N. Charles St., Ste 200, Baltimore, MD 21201

Children’s Rights +

Children suffering abuse and neglect must often rely upon litigation to secure protection and to afford them their basic constitutional rights.

The Foundation made grants supporting the following cases aimed at protecting children.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (2018)
$25,000
Children’s Advocacy Institute of the University of San Diego School of Law (2018)
$25,000
Children’s Rights (2018)
$25,000
Children's Rights (2016)
$16,667
Children's Rights (2015)
$13,000
Disability Rights North Carolina (2017)
$25,000
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (2013)
$10,500
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (2019)
$30,000
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (2014)
$10,000
North Florida Center for Equal Justice, Inc. (2013)
$10,500

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (2018)

Since 1972, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has advocated for the civil rights, full inclusion, and equality of adults and children with mental disabilities. The Bazelon Center was pivotal in expanding the civil rights movement to include fighting discrimination against, and segregation of, people with mental disabilities. Today, the Center accomplishes its goals through a unique combination of litigation, public policy advocacy, coalition building and leadership, public education, media outreach, and technical assistance—a comprehensive approach that ensures the largest possible impact.

The Bazelon Center uses cutting-edge litigation to effect progressive systemic change and impact public policy. We secured early legal precedents creating basic civil rights for people with mental disabilities—including the rights to a public education, receive services in community based settings instead of institutions, and make decisions about one’s own care. The Center was instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and played a key role in the historic case of Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), in which the Supreme Court found that needless segregation of people with psychiatric disabilities violates the ADA. Over the last decade, the Bazelon Center has worked to expand the reach of Olmstead to address not only unnecessary institutionalization in public facilities (e.g., psychiatric and criminal justice), but also to remedy segregation in nursing homes, board and care homes, schools and classrooms, sheltered workshops, and other day services. Our Olmstead work has created legal precedents defining a national model of comprehensive community-based disability systems and led to settlement agreements providing thousands of individuals with opportunities to move out of segregated, dead-end facilities and to live full lives in their communities.

THE CASE: The Bazelon Center has long worked to ensure that children with mental health disabilities have the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers. As part of this advocacy, and using funding from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, the Bazelon Center has filed a case challenging Georgia's system of segregated educational centers, known collectively as the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Services, or GNETS. The Bazelon Center and its co-counsel represent three current and former GNETS students as well as a class of students with disabilities now in GNETS or at serious risk of being placed in GNETS. Other plaintiffs include the Georgia Advocacy Office and The Arc of the United States. The plaintiffs allege that Georgia’s use of the GNETS system violates the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Equal Protection Clause by denying equal educational opportunity to children with disability-related behavioral needs and by needlessly segregating them in separate and inferior classrooms and schools. The defendants include the Georgia Board of Education, Department of Education, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Department of Community Health, and several individuals in their official capacities.

Approximately 5,200 students with disabilities are in the GNETS system. In a series of investigative articles published last year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that GNETS operates 53 segregated “centers,” where only children with disabilities are enrolled, as well as satellite classrooms, also segregated by disability, attached to numerous neighborhood schools. GNETS students are disproportionately children of color – 51 percent versus 37 percent in all public schools statewide. In some areas, the percentage of African-American students in GNETS exceeds 60 percent, and in one program, almost 9 out of every 10 students are African American. See Judd, A. “Georgia ‘psychoeducational’ students segregated by disability, race,” The Atlanta Journal Constitution (April 28, 2016) (retrieved from http://specials.myajc.com/psychoeducation/?ecmp=AJC_internallink_4292016_AJCtoMyAJC_p sycho_ed_gwinnett.)

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring Georgia to provide students with disability-related behavioral needs appropriate services in neighborhood schools alongside their non-disabled peers. Unless these concerns are resolved, students segregated in GNETS will continue to fall further behind in school, be less likely to graduate, and be more likely to enter the criminal justice system.

Contact: 
Ira Burnim, Legal Director, irab@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1320 
Mark Murphy, Managing Attorney, markm@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1323 
Maura Klugman, Staff Attorney, maurak@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1331

Children’s Advocacy Institute of the University of San Diego School of Law (2018)

The Children's Advocacy Institute (CAI), founded in 1989 at the nonprofit University of San Diego School of Law, is one of the nation's premier academic, research, and advocacy organizations working to improve the lives of all children and youth.

In its academic component, CAI trains law students and attorneys to be effective child advocates throughout their legal careers. Its Child Advocacy Clinic gives USD Law students three distinct clinical opportunities to advocate on behalf of children and youth, and its Dependency Counsel Training Program provides comprehensive training to licensed attorneys engaged in or contemplating Dependency Court practice. Conducted through its offices in San Diego, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C., CAI's research and advocacy component seeks to leverage change for children and youth through impact litigation, regulatory and legislative advocacy, and public education. Active at the federal and state levels, CAI’s efforts are multi-faceted — comprehensively embracing all tools of public interest advocacy to improve the lives of children and youth.

THE CASE: With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, the Children's Advocacy Institute will file litigation in federal district court seeking to establish an absolute right to counsel for abused or neglected children in judicial proceedings that will forever impact their lives. These proceedings, generally referred to as Dependency Court proceedings, determine every fundamental aspect of an abused or neglect child’s life: by whom the child will be raised; where the child will live; when will the child see his/her siblings, relatives, friends; where will the child go to school, et al.

Most states recognize an absolute right to counsel for indigent parents in these proceedings, considering the magnitude of the court’s authority—the termination of parental rights. Is an order terminating a parental relationship any less of a constitutional taking for the child than for the parent? The time has come to recognize a right to legal representation for the abused and neglected children who are the central figures in these proceedings.

Thus far, one court has found that abused and neglected children have fundamental liberty interests at stake in the judicial proceedings determining their fate, such as the child's interest in his/her safety, health, and well-being, and an interest in maintaining the integrity of the family unit and in having a relationship with his/her biological parents, to the extent possible. In Kenny A. v. Perdue, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia recognized that these children are subject to placement in a wide array of different types of foster care placements, including institutional facilities where their physical liberty is greatly restricted. Also, the court found that as parens patriae, the government’s overriding interest is to ensure that a child's safety and well-being are protected, and that such protection can be adequately ensured only if the child is represented by legal counsel throughout the course of the judicial proceedings. Unfortunately, Kenny A. is not followed in many states.

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires that in every case involving a victim of child abuse or neglect that results in a judicial proceeding, a guardian ad litem who may be an attorney or a court appointed special advocate (CASA) (or both), shall be appointed to represent the child in such proceedings, to obtain first-hand, a clear understanding of the situation and needs of the child, and to make recommendations to the court concerning the best interests of the child. CAI fully respects and supports the role that lay CASAs play in the lives of these children. However, the complexity of these legal proceedings, the significance of the children’s rights and interests that are before the court, and the need to recognize and treat children as full parties necessitates the appointment of counsel (in addition to CASAs) to represent these children. Otherwise, CASAs are put in the untenable position of performing duties that are reserved for licensed attorneys.

If successful, CAI's litigation will put in place an absolute right to counsel for abused or neglected children throughout the country.

Contact: 
Robert C. Fellmeth, Executive Director, cpil@sandiego.eduor 619-260-4806

Children’s Rights (2018)

Children’s Rights is a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children who depend on them for protection and care. Since 1995, we have been fighting to enshrine in the law of the land every child’s right to be protected from abuse and neglect and to grow up in a safe, stable, permanent home. Through tough legal action complemented by substantive policy expertise, we have won landmark victories and brought about sweeping improvements in the lives of abused and neglected children in more than a dozen states.

In the states where Children’s Rights is active, fewer children who have already been victimized by abuse and neglect at home suffer further maltreatment in foster care. More children receive the high-quality medical, educational, and other services they need to recover from the trauma they have suffered and regain the healthy childhood that is their right. And more children go home sooner to better lives and to safe, stable, permanent families.

THE CASE: With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, Children’s Rights is pursuing a statewide federal class action lawsuit in Missouri challenging the state’s longstanding failure to ensure the safe administration of psychotropic and antipsychotic medications to children in state foster care. Plaintiffs include two- and three-year-old siblings in foster care, who were put on unmonitored psychotropic medications; a 14-year-old placed on six different psychotropic and antipsychotics medications simultaneously who developed facial tics, slurred speech and an inability to stay awake during the day; and a 12-year-old who required psychiatric hospitalization when given the wrong dosage of his medications upon moving from one home to another with no written medical instructions. The lawsuit focuses on the state’s poor informed consent policy, a broken system for maintaining updated medical records for children, and the failure to operate a secondary review system to identify and address dangerous prescribing practices. Our partners include John Amman of the St. Louis University School of Law Civil Litigation Clinic; attorneys at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California, who have expertise related to the oversight of psychotropic medications; and the global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, as pro bono counsel. Immediate and positive media coverage of our case has brought national attention to this important issue.

Contact: Sandy Santana, Executive Director, 88 Pine Street Suite 800, New York, NY 10005. Tel. (212) 683-2210.

Children's Rights (2016)

Children’s Rights is a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children who depend on them for protection and care. Since 1995, we have been fighting to enshrine in the law of the land every child’s right to be protected from abuse and neglect and to grow up in a safe, stable, permanent home. Through tough legal action complemented by substantive policy expertise, we have won landmark victories and brought about sweeping improvements in the lives of abused and neglected children in more than a dozen states.

In the states where Children’s Rights is active, fewer children who have already been victimized by abuse and neglect at home suffer further maltreatment in foster care. More children receive the high-quality medical, educational, and other services they need to recover from the trauma they have suffered and regain the healthy childhood that is their right. And more children go home sooner to better lives and to safe, stable, permanent families.

THE CASE: In February 2015, Children’s Rights and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a class action lawsuit, B.K. v. McKay,against the state of Arizona on behalf of the over 17,000 children in the custody of its Department of Child Safety (DCS). Perkins Coie LLP joined the case as co-counsel in April. The suit charges DCS and the Department of Health Services (DHS) with violating the plaintiff children’s constitutional and federal statutory rights by failing to: (i) maintain an adequate number and array of licensed family foster homes, (ii) provide needed health care services, (iii) preserve family ties once children are in foster care, and (iv) conduct timely investigations into reports that children have been maltreated while in state care. Children’s Rights’ case is vital and time-sensitive for these children, who are dependent on a dangerous, dysfunctional system for their protection, care, and well-being.

Contact: Sandy Santana, Executive Director, 330 7th Avenue 4th Floor, New York NY 10001, (212) 683-2210.

Children's Rights (2015)

Children’s Rights is a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children who depend on them for protection and care. Since 1995, we have been fighting to enshrine in the law of the land every child’s right to be protected from abuse and neglect and to grow up in a safe, stable, permanent home. Through tough legal action complemented by substantive policy expertise, we have won landmark victories and brought about sweeping improvements in the lives of abused and neglected children in more than a dozen states.

In the states where Children’s Rights is active, fewer children who have already been victimized by abuse and neglect at home suffer further maltreatment in foster care. More children receive the high-quality medical, educational, and other services they need to recover from the trauma they have suffered and regain the healthy childhood that is their right. And more children go home sooner to better lives and to safe, stable, permanent families.

THE CASE: In March 2011, Children’s Rights filed a class action in federal court seeking reform of the Texas child welfare system on behalf of approximately 12,000 abused or neglected children in long-term foster care statewide. The lawsuit, known as M.D. v. Perry, charges Texas’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) with violating the constitutional rights of children who generally have been in foster care for at least a year, by routinely failing to find them safe, appropriate, and permanent new families—and therefore failing to meet its legal obligation to ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of all children in its custody. The case is scheduled for a full trial starting in December 2014.

Contact: Sandy Santana, Interim Executive Director, 330 7th Avenue 4th Floor, New York NY 10001

Disability Rights North Carolina (2017)

In the nine years since it opened its doors as North Carolina's protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities, Disability Rights North Carolina has become a leading voice in protecting the legal rights of people with disabilities in the State. It is the only nonprofit organization in North Carolina dedicated to providing advocacy and legal services to people with all types of disabilities to protect their right to live independently with dignity in the communities of their choice. The mission of Disability Rights North Carolina is to protect the legal rights of people with disabilities through individual and systems advocacy. Its 16 staff attorneys and attorney managers conduct a wide range of legal advocacy services for people with disabilities, including the provision of direct legal representation to people with disabilities to protect their rights and ensure they receive the services to which they are entitled by law, bringing impact litigation, and acting as amicus curiae in disability-related cases. Learn more about the organization on its website – www.disabilityrightsnc.org.

THE CASE: Disability Rights North Carolina will use funding from the Barbara McDowell Foundation to file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of all children and adolescents in North Carolina who are Medicaid eligible and who have been identified and diagnosed with complex behavioral, emotional, psychiatric, intellectual and developmental disabilities. These children are not being provided with appropriate medically necessary mental health services to treat their co-occurring conditions as required under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPDST) provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid Act), 42 U.S.C. § 1396 et.seq. Defendants in the case are Governor Patrick McCrory and Secretary of the NC Department and Health and Human Services Patrick Brajer.

Disability Rights North Carolina began its investigation of this issue in 2009. During the investigation process, it reviewed the records of more than 100 children with co-occurring conditions and found that administration of the State's existing policies, procedures, and service delivery system for children with complex needs lacked effective case management, over-relied on institutional care, and failed to invest in effective community-based services and supports. While the percentage of children treated in out-of-home residential treatment facilities has fallen nationally, statistics show that North Carolina's children are not experiencing the same trend. North Carolina more than quadrupled the number of locked residential placements from 117 in 2005 to 494 in March 2010. In North Carolina, children and adolescents with complex needs experience cyclical hospitalizations (often stuck in emergency room beds for weeks because the hospital cannot find a place for them), are shipped out-of-state for treatment, suffer trauma and over-medication in inappropriate placements, and either are unable to access adequate services or receive no services at all.

Despite years of meetings with state policymakers and the direct legal representation of children with complex needs, the systemic denial of legally required Medicaid services continues. In response to a demand letter from Disability Rights North Carolina delivered in 2014 to the Governor and then NC DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, NC DHHS staff convened a work group to promote resolution of these long-standing issues. The work group has made progress towards the systemic reform needed to develop a system that responds to the unique, complex needs of this population but has not reached a final agreement to resolve all the issues. The primary objective for this litigation is to make sure that every child and adolescent in North Carolina has access to the full scope of services required by the Medicaid Act, specifically medically necessary treatment by qualified providers, and prompt provision of services and supports designed to correct or ameliorate the child's condition in the right setting and at the right time.

Contacts: John Rittelmeyer, Director of Special Litigation, john.rittelmeyer@disabilityrightsnc.org; or Iris Green, Senior Attorney, iris.green@disabilityrightsnc.org, Disability Rights North Carolina, 3724 National Drive, Suite 100, Raleigh, NC 27612 – 919-856-2195

Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (2013)

When the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) first opened our doors in 1997, our state was acknowledged to have one of the country’s worst systems to treat and prevent delinquency. In July of that year, the New York Times called Louisiana home to the “most troubled” juvenile public defender’s office in the country.1 That same month — after earlier reports in 1995 and 1996 by Human Rights Watch and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) — the DOJ detailed brutal and inhumane conditions in Louisiana’s juvenile prisons, bringing international shame to the system. Louisiana’s juvenile justice system provided virtually no representation for children accused of crimes and then placed them in hyper-violent prisons where they regularly suffered bodily and emotional harm. The large majority of these children were African-American.

JJPL’s mission is to transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive. We have three key program objectives to achieve this mission: to reduce the number of children in secure care and abolish unconstitutional conditions of confinement by improving or, when necessary, shutting down institutions that continue to inhumanely treat children; to expand evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and detention for youth; and to build the power of those most impacted by the juvenile justice system.

JJPL litigates on behalf of youth both locally and statewide. Additionally, we educate policy makers on the need for reform, coordinate with parents, youth and other concerned citizens to ensure their visibility and participation in the process, and actively implement media strategies to hold the state accountable for the treatment of its youth. By coordinating our diverse abilities in strategic campaigns to engage policy makers and organize community members and youth, JJPL continues to work on improving the lives of Louisiana’s most vulnerable children.

THE CASE: The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) recently filed a class action lawsuit; R.B., A.C., J.R., and T.B. vs. Dr. Mary Livers; in United States District Court for the Eastern District Of Louisiana on June 13, 2012 against the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) on behalf of incarcerated children who have been denied access to counsel to redress constitutional violations while in OJJ custody. Hundreds of youth per year are placed in OJJ’s custody and the conditions inside OJJ’s facilities are deplorable. OJJ has failed to provide youth in their custody with their constitutionally required access to courts by failing to provide adequate access to legal counsels. During the last 18 months, the conditions inside OJJ facilities, Bridge City Center for Youth, Swanson Center for Youth, and Jetson Center for Youth, have been violent and inhumane. Parish Sheriff Officers are called to these facilities at an alarming rate because of the violence that occurs inside of these facilities. Youth inside these facilities are routinely victims of violence but have no access to legal advocates to assist them in addressing these brutal conditions. The goals of this litigation are to provide incarcerated youth in Louisiana with constitutionally mandated access to counsel and the courts and, ultimately, improve the conditions of confinement for all youth in OJJ custody. Funds received from the Foundation’s grant would be used in conjunction with this lawsuit.

Contact: Charlotte D'Ooge, Development & Communications Director, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), 1600 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70113

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (2019)

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a national non-profit organization that works to protect and advance the rights of noncitizens by developing cutting-edge strategies to respond to unlawful immigration enforcement, government overreach, and efforts to erode immigrant rights. NIPNLG promotes justice and equality of treatment in all areas of immigration law, providing technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, jailhouse lawyers, and all advocates for immigrant rights.

THE CASE: Through the generosity of the Barbara McDowell Foundation, NIPNLG will represent detained immigrant children at the Berks County Residential Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It will seek to force the state to revoke the facility’s license to run a child residential facility due to egregious regulatory violations related to health services, mental health care, and language access, as well as traumatic night-checks that repeatedly interrupt children’s sleep. Without a license, the child detention facility will no longer be able to operate, and ICE will be required to release children to the community pending their deportation proceedings. Questions about this grant may be directed to Elizabeth Simpson at esimpson@nipnlg.org.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (2014)

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest is a nonprofit civil rights law firm whose mission is to advance equality and civil rights, with a focus on health justice, disability rights and environmental justice, through the power of community lawyering and partnerships with the private bar. Created in 1976 to address previously unmet legal needs, NYLPI combines a pro bono clearinghouse with an in-house practice that blends innovative lawyering, community organizing, and advocacy. NYLPI’s close working relationship with our almost 80 member firms enables us to leverage the tremendous resources of the private bar in order to have the most impact on the lives of our clients and New York’s nonprofit community.

THE CASE: Funding from The Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation will support litigation to protect the health of New York City school children, particularly in low-income communities of color, by ensuring that all public schools are free from unsafe toxic contamination.

Contact: McGregor Smyth – Executive Director

North Florida Center for Equal Justice, Inc. (2013)

The North Florida Center For Equal Justice, Inc. is a 501 © (3) organization founded in 2007 and funded primarily by The Florida Bar Foundation grants. Through impact and class action litigation and appellate advocacy NFCFEJ provides legal services that will most effectively address the housing, consumer, individual rights and education problems that affect large numbers of residents in north Florida and throughout the state.

THE CASE: NFCFEJ along with the Public Interest Law Center of the Florida State University College of Law and private counsel Matthew Dietz filed a class complaint in the USDC for the Southern District of Florida seeking injunctive relief for all medically fragile children in the State of Florida alleging that the state discriminates against the children by unlawfully separating them or attempting to separate them from their families and communities by failing to provide federally mandated and medically necessary home and community-based services. The complaints were filed on behalf of children who are currently in nursing homes in the State of Florida and those children who are at risk of unnecessary institutionalization. The grant funds will be used to pay litigation expenses including costs associated with experts.

Contact: Edward J. Grunewald, Executive Director of The North Florida Center For Equal Justice, Inc., 2121 Delta Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32303

Disability Rights +

Those facing physical and mental challenges often need litigation to combat discrimination in order to secure and protect the same fundamental rights available to the general population.

Protecting the rights of disabled individuals formed the basis for the following grantees to rectify serious deprivations.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (2018)
$25,000
Disability Rights North Carolina (2017)
$25,000
Florida Institutional Legal Services Project (2014)
$10,000
National Veterans Legal Services Program (2020)
$40,000
North Florida Center for Equal Justice, Inc. (2013)
$10,500
The Public Justice Center (2012)
$5,000

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (2018)

Since 1972, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has advocated for the civil rights, full inclusion, and equality of adults and children with mental disabilities. The Bazelon Center was pivotal in expanding the civil rights movement to include fighting discrimination against, and segregation of, people with mental disabilities. Today, the Center accomplishes its goals through a unique combination of litigation, public policy advocacy, coalition building and leadership, public education, media outreach, and technical assistance—a comprehensive approach that ensures the largest possible impact.

The Bazelon Center uses cutting-edge litigation to effect progressive systemic change and impact public policy. We secured early legal precedents creating basic civil rights for people with mental disabilities—including the rights to a public education, receive services in community based settings instead of institutions, and make decisions about one’s own care. The Center was instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and played a key role in the historic case of Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), in which the Supreme Court found that needless segregation of people with psychiatric disabilities violates the ADA. Over the last decade, the Bazelon Center has worked to expand the reach of Olmstead to address not only unnecessary institutionalization in public facilities (e.g., psychiatric and criminal justice), but also to remedy segregation in nursing homes, board and care homes, schools and classrooms, sheltered workshops, and other day services. Our Olmstead work has created legal precedents defining a national model of comprehensive community-based disability systems and led to settlement agreements providing thousands of individuals with opportunities to move out of segregated, dead-end facilities and to live full lives in their communities.

THE CASE: The Bazelon Center has long worked to ensure that children with mental health disabilities have the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers. As part of this advocacy, and using funding from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, the Bazelon Center has filed a case challenging Georgia's system of segregated educational centers, known collectively as the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Services, or GNETS. The Bazelon Center and its co-counsel represent three current and former GNETS students as well as a class of students with disabilities now in GNETS or at serious risk of being placed in GNETS. Other plaintiffs include the Georgia Advocacy Office and The Arc of the United States. The plaintiffs allege that Georgia’s use of the GNETS system violates the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Equal Protection Clause by denying equal educational opportunity to children with disability-related behavioral needs and by needlessly segregating them in separate and inferior classrooms and schools. The defendants include the Georgia Board of Education, Department of Education, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Department of Community Health, and several individuals in their official capacities.

Approximately 5,200 students with disabilities are in the GNETS system. In a series of investigative articles published last year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that GNETS operates 53 segregated “centers,” where only children with disabilities are enrolled, as well as satellite classrooms, also segregated by disability, attached to numerous neighborhood schools. GNETS students are disproportionately children of color – 51 percent versus 37 percent in all public schools statewide. In some areas, the percentage of African-American students in GNETS exceeds 60 percent, and in one program, almost 9 out of every 10 students are African American. See Judd, A. “Georgia ‘psychoeducational’ students segregated by disability, race,” The Atlanta Journal Constitution (April 28, 2016) (retrieved from http://specials.myajc.com/psychoeducation/?ecmp=AJC_internallink_4292016_AJCtoMyAJC_p sycho_ed_gwinnett.)

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring Georgia to provide students with disability-related behavioral needs appropriate services in neighborhood schools alongside their non-disabled peers. Unless these concerns are resolved, students segregated in GNETS will continue to fall further behind in school, be less likely to graduate, and be more likely to enter the criminal justice system.

Contact: 
Ira Burnim, Legal Director, irab@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1320 
Mark Murphy, Managing Attorney, markm@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1323 
Maura Klugman, Staff Attorney, maurak@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1331

Disability Rights North Carolina (2017)

In the nine years since it opened its doors as North Carolina's protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities, Disability Rights North Carolina has become a leading voice in protecting the legal rights of people with disabilities in the State. It is the only nonprofit organization in North Carolina dedicated to providing advocacy and legal services to people with all types of disabilities to protect their right to live independently with dignity in the communities of their choice. The mission of Disability Rights North Carolina is to protect the legal rights of people with disabilities through individual and systems advocacy. Its 16 staff attorneys and attorney managers conduct a wide range of legal advocacy services for people with disabilities, including the provision of direct legal representation to people with disabilities to protect their rights and ensure they receive the services to which they are entitled by law, bringing impact litigation, and acting as amicus curiae in disability-related cases. Learn more about the organization on its website – www.disabilityrightsnc.org.

THE CASE: Disability Rights North Carolina will use funding from the Barbara McDowell Foundation to file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of all children and adolescents in North Carolina who are Medicaid eligible and who have been identified and diagnosed with complex behavioral, emotional, psychiatric, intellectual and developmental disabilities. These children are not being provided with appropriate medically necessary mental health services to treat their co-occurring conditions as required under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPDST) provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid Act), 42 U.S.C. § 1396 et.seq. Defendants in the case are Governor Patrick McCrory and Secretary of the NC Department and Health and Human Services Patrick Brajer.

Disability Rights North Carolina began its investigation of this issue in 2009. During the investigation process, it reviewed the records of more than 100 children with co-occurring conditions and found that administration of the State's existing policies, procedures, and service delivery system for children with complex needs lacked effective case management, over-relied on institutional care, and failed to invest in effective community-based services and supports. While the percentage of children treated in out-of-home residential treatment facilities has fallen nationally, statistics show that North Carolina's children are not experiencing the same trend. North Carolina more than quadrupled the number of locked residential placements from 117 in 2005 to 494 in March 2010. In North Carolina, children and adolescents with complex needs experience cyclical hospitalizations (often stuck in emergency room beds for weeks because the hospital cannot find a place for them), are shipped out-of-state for treatment, suffer trauma and over-medication in inappropriate placements, and either are unable to access adequate services or receive no services at all.

Despite years of meetings with state policymakers and the direct legal representation of children with complex needs, the systemic denial of legally required Medicaid services continues. In response to a demand letter from Disability Rights North Carolina delivered in 2014 to the Governor and then NC DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, NC DHHS staff convened a work group to promote resolution of these long-standing issues. The work group has made progress towards the systemic reform needed to develop a system that responds to the unique, complex needs of this population but has not reached a final agreement to resolve all the issues. The primary objective for this litigation is to make sure that every child and adolescent in North Carolina has access to the full scope of services required by the Medicaid Act, specifically medically necessary treatment by qualified providers, and prompt provision of services and supports designed to correct or ameliorate the child's condition in the right setting and at the right time.

Contacts: John Rittelmeyer, Director of Special Litigation, john.rittelmeyer@disabilityrightsnc.org; or Iris Green, Senior Attorney, iris.green@disabilityrightsnc.org, Disability Rights North Carolina, 3724 National Drive, Suite 100, Raleigh, NC 27612 – 919-856-2195

Florida Institutional Legal Services Project (2014)

The Florida Institutional Legal Services Project (FILS) is a branch of Florida Legal Services. FILS has been providing civil legal assistance to indigent people in state custody for over 30 years. FILS is the only statewide program in Florida dedicated to serving the institutionalized. In the face of dramatically diminishing resources for legal services on behalf of prisoners, FILS focuses its courtroom advocacy on impact litigation that maximizes the effect of our work. FILS also provides direct legal services to formerly institutionalized individuals to help end the cycle of recidivism through successful re-entry into the community. Over the past decade, FILS has increasingly used our advocacy to reduce and prevent the institutionalization of vulnerable populations, including, for example, children and the developmentally disabled.

THE CASE: Through intensive investigation and outreach, FILS has discovered that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) is locking its most severely mentally ill inmates in their cells for 23-24 hours per day. These inmates, despite having been identified by the FDOC as the sickest patients in the state prison system, are confined in mental health units for treatment of their acute mental illnesses. Instead of receiving treatment in a therapeutic milieu, these inmates are being “managed” through the use of solitary confinement and restricted privileges with disastrous results. All credible experts agree that when inmates are at their sickest, they need the most out-of-cell time, privileges, visitation with family, and treatment activities to help stabilize them. The FDOC’s approach is counterproductive and unconstitutional. FILS will use the grant funds to complete its investigation and pursue litigation to correct these unconstitutional policies and practices.

Contact: Christopher Jones, Director, Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, 14260 W. Newberry Rd. #412, Newberry, FL 32669.

National Veterans Legal Services Program (2020)

Established in 1981, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), a high-impact, independent nonprofit organization, has been dedicated to ensuring that our government lives up to its obligations to provide our 22 million veterans and active service members the benefits they have earned due to disabilities resulting from their military service to our country.

NVLSP advances its mission by directly representing individual veterans on disability claims at no cost to the veterans; bringing class actions and other law reform litigation for veterans  to remove systemic barriers to justice; recruiting, training, and mentoring thousands of volunteer attorneys and veterans’ advocates to represent veterans; providing representation through our Lawyers Serving Warriors® pro bono program; and producing and distributing advocacy and educational materials to enable other advocates to assist veterans and their families in securing the benefits they have earned.

Since its founding, NVLSP has secured more than $5.2 billion in disability, death and medical benefits for veterans and their survivors, many of whom rely on these recoveries as a substantial or even primary sources of income. Most recently, NVLSP made history in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) convincing the Court to certify its first two class certification in the landmark cases, Godsey v. Wilkie and Wolfe v. Wilkie.

THE CASE:  The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) seeks support for a law reform project challenging the legality of a policy employed by the United States Department of the Navy that has resulted in the discharge of more than 16,000 members of the Navy and Marine Corps without the military disability retirement benefits to which they are entitled. The proposed project involves a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of the Navy to be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.    

Congress has provided a generous disability retirement system for those service members who are medically discharged as not fit for continued military service due to disabilities incurred in service.  Since 9/11, Congress has found that in order to avoid the expense of providing lifetime medical care to disabled veterans and their families, the military departments often “low-ball” the disability rating assigned to service members who have medical conditions that make them unfit for continued military service. The lawsuit would seek an injunction requiring the Navy to change the way it assigns disability ratings to comply with applicable laws and regulations.

While NVLSP will seek the pro bono services of a law firm to serve as co-counsel on this substantial undertaking, NVLSP would provide the subject matter expertise on the laws and regulations governing military disability retirement, secure appropriate class representatives, and communicate with and review the records of putative class members after the lawsuit is filed.

Grant contact: Ana Reyes, Director of Development, ana@nvlsp.org (202) 265-8305


North Florida Center for Equal Justice, Inc. (2013)

The North Florida Center For Equal Justice, Inc. is a 501 © (3) organization founded in 2007 and funded primarily by The Florida Bar Foundation grants. Through impact and class action litigation and appellate advocacy NFCFEJ provides legal services that will most effectively address the housing, consumer, individual rights and education problems that affect large numbers of residents in north Florida and throughout the state.

THE CASE: NFCFEJ along with the Public Interest Law Center of the Florida State University College of Law and private counsel Matthew Dietz filed a class complaint in the USDC for the Southern District of Florida seeking injunctive relief for all medically fragile children in the State of Florida alleging that the state discriminates against the children by unlawfully separating them or attempting to separate them from their families and communities by failing to provide federally mandated and medically necessary home and community-based services. The complaints were filed on behalf of children who are currently in nursing homes in the State of Florida and those children who are at risk of unnecessary institutionalization. The grant funds will be used to pay litigation expenses including costs associated with experts.

Contact: Edward J. Grunewald, Executive Director of The North Florida Center For Equal Justice, Inc., 2121 Delta Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32303

The Public Justice Center (2012)

The Public Justice Center is a nonprofit public interest law office, founded in Maryland in 1985, that seeks to enforce and expand the rights of people who are denied justice because of their economic status or discrimination. The PJC uses individual, class action, and appellate litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, and public education to advance our mission of “pursuing systemic change to build a more just society.”

THE CASE: A grant was made to the PJC to support litigation to require that the State of Maryland comply with legal requirements for the timely processing of applications for Medicaid for adults who are blind or disabled (MA-ABD) and for those seeking long term care benefits (MA-LTC). Recipients of MA-ABD are very poor and, by definition, extremely ill or severely impaired and in need of medical care. There were approximately 17,494 pending applications for MA-ABD statewide in May 2011, well past the 60 and 90 day deadlines for processing applications. Under Maryland and federal law, applications for  MA-LTC must be processed within 30 and 45 days.  In spite of these requirements and intense pressure from advocates, nursing homes and consumer groups, applicants for MA-LTC typically wait six months to one year or longer to receive a long-term care eligibility determination. Thus families and applicants do not know whether they are going to be able to pay the nursing home bill accumulating each day, suffer from high levels of anxiety and stress due to the lingering uncertainty, and daily face the possibility of involuntary discharge for nonpayment.  Nursing homes are providing care without knowing whether or when they will be paid for that care. 

Contact: John Nethercut, Executive Director, Public Justice Center, nethercutj@publicjustice.org; 1 N. Charles St., Ste 200, Baltimore, MD 21201

Discrimination +

Denying the basic and fundamental rights of persons in protected groups provided for by the Constitution and Statutes perpetuates inequality that often only litigation can remedy.

Litigating on behalf of constitutional rights for protected groups formed the basis for the following grantees' cases.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (2014)
$10,000
National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2019)
$30,000
National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2020)
$40,000
National Women’s Law Center (2020)
$40,000
Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law (2017)
$25,000
Sargent Shriver National Center on Law and Poverty (2018)
$25,000

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (2014)

In 2001, National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit advocacy and education organization. NAPW works to secure the human and civil rights, health, and welfare of all women, focusing particularly on pregnant and parenting women, and those who are most vulnerable to state control and punishment—low income women, women of color, and drug-using women. Each year, more than 6 million U.S. women become pregnant. Of those, approximately 1 million have an abortion, approximately 1 million experience pregnancy loss, and 4 million carry to term. Using a proven strategy that combines legal advocacy, public education, and local and national organizing, NAPW is dedicated to advancing Reproductive Justice and ensuring that no woman loses her civil and human rights upon becoming pregnant.

THE CASE: In January 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a radical ruling in Ex Parte Hope Elisabeth Ankrom, No. 1110176, 2013 WL 135748 (Ala. Jan. 11, 2013), transforming Alabama’s 2006 Chemical Endangerment of a Child statute into a mechanism for punishing women who become pregnant and use any amount of a controlled substance—whether prescribed or unprescribed. The ruling also makes doctors who prescribe controlled substances to pregnant women subject to criminal penalties under the law. See Your Epidural is Against the Law: What Alabama Women and Doctors Need to Know. In this case, the Alabama Supreme Court considered a statute that was originally passed to punish adults who bring children to dangerous environments where drugs are manufactured or distributed. As written, this statute does not address pregnant women or pregnancy. In fact, on four separate occasions, the legislature refused to amend the law to make it applicable to pregnant women who use drugs. Nevertheless, since 2006, prosecutors have used the law almost exclusively to arrest women who become pregnant, use a controlled substance, and carry their pregnancies to term. Overwhelmingly, these women give birth to healthy babies. NAPW became involved in efforts to help challenge these prosecutions, providing local defense lawyers with model briefs and arguments for dismissing the charges against pregnant women and helping to file appeals when these motions were denied. With the Drug Policy Alliance and Southern Poverty Law Center, NAPW represented more than 50 medical and health advocacy groups and experts as amicus in the state Court of Appeals and State Supreme Court.

Ignoring the plain language of the statute and its clear legislative history, the State Supreme Court held that the plain meaning of the word “child” in the statute, and more generally in Alabama law, includes fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. As a result of this purported plain meaning interpretation of the word child, the statute now makes it the crime of chemical endangerment for a woman to become pregnant and use any controlled substance.

NAPW, with the pro-bono assistance of O’Melveny & Meyers, LLP (OMM), and the support of the NYU Law Reproductive Justice Clinic (NYU RJC), is developing an affirmative civil rights suit to challenge the constitutionality of Alabama’s Chemical Endangerment of a Child statute as judicially rewritten by the Alabama Supreme Court. More than 95 low-income women in Alabama who have had their medical privacy, right to physical liberty, and reproductive rights (among others) violated have already been arrested as a result of this law. Pregnant women in Alabama who receive medically recommended methadone treatment, opiates for pain relief, a controlled substance in preparation for an abortion, or an epidural during labor and delivery all could be subject to arrest under this law—as could their doctors. This law makes every fertile woman responsible for knowing at all times if she is pregnant because, at that moment, her use of any controlled substance would become punishable as “chemical endangerment of a child.” And finally, if it is correct that the word “child” in Alabama law includes fertilized eggs, then every law using that word could be used as a mechanism for subjecting women from the moment they become pregnant to state surveillance, control, and punishment.

Contact: Lynn M. Paltrow, Founder and Executive Director, 15 West 36th Street, Suite 901, New York, NY 10018

National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2019)

NCLEJ works to advance the cause of economic justice for low-income families, individuals, and communities, using groundbreaking impact litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grassroots organizing. Because poverty disproportionately impacts communities of color and families headed by women, the Center applies this strategy to advance racial, immigrant, and gender justice. NCLEJ believes that this nation should ensure that all have access to the means to meet basic human needs and that all people are guaranteed an equal opportunity to participate. NCLEJ addresses a broad range of issues that impact low-income families. Our work focuses primarily, but not exclusively on preserving and maintaining access to government benefits; protecting and securing the rights of low-wage workers; combatting unlawful debt collection; and advocating for persons with disabilities. NCLEJ’s staff of award-winning experienced lawyers multiplies its impact by collaborating with major law firms and with civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, and immigrants’ rights organizations.

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement. From the very start, NCLEJ staff joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground-breaking victories in the courts, and achieved major reforms in legislation and agency policies and practices. Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society. NCLEJ has guaranteed access to benefits for hundreds of thousands of people providing a baseline of economic security to help stabilize low-income families and individuals, holding agencies accountable to comply with the law, and safeguarding important legal and constitutional rights.

THE CASE: The Barbara McDowell Foundation is generously helping to fund NCLEJ’s class action law suit, Black Love Resists et al v. City of Buffalo et al., which challenges the Buffalo Police Department’s systematic and unlawful targeting of communities of color and the City of Buffalo's aggressive, punitive traffic enforcement resulting in millions of dollars in ticket revenues on the backs of low-income drivers. Moreover, these are many of the same practices and policies that lead to community unrest in places like Ferguson, Missouri. NCLEJ and co-counsel brought the action on behalf of thousands of individuals as well as the organization Black Love Resists in the Rust, whose members have been harmed by the Checkpoints program. Since 2012, the Buffalo Police Department has conducted thousands of constitutionally impermissible “traffic safety” stops. The checkpoints were placed overwhelmingly in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, and police officers were issuing excessive traffic summons to increase city revenue. 91.4% of all check points were in majority Black or Latinx census tracts, and race was a driving factor in the location of these checkpoints.

The lawsuit aims to stop these discriminatory policing practices that have subjected communities of color in Buffalo to both unreasonable intrusion and relentless revenue harvesting through unfair ticketing, towing, suspensions, and arrests. This case arises at the intersection of two of NCLEJ”s ongoing areas of litigation focus- racial justice and unfair and abusive debt collection practices.

Contact Person: Claudia Wilner, wilner@nclej.org, 212-633-6967

National Center for Law and Economic Justice (2020)

National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) works to advance the cause of economic justice for low-income families, individuals, and communities, using groundbreaking impact litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grassroots organizing. Because poverty disproportionately impacts communities of color and families headed by women, the Center applies this strategy to advance racial, immigrant, and gender justice. NCLEJ believes that this nation should ensure that all have access to the means to meet basic human needs and that all people are guaranteed an equal opportunity to participate. NCLEJ addresses a broad range of issues that impact low-income families. Our work focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on preserving and maintaining access to government benefits; protecting and securing the rights of low-wage workers; combatting unlawful debt collection; and advocating for persons with disabilities. NCLEJ’s staff of award-winning experienced lawyers multiplies its impact by collaborating with major law firms and with civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, and immigrants’ rights organizations.

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement. From the very start, NCLEJ staff joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground-breaking victories in the courts, and achieved major reforms in legislation and agency policies and practices. Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society. NCLEJ has guaranteed access to benefits for hundreds of thousands of people providing a baseline of economic security to help stabilize low-income families and individuals, holding agencies accountable to comply with the law, and safeguarding important legal and constitutional rights.

THE CASE: The Barbara McDowell Foundation is helping to fund NCLEJ’s work in Montgomery, Alabama, which challenges pervasive and long-standing systematic and unlawful targeting of communities of color and the aggressive, punitive traffic stops and arrests resulting in millions of dollars in revenues on the backs of low-income residents. In addition, Plaintiffs contend that the City of Montgomery’s court system has a pattern and practice of jailing debtors who cannot afford to pay their criminal debt and has created conditions that have forced debtors to engage in court-imposed community service to reduce their time in jail.  Plaintiffs also seek to hold accountable a private company that acted as a collection agent for the City of Montgomery. As the Court observed has:

“The complaint in this case regards the City of Montgomery, Alabama's alleged creation of debtor's prisons. Plaintiffs maintain that indigent individuals were made to sit in jail and "sit out" fines they could not afford to pay without ever being informed of their rights. This was done without any determination as to whether the plaintiffs could afford to pay the fines.”

This case arises at the intersection of two of NCLEJ’s ongoing areas of litigation focus - racial justice and unfair and abusive debt collection practices.

Grant contact: Greg Bass, bass@nclej.org, 212-633-6967


National Women’s Law Center (2020)

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) fights for gender justice — in the courts, in public policy, and in our society — working across the issues that are central to the lives of women and girls. We use the law in all its forms to change culture and drive solutions to the gender inequity that shapes our society and to break down the barriers that harm all of us — especially those who face multiple forms of discrimination, including women of color, LGBTQ people, and low-income women and families. 

For 47 years, the NWLC has been at the forefront of national and state efforts to advance women’s reproductive rights and health, to promote the economic security of women and their families and address key barriers that women and girls face in schools and the workplace. NWLC deploys strategies to drive progress in these core areas, leveraging its in-depth legal and policy expertise, extensive litigation and administrative experience, solid connections with key decision makers, a broad network of national and state-based partners, and robust communications and digital engagement capacity.  Throughout its work, NWLC seeks to develop creative legal solutions to both new and long-entrenched problems, to make connections across issue areas, and to build broad coalitions, including by engaging new, non-traditional partners.

THE CASE: SurvJustice v. DeVos challenges efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to weaken protections against sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment in schools. To ensure that students are not denied equal access to educational opportunities based on their sex, the Department has historically enforced Title IX policies that required schools to investigate and adjudicate sexual harassment complaints in ways that afforded appropriate substantive and procedural protections to all parties and allowed survivors to feel safe reporting harassment and seeking help. But in September 2017, the Department adopted a new Title IX Policy, requiring schools to implement harmful mandates that dissuade survivors from reporting incidents of sexual harassment.

The 2017 Policy undermines the fundamental anti-discrimination aim of Title IX, makes schools less safe, and impedes women’s and girls’ access to educational opportunities. For example, the new 2017 Policy allows schools to impose more burdensome standards of evidence in determining whether sexual harassment occurred; allows schools to offer appeal rights only to named harassers and not to victims of harassment; allows schools to refuse to address off-campus harassment; allows questioning about the complainant’s sexual history; allows schools to refuse to take any interim measures to address the educational and safety needs of a survivor while an investigation is ongoing; and abandons any clear time frame in which schools must take action to address harassment complaints. In November of 2018, the Department went a step further, proposing new Title IX regulations that would further entrench these harmful policies.  These regulations are expected to be finalized later this year.

With co-counsel from the Democracy Forward Foundation, the National Center for Youth Law, and Equal Rights Advocates, NWLC has challenged the Title IX 2017 Policy in SurvJustice v. DeVos in the Northern District of California, arguing that it is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and asking that the policy be vacated. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Ken Marcus, and the U.S. Department of Education are the named defendants. In addition, if the Department issues final Title IX regulations similar to those it proposed in 2018, NWLC anticipates bringing litigation challenging those regulations as arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.

Grant contacts:  Erica Thurman, Manager of Foundation Relations, ethurman@nwlc.org, 202-238-3318; Emily Martin, Vice President for Education and Workplace, emartin@nwlc.org, 202-588-5180

Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law (2017)

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center) provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. The organization achieves this mission through two interrelated programs: (1) Advocacy and (2) Advocate Resources & Training.

Through Advocacy, the Shriver Center develops and advances policies that respond directly to the needs of people in poverty. This advocacy addresses a broad agenda, including promoting access to fair housing, affordable health care, income supports and child care assistance, education equity, employment and training, and civil rights/community justice, and utilizes a variety of strategies including impact litigation, policy development and advocacy, and racial equity advocacy. Through Advocate Resources & Training, the Shriver Center provides intensive training programs and resources, enabling advocates across the US to come together to enhance their skills, share knowledge, and connect with each other to advance anti-poverty advocacy campaigns and drive systems change.

Increasingly, the Shriver Center brings together antipoverty advocates into action-oriented networks. These networks include the Clearinghouse Community, a free online forum where lawyers and other advocates share best practices and strategies; the Legal Impact Network, which connects leading state-based antipoverty organizations to share strategies and coordinate multi-state action; and the Racial Justice Training Institute, a six-month training program and growing network that helps antipoverty lawyers to advance racial justice advocacy within their daily practices, organizations, and communities.

THE CASE: In the late Spring of 2016, the Shriver Center, with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick Dym, Ltd. as co-counsel, filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the Alexander County Housing Authority (ACHA) in Illinois for intentionally segregating its public housing by race and failing to provide critical upkeep, maintenance, and security measures to the predominantly African-American developments over the last decade. The case, Paul Lambert, et al. v. Alexander County Housing Authority, et al., asserts that the ACHA agents have engaged in both the pattern and practice of rampant discrimination for years based both on residents' race and familial status, violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. The litigation aims to obtain fair and equal living conditions for all individuals residing in public housing under the ACHA and to remedy the segregation and discrimination it has practiced to date, including facilitation of a safe and responsible relocation process for residents should a desegregation order be given by the courts.

Contact: Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice & Director of Litigation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 50 East Washington, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60605

Sargent Shriver National Center on Law and Poverty (2018)

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center) provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies to secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. The organization achieves this mission through two interrelated programs: (1) Advocacy and (2) Advocate Resources & Training.

Through Advocacy, the Shriver Center develops and advances policies that respond directly to the needs of people in poverty. This advocacy addresses a broad agenda, including promoting access to fair housing, affordable health care, child care, education equity, employment and training, civil rights, criminal justice, and women’s law, and utilizes a variety of strategies including impact litigation, policy development and advocacy, and racial equity advocacy. Through Advocate Resources & Training, the Shriver Center provides intensive training programs and resources, enabling advocates across the US to come together to enhance their skills, share knowledge, and connect with each other to advance anti-poverty advocacy campaigns and drive systems change.

Increasingly, the Shriver Center brings together antipoverty advocates into action-oriented networks. These networks include the Clearinghouse Community, a free online forum where lawyers and other advocates share best practices and strategies; the Legal Impact Network, which connects leading state-based antipoverty organizations to share strategies and coordinate multi-state action; and a network of alumni from a six-month Racial Justice Training Institute, which trains and supports anti-poverty lawyers to advance racial justice advocacy in their daily practices, organizations, and communities.

THE CASE: In August 2017, the Shriver Center (with Relman, Dane, & Colfax PLLC as co-counsel) with funding help from the Barbara McDowell Foundation filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the City of Peoria in Illinois for intentionally targeting enforcement of their “chronic nuisance” ordinance in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and against buildings with predominantly African-American tenants. As a result of these enforcement practices, African-American residents regularly face eviction for conduct that would not result in eviction for white residents. The case, HOPE Fair Housing v. City of Peoria, asserts that the selective enforcement discriminates based on race and has an unjustified disparate impact on African-American communities and tenants in the town, violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. and Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. The litigation aims to secure the repeal of the nuisance ordinance and to send a message to other jurisdictions with crime-free and nuisance property ordinances that the enforcement of those laws must comply with civil rights laws.

Contact: 
Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice & Director of Litigation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 50 East Washington Street, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60602, katewalz@povertylaw.org.

Domestic Violence +

Domestic violence deprives the abused of human dignity and mental and emotional safety, necessitating litigation to vindicate the oppressed, incarcerate the abusers, and rectify the harm.

Litigating to correct the harm caused by domestic violence served as the basis for the cases of the following grantees.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

George Washington University School of Law Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project – (DV LEAP) (2011)
$5,000
Legal Voice (2015)
$13,000

George Washington University School of Law Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project – (DV LEAP) (2011)

The George Washington University School of Law Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP) is dedicated to providing appellate legal representation to domestic violence victims. DV LEAP has found that appeals from adverse trial court decisions in domestic violence cases are rare and that an organization was needed to prosecute these appeals. DV LEAP, founded in 2003, also files “Friend of the Court” briefs in appellate cases involving domestic violence.

THE CASE: A grant was made for legal work related to E.J. v. D.J., a case in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals involving a challenge to the pseudo-scientific concept of “Alienation,” which is widely used to refute abuse claims.

Contact: Joan S. Meier, Esq., Professor of Clinical Law and Director, Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment And Appeals Project, George Washington University Law School, 2000 G Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20052.

Legal Voice (2015)

Legal Voice is a regional nonprofit public interest organization that works to advance the legal rights of women and girls through high-impact litigation, legislative advocacy, and educational materials. Founded in 1978 as the Northwest Women’s Law Center, Legal Voice is based in Seattle and focuses its work in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska.

THE CASE: The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) prohibits states from making publicly available on the Internet any information regarding the filing of a domestic violence protection order if such publication would be likely to reveal the identity or location of the person protected by the order. Despite the law, many states continue to make such information available on the Internet. This compromises the safety and privacy of domestic violence survivors. Legal Voice intends to pursue litigation to ensure compliance with this law.

Contact: David Ward, Legal & Legislative Counsel, 907 Pine Street, Suite 500, Seattle, WA 98101

Homelessness +

A society that ignores the rights of its least fortunate is not a just society so that litigation becomes often the only mechanism available to ensure that those rights are not trammeled upon.

Protecting the constitutional rights of nonprofit organizations serving homeless persons formed the basis of the grants below.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (2012)
$10,000

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (2012)

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C., serves as the legal arm of the national movement to end and prevent homelessness.Through impact litigation, policy advocacy, and public education, the Law Center works to meet the short-term needs of homeless people while addressing the root causes of their condition.

THE CASE: Uncomfortable with visible homelessness in their communities and influenced by myths about homeless persons’ food access, cities across the country are using laws banning or restricting food-sharing by charitable groups to move homeless persons out of sight.In 2006, the city of Dallas enacted such a law, limiting distribution of food to a small number of locations, none of which were chosen based on their accessibility.The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is challengingthis law on behalf of Big Heart Ministries and Rip Parker Memorial Ministries, whose food-sharing efforts have been stymied by the city.The Law Center is asserting that the law: 1) violates Plaintiffs’ right to freely express their religious beliefs under the First Amendment and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act; 2) violates Plaintiffs’ right to due process, guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment; 3) violates homeless persons’ liberty interests in the right to food, asguaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment; and 4) violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Contact: Andy Beres (aberes@nlchp.org, (410) 375-7259)

Housing +

The failure to provide adequate subsidized housing for the poor and discrimination in obtaining that housing necessitates litigation.

The following organizations received grants challenging housing inequality and inadequate living conditions.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Bet Tzedek Legal Services (2014)
$10,000
Legal Aid Justice Center (2012)
$10,000
Mississippi Center for Justice (2011)
$2,500
National Housing Law Project (2013)
$10,500
Public Interest Law Center (2018)
$25,000
Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law (2017)
$25,000
Sargent Shriver National Center on Law and Poverty (2018)
$25,000

Bet Tzedek Legal Services (2014)

For nearly 40 years, Bet Tzedek has championed the needs of low-income individuals and families in Los Angeles County by providing high-quality, free legal services, including impact litigation, direct representation and education. In addition to expertise in housing, elder law, debt and bankruptcy matters, our innovative programs include:

  • lrmas Housing Rights Project that facilitated the creation of Los Angeles' housing code enforcement program;
  • California Consumer Justice Coalition, a collaborative of five legal services agencies led by Bet Tzedek and funded by a grant from the California Attorney
  • General under the National Mortgage Settlement to assist individuals and families caught in the foreclosure crisis;
  • Employment Rights Project, recently cited in the news for its federal court action against Wal-Mart for unfair labor practices; and
  • Holocaust Survivors Justice Network, a nationwide collaborative of more than 125 law firms and social service agencies that assist Holocaust survivors with reparations claims and other issues.

Founded by a small, passionate group of lawyers, rabbis and others as a volunteer program in 1974, Bet Tzedek now has a staff of 65 (including 30 attorneys) and hundreds of pro bono attorneys, law student interns, and other volunteers who work together to assist 15,000 low-income people in Southern California every year. Bet Tzedek's mission is based on a central tenet of Jewish law and tradition, "Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof- 'Justice, justice you shall pursue,"' and we pursue justice on behalf of clients from all walks of life - regardless of racial, religious, or ethnic background.

THE CASE: On behalf of thousands of tenants living in slum properties in central California, Bet Tzedek is preparing to file a groundbreaking class action suit seeking injunctive relief against a large regional landlord. The landlord targets low-income, vulnerable tenants by offering cheap rent, purportedly without a lot of interference from the property manager. In reality, the properties are neglected slums. Requests for repairs go unanswered for months, even years, and those making the requests face retaliation. The case is intended to force a change in the property manager's business model and to protect thousands of tenants in the region and beyond.

Contact: Kirsty Burkhart, Grants & Communications Officer, Bet Tzedek, 3250 Wilshire Blvd., 13th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90010

Legal Aid Justice Center (2012)

Founded in 1967, the Legal Aid Justice Center provides civil legal assistance to low-income families and individuals in Virginia with a special focus on vulnerable populations, including children, immigrants, the elderly, and the institutionalized. Our mission is to seek equal justice for all by solving clients’ legal problems, strengthening the voices of low-income communities, and rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty. Our Civil Advocacy Program, one of our five main program areas, focuses on housing, health and mental health services, consumer protection, employment and unemployment, and public benefits.

THE CASE: To keep public housing affordable for lower-income households, the United States Housing Act directs that the resident’s share of rent in most federally assisted housing programs be limited to no more than 30% of the household’s adjusted monthly income. This tenant housing payment includes both rent and the additional costs for reasonable amounts of utilities that are not included in the rent. In an effort to ensure that residents’ basic housing costs are appropriately limited, federal guidelines require local housing authorities to justify, document and update the schedule of utility allowances for their residential units. Tenants’ usage is metered and they are billed for amounts over the allowance. It is generally expected that only a small minority of tenants will receive excess charges on a monthly basis. On behalf of a group of affected tenants, we are investigating noncompliance with these requirements by a local housing authority. We have not yet filed suit.

Contact:  Alex R. Gulotta, Executive Director, Legal Aid Justice Center, 1000 Preston Avenue, Suite A, Charlottesville, VA 22903

Mississippi Center for Justice (2011)

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice through advocacy for systemic change. The center opened in 2003 and has offices in Jackson and Biloxi, Miss. The Center engages the services of pro bono attorneys from across the United States. The Center has been at the forefront of federal and state policy battles to restore safe and affordable housing to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

THE CASE: A grant was made relating to Lowe v. South Regional Housing Authority, a case brought by the Mississippi Center for Justice to prevent implementation of dramatic rent increases for 250 families living in public housing in disregard of state law that defines the amount of rent a public housing authority can assess. Since the rent increases became effective, more than 60 plaintiffs have had to move because they could not afford their monthly rents.

Contact: Martha Bergmark, President, Mississippi Center for Justice, 5 Old River Place, Suite 203, Jackson, MS 39215.

National Housing Law Project (2013)

Established in 1968, the mission of the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) is to advance housing justice for poor people. Its goals are to increase and preserve the supply of decent, affordable housing, improve existing housing conditions, improve and enforce low income tenants’ and homeowners’ rights, and increase housing opportunities for groups that have historically experienced housing discrimination. Over the course of its history, NHLP has helped to preserve more than one million units of affordable housing, established many basic housing rights enjoyed by low-income tenants and homeowners, and has worked to uphold those rights when new policies or regulations threaten to erode them.

In tandem with the government’s establishment of the legal services program in the mid-1960’s, NHLP was formed to serve as the designated resource and legal support center for those attorneys as they assisted poor people with their housing challenges. Since then, the network that NHLP serves has expanded to include other public interest attorneys; tenant, homeowner, and community organizations; state housing coalitions; housing providers; and other intermediaries who serve low-income people. Through initiatives that address housing problems at the root of other pressing social issues, NHLP’s networks have also expanded to include advocates of special needs populations: the elderly, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, the formerly incarcerated, and people with disabilities.

THE CASE: NHLP’s grant from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation will support its engagement in high-impact litigation against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). NHLP is representing low-income rural families who lost their homes to foreclosure and whose home mortgages were financed by the USDA. It has been the practice of the USDA to pursue collection of the former homeowner’s debt, even after the home has been lost by the borrower and sold at foreclosure. With the housing market still suffering from plummeted values, USDA has been using an administrative wage garnishment procedure to collect borrowers’ deficiencies. Thus, under present policies, the agency can garnish up to 15% of a debtor’s wages, take from a debtor’s federal income such as social security, or fully capture tax refunds, which in some cases amount to several thousand dollars a year. The agency’s collection practices have created financial hardship for these low-income rural families that will likely continue for the rest of their lives in the absence of a successful legal challenge.

Contact: Marcia Rosen, Executive Director, National Housing Law Project, 703 Market Street, Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94103

Public Interest Law Center (2018)

The Public Interest Law Center (www.pubintlaw.org) uses high-impact legal strategies to advance the civil, social, and economic rights of communities in the Philadelphia region facing discrimination, inequality, and poverty. We use litigation, community education, advocacy, and organizing to secure access to fundamental resources and services for large numbers of people. Founded in 1969 as an affiliate of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Law Center’s work brings about lasting, systemic change, breaking down barriers to housing, public education, environmental justice, healthcare, employment, and voting.

THE CASE: With funding from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, we will upend the unfair, uneven power dynamic in Philadelphia’s Landlord-Tenant Court by bringing one or more federal class actions that combine federal consumer law and existing, but often unenforced, Philadelphia rental protections.

Our legal theory is that landlords--through their lawyers--routinely make false statements in eviction complaints; namely, the complaints allege that the landlord is entitled to rent and possession of the premises. In large numbers of cases, this allegation is not true because, under the Philadelphia Code, a landlord that fails to comply with housing quality laws is not entitled to either rent or possession. For example, the Philadelphia Code requires that, in order to collect rent, a landlord must not only be licensed, but also must provide each tenant with a Certificate of Rental Suitability, which, among other things, requires a landlord to verify under penalty of perjury that a rental property is fit, habitable, and has no outstanding code violations.

This clear statutory requirement has not, to date, stopped landlords and their lawyers from filing thousands of eviction cases a year in which there was no certificate of rental suitability, the tenants lived in uninhabitable dwellings and, therefore, technically no rent was due and the landlord was not entitled to possession. Because most tenants are not represented to make this argument, these landlords have succeeded in forcing tenants to pay rent, they have recovered possession of premises, and they have secured money judgments against tenants.

The lawsuits supported by the Barbara McDowell Foundation are based on the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) which prohibits the making of false statements in the collection of a debt. On September 26, 2017, we filed our first case, Baker v. Glen M. Ross, PC, a federal class action that alleges that the defendant law firm routinely sues tenants on behalf of landlords for back rent and/or possession when Philadelphia law says that no money or possession was owed. As the group of lawyers who represent landlords in Philadelphia is small and relatively tightly-knit, we expect that one or more of these cases will cause that legal community to pressure their clients—the landlords—to comply with housing quality standards in order to secure legal representation.

Contact: 
Jennifer R. Clarke, Executive Director, Public Interest Law Center, jclarke@pubintlaw.org, 267-546-1302 
 Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, Staff Attorney, Public Interest Law Center, dackelsberg@pubintlaw.org, 267-546-1316

Sargent Shriver National Center of Poverty Law (2017)

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center) provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. The organization achieves this mission through two interrelated programs: (1) Advocacy and (2) Advocate Resources & Training.

Through Advocacy, the Shriver Center develops and advances policies that respond directly to the needs of people in poverty. This advocacy addresses a broad agenda, including promoting access to fair housing, affordable health care, income supports and child care assistance, education equity, employment and training, and civil rights/community justice, and utilizes a variety of strategies including impact litigation, policy development and advocacy, and racial equity advocacy. Through Advocate Resources & Training, the Shriver Center provides intensive training programs and resources, enabling advocates across the US to come together to enhance their skills, share knowledge, and connect with each other to advance anti-poverty advocacy campaigns and drive systems change.

Increasingly, the Shriver Center brings together antipoverty advocates into action-oriented networks. These networks include the Clearinghouse Community, a free online forum where lawyers and other advocates share best practices and strategies; the Legal Impact Network, which connects leading state-based antipoverty organizations to share strategies and coordinate multi-state action; and the Racial Justice Training Institute, a six-month training program and growing network that helps antipoverty lawyers to advance racial justice advocacy within their daily practices, organizations, and communities.

THE CASE: In the late Spring of 2016, the Shriver Center, with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick Dym, Ltd. as co-counsel, filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the Alexander County Housing Authority (ACHA) in Illinois for intentionally segregating its public housing by race and failing to provide critical upkeep, maintenance, and security measures to the predominantly African-American developments over the last decade. The case, Paul Lambert, et al. v. Alexander County Housing Authority, et al., asserts that the ACHA agents have engaged in both the pattern and practice of rampant discrimination for years based both on residents' race and familial status, violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. The litigation aims to obtain fair and equal living conditions for all individuals residing in public housing under the ACHA and to remedy the segregation and discrimination it has practiced to date, including facilitation of a safe and responsible relocation process for residents should a desegregation order be given by the courts.

Contact: Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice & Director of Litigation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 50 East Washington, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60605

Sargent Shriver National Center on Law and Poverty (2018)

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center) provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies to secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. The organization achieves this mission through two interrelated programs: (1) Advocacy and (2) Advocate Resources & Training.

Through Advocacy, the Shriver Center develops and advances policies that respond directly to the needs of people in poverty. This advocacy addresses a broad agenda, including promoting access to fair housing, affordable health care, child care, education equity, employment and training, civil rights, criminal justice, and women’s law, and utilizes a variety of strategies including impact litigation, policy development and advocacy, and racial equity advocacy. Through Advocate Resources & Training, the Shriver Center provides intensive training programs and resources, enabling advocates across the US to come together to enhance their skills, share knowledge, and connect with each other to advance anti-poverty advocacy campaigns and drive systems change.

Increasingly, the Shriver Center brings together antipoverty advocates into action-oriented networks. These networks include the Clearinghouse Community, a free online forum where lawyers and other advocates share best practices and strategies; the Legal Impact Network, which connects leading state-based antipoverty organizations to share strategies and coordinate multi-state action; and a network of alumni from a six-month Racial Justice Training Institute, which trains and supports anti-poverty lawyers to advance racial justice advocacy in their daily practices, organizations, and communities.

THE CASE: In August 2017, the Shriver Center (with Relman, Dane, & Colfax PLLC as co-counsel) with funding help from the Barbara McDowell Foundation filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the City of Peoria in Illinois for intentionally targeting enforcement of their “chronic nuisance” ordinance in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and against buildings with predominantly African-American tenants. As a result of these enforcement practices, African-American residents regularly face eviction for conduct that would not result in eviction for white residents. The case, HOPE Fair Housing v. City of Peoria, asserts that the selective enforcement discriminates based on race and has an unjustified disparate impact on African-American communities and tenants in the town, violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. and Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. The litigation aims to secure the repeal of the nuisance ordinance and to send a message to other jurisdictions with crime-free and nuisance property ordinances that the enforcement of those laws must comply with civil rights laws.

Contact: 
Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice & Director of Litigation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 50 East Washington Street, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60602, katewalz@povertylaw.org.

Native American Rights +

The poverty of Native Americans exacerbated by the denial of public benefits, often obscured by their living on a reservation, or denial of their basic constitutional rights such as voting requires litigation to end those injustices.

The following grantees were able to leverage Foundation grants to help alleviate injustices against Native Americans.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Native American Rights Fund (2016)
$16,667
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (2013)
$10,500

Native American Rights Fund (2016)

Over the past 45 years, NARF has represented over 275 Tribes in 31 states in such areas as tribal jurisdiction, federal recognition, land claims, hunting and fishing rights, religious liberties, and, more recently, voting rights. NARF has achieved a number of landmark accomplishments for Native Americans that include:

  • Protecting and establishing the inherent sovereignty of tribes;
  • Obtaining official tribal recognition for numerous Indian tribes;
  • Helping tribes continue their cultural lifeways, by protecting their rights to hunt, fish and use the water on their lands;
  • Helping to uphold Native American religious freedom;
  • Assuring the return of remains and burial goods for proper reburial; and
  • Protecting voting rights of Native Americans.

THE CASE: Recently, NARF has litigated two successful cases against the State of Alaska for failing to comply with the language requirements of the VRA.. In the more recent case, the court ordered the translation of all pre-election materials and the posting of translators at all polling places. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an entire VRA section in Shelby County v. Holder. As a result several states, such as republican controlled North Dakota, have passed more stringent voter ID rules that disproportionately affect minority communities, including Native Americans. Due to reasons rooted in the discriminatory treatment of Native Americans, many living on Indian reservations in North Dakota do not have a qualifying ID, such as a driver's license or state ID card that has a residential address on it. Thus, in both the primary and general election in 2014, many qualified North Dakota Native voters were disenfranchised because they only had a tribal ID with no residential address listed.

There will be several claims raised in the litigation for which NARF received a grant from the Foundation. Two state constitutional claims, two federal constitutional claims, and three Voting Rights Act claims. All of the claims surround the new requirements that a voter possess one of only four forms of ID in order to vote. The new voting requirement of ownership of one of four forms of qualifying ID limits the right to vote arbitrarily and unnecessarily, and disproportionately burdens Native American voters in North Dakota. The burdens are substantial for a number of people that cannot afford to drive to the nearest driver’s license site (“DMV”), which for Native Americans can be over 60 miles away. Many Native Americans live below the poverty line and the expense to travel to the DMV is too high and not worth the benefit of being able to vote. When weighed against the states interests in protecting voter fraud, which was non-existent in North Dakota, the burden on Native voters should lead to the new Voter ID requirement being overturned.

Contact: Morgan O/Brien, Director of Development, 1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302 
Contact: Ray Ramirez, Corporate Secretary, 1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (2013)

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

THE CASE: In the second poorest state in the country, healthcare and food and cash assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and General Assistance, are essential to help low-income families meet their basic needs. If the state improperly denies, discontinues, or reduces those benefits for any reason, the consequences on a family can be devastating. The Fair Hearing process is meant to prevent such improper denial, reduction, or termination of benefits and protect families from losing essential financial, nutritional, and healthcare assistance. It is an essential safeguard for clients.

Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Fair Hearing process is not being properly administered by the state, and clients are often wrongfully denied the benefits for which they are qualified. The New Mexico Human Services Department does not timely provide clients with the Summary of Evidence it will use to justify the adverse action it proposes to take against the client’s benefits at the hearing. As a result, many clients do not have enough time to adequately prepare for the hearing and are far more likely to unfairly lose benefits to which they are entitled. The Human Services Department’s failure to provide a Summary of Evidence in a timely fashion violates statutes and regulations, as well as the Constitution’s due process protection.

The NM Center on Law and Poverty will use the funds from its grant to litigate to improve the Fair Hearing process, specifically, by ensuring clients have access to all the information and evidence they need to meaningfully challenge the state’s termination, reduction, or denial of benefits. We will compel the Human Services Department to come into compliance with the law and ensure that the Fair Hearing process is properly serving clients in need.

Contact: Craig Acorn, Senior Attorney, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, 720 Vassar Dr. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106.

Prisoners' Rights +

Confinement of prisoners in deplorable conditions frequently without adequate medical care necessitates litigation to obtain relief.

The following grants have been given for cases that address the rights of prisoners.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

American Civil Liberties Union (National Prison Project) (2011)
$2,500
Florida Institutional Legal Services Project (2014)
$10,000
Legal Aid Justice Center (2014)
$10,000
North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services (2020)
$40,000
Prisoner’s Legal Services of Massachusetts (2019)
$30,000
Texas Fair Defense Project (2016)
$16,667
Western Center on Law & Poverty (2017)
$25,000

American Civil Liberties Union (National Prison Project) (2011)

The ACLU is a non-profit, multi-issue public interest organization devoted to protecting the basic civil liberties of all people in the United States. The public interest law firm component of the ACLU works in courts, legislatures, and communities around the country to defend the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and civil rights laws.

Since 1972, the National Prison Project (NPP) of the ACLU Foundation has helped improve the living conditions of persons in United States prisons, jails, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centers. It is the only organization in the country litigating prison conditions on a national basis. It seeks to reduce prison overcrowding, reduce reliance on incarceration as a criminal justice sanction, create constitutional and human prison conditions, and strengthen prisoner rights through litigation, public education and advocacy.

THE CASE: A grant was made related to Rutherford v. Baca, a case challenging severe overcrowding and other unconstitutional conditions at the Los Angeles County jail. One of the main issues in the case is the treatment of prisoners with mental illness. The case has strong potential to act as a catalyst for major policy changes in Los Angeles County and, ultimately, the nation.

Contact: David C. Fathi, Director, National Prison Project, American Civil Liberties Union, 915 15th Street, N.W., 7th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005.

Florida Institutional Legal Services Project (2014)

The Florida Institutional Legal Services Project (FILS) is a branch of Florida Legal Services. FILS has been providing civil legal assistance to indigent people in state custody for over 30 years. FILS is the only statewide program in Florida dedicated to serving the institutionalized. In the face of dramatically diminishing resources for legal services on behalf of prisoners, FILS focuses its courtroom advocacy on impact litigation that maximizes the effect of our work. FILS also provides direct legal services to formerly institutionalized individuals to help end the cycle of recidivism through successful re-entry into the community. Over the past decade, FILS has increasingly used our advocacy to reduce and prevent the institutionalization of vulnerable populations, including, for example, children and the developmentally disabled.

THE CASE: Through intensive investigation and outreach, FILS has discovered that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) is locking its most severely mentally ill inmates in their cells for 23-24 hours per day. These inmates, despite having been identified by the FDOC as the sickest patients in the state prison system, are confined in mental health units for treatment of their acute mental illnesses. Instead of receiving treatment in a therapeutic milieu, these inmates are being “managed” through the use of solitary confinement and restricted privileges with disastrous results. All credible experts agree that when inmates are at their sickest, they need the most out-of-cell time, privileges, visitation with family, and treatment activities to help stabilize them. The FDOC’s approach is counterproductive and unconstitutional. FILS will use the grant funds to complete its investigation and pursue litigation to correct these unconstitutional policies and practices.

Contact: Christopher Jones, Director, Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, 14260 W. Newberry Rd. #412, Newberry, FL 32669.

Legal Aid Justice Center (2014)

Founded in 1967, the Legal Aid Justice Center (www.justice4all.org) provides civil legal assistance to low-income families and individuals in Virginia with a special focus on vulnerable populations, including children, immigrants, the elderly, and the institutionalized. Our mission is to seek equal justice for all by solving clients’ legal problems, strengthening the voices of low-income communities, and rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty. Our Virginia Institutionalized Persons (VIP) Project aims to improve conditions and protect the basic human rights of everyone living in the commonwealth’s institutional facilities, including prisons, jails and mental health hospitals.

THE CASE: Every day the 1,200 women prisoners at Virginia’s largest and most secure women’s prison receive no health care for serious conditions or receive abysmally sub-standard care. On July 24, 2012, we, along with Wiley Rein LLP of Washington, D.C. and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of five women prisoners incarcerated in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. The lawsuit, titled Scott v. Clarke, and filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, challenges the Virginia Department of Corrections, and the company they contract with to provide health services, for failing to provide constitutionally adequate medical care. Our complaint demonstrates that the medical care provided is so deficient that it violates the Eighth Amendment.

Contact: Mary Bauer, Director of Advocacy, Legal Aid Justice Center, 1000 Preston Avenue, Suite A, Charlottesville, VA 22903

North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services (2020)

North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services (NCPLS) is a nonprofit law firm that has worked since 1979 to attorneys have litigated a broad range of conditions-of-confinement claims and challenged unlawful convictions and sentences.

Since 1965, the ACLU of North Carolina has worked in the courts, the General Assembly, and communities throughout the state to protect and advance civil rights and civil liberties for all North Carolinians. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with more than 30,000 members and supporters across the state, the ACLU of North Carolina is a state affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union.

THE CASE: NCPLS and the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation have filed a class action lawsuit in state court alleging that North Carolina’s use of solitary confinement inflicts “cruel or unusual punishments” prohibited by the state Constitution. Every day, state prison officials subject over 3,000 people to this practice, hundreds of whom have significant mental illness. These people spend 22-24 hours a day in extreme isolation, often for months and years at a time, with little or no meaningful human contact or environmental stimulation. A strong consensus has emerged among researchers, courts, and public officials—including prison officials in North Carolina—that this practice creates substantial risks of psychological and physiological injury. The practice is also expensive, undermines public safety, and provides no rehabilitative benefits.

Grantee contact information: Dan Siegel, dsiegel@ncpls.org, 919-856-2200; Mike Meno, mmeno@acluofnc.org, 919-834-3466

Prisoner’s Legal Services of Massachusetts (2019)

Prisoners’ Legal Services is a Massachusetts nonprofit legal services office founded in 1972 that provides civil legal assistance to the approximately 20,000 people incarcerated in Massachusetts state prisons (Department of Correction facilities) and county jails and houses of correction. The organization promotes the safe, humane and lawful treatment of Massachusetts prisoners through civil rights litigation, administrative advocacy, client counseling, and outreach to policy makers and the public.

THE CASE: Prisoners’ Legal Services is challenging the Massachusetts law, M.G.L. c. 123, § 35, that authorizes the involuntary civil commitment of men suffering from alcohol and substance use disorders to Department of Correction prisons. Massachusetts is the only state in the country where men are civilly committed to a correctional institution for substance use. All other states recognize what public health experts know: addiction is not a crime for which people should be punished, but a medical condition that cries out for treatment.

James Pingeon, Litigation Director 
jpingeon@plsma.org 
617-482-2773 x113 

Prisoners' Legal Services 
50 Federal Street, 4th Floor 
Boston, MA 02110

Texas Fair Defense Project (2016)

Incorporated in 2006, the Texas Fair Defense Project works to improve the fairness of Texas’s criminal courts and ensure that all Texans have access to justice. TFDP aims to improve the public defense system and challenge policies that create modern-day debtors’ prisons filled with poor people who cannot afford to pay fines and costs related to their criminal case or commercial bond fees.

THE CASE: TFDP along with the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law and the private law firm Susman Godfrey are filing a class complaint against a Texas jurisdiction seeking injunctive relief for all people at risk of being jailed as a result of the unconstitutional practices of the jurisdiction, in violation of long-standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent holding that an individual cannot be jailed for the inability to pay a fine.

Contact: Rebecca Bernhardt, Executive Director, 510 S. Congress Ave., Suite 208, Austin, TX 78704

Western Center on Law & Poverty (2017)

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice for low-income Californians by improving the public policy systems that affect their lives. We focus on health care, affordable housing, racial justice, public benefits, and access to justice issues, and we attain system-wide solutions for our state's most vulnerable residents. We educate policymakers and stakeholders, bring impact litigation in state and federal courts, sponsor legislation, conduct budget advocacy, promote better programs and policies at administrative agencies, and provide consultation and trainings to the State's legal services programs and community-based organizations.

THE CASE: Western Center on Law & Poverty has recently filed two cases to protect a fundamental principle of our justice system—that a person should not be punished simply for being poor. In California, many thousands of people have their driver's licenses suspended because they are unable to pay fines and fees related to minor traffic citations and other infractions. These fines and fees are not insignificant: over the past few decades the fines and fees associated with citations have skyrocketed. What used to be $100 violation now costs nearly $500, as a result of the numerous surcharges and other fees that have been added over the years to generate revenue for the operation of the courts and other basic functions of State government. And if a person misses an initial payment deadline, the cost of a ticket can quickly balloon to $800 or more. The consequences for not being able to pay these fines and fees can be severe and life altering. Courts throughout the state routinely refer defendants to the DMV for non-payment of traffic fines and fees or a failure to appear on the traffic charges without ever considering whether these defendants had the ability to pay the fines. Upon receiving this referral, the DMV is required by statute to suspend the person's driver's license. As of the end of 2014 there were nearly 33,000 suspended licenses in Solano County alone, a county of 425,000 people, for failure to appear and failure to pay.

In Rubicon v. Solano County Superior Court Western Center aims to stop the defendant court from enhancing fines for traffic defendants and referring them to Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for automatic license suspensions for willful failures to pay or failures to appear without determining ability to pay. In a related case, Mata Alvarado v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, Western Center seeks to compel the Los Angeles Superior Court to provide notices of action and employ court procedures that examine individuals' ability to pay prior to suspending driver's licenses for willful failures to pay. This litigation will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

These suits are the first of their kind in California and an outgrowth of two reports recently produced by Western Center and colleagues. Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California and Stopped, Fined and Arrested: Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California explore the dramatic racial and socioeconomic disparities in driver's license suspensions and arrests related to unpaid traffic fines and fees in California. Western Center's intent is to develop legal, administrative and legislative solutions, in collaboration with state and national organizations, to reduce criminalization of poverty, including over-policing and exorbitant debt collection and, also to address the ongoing consequences of past practices.

Western Center Contact: Antionette Dozier, Senior Attorney, adozier@wclp.org or 213-235-2629.

Refugee and Immigration Rights +

Litigation becomes often the only available remedy for those whose constitutional rights are violated when seeking to enter the United States.

The following grantees achieved noteworthy results in cases supporting the rights of refugees and immigrants.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

American Immigration Council (2015)
$13,000
American Immigration Council (2017)
$25,000
American Immigration Council (2019)
$30,000
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (2015)
$13,000
Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (2016)
$16,667
Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (2019)
$30,000
Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2011)
$5,000
Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2012)
$10,000
Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2014)
$10,000
Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2017)
$25,000
Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2013)
$10,500
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (2012)
$5,000
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (2019)
$30,000
North Carolina Justice Center (2016)
$16,667
Tahirih Justice Center (2011)
$2,500

American Immigration Council (2015)

Established in 1987, the American Immigration Council is a non-profit organization established to increase public understanding of immigration law and policy, advocate for the fair and just administration of our immigration laws, protect the legal rights of noncitizens, and educate the public about the enduring contributions of America’s immigrants. Our legal department works with other immigrants’ rights organizations and immigration attorneys across the United States to promote full access to counsel at all stages of the immigration process, including deportation proceedings. Other priority areas include promoting transparency and accountability in immigration enforcement, preserving immigrants’ access to administrative agencies and federal courts, and promoting systemic reforms to fix long-standing problems with our broken immigration system.

The Council’s recent litigation accomplishments include:

  • Court approval of a settlement agreement in our long pending Ninth Circuit-wide class action, Duran Gonzalez v. DHS (settlement approved on July 21, 2014). The case involves eligibility for lawful permanent resident status for certain individuals with longstanding ties to the United States. Under the settlement, class members will have the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status.
  • Successful implementation of a settlement agreement approved last year in a national class action, B.H., et al. v. USCIS. We brought this action on behalf of asylum seekers to whom the government was unlawfully denying the opportunity to obtain work authorization. The agreement specifies procedures the government must follow to comply with the statutory right to seek work authorization.
  • Favorable rulings in several circuit court cases in which we appeared as amicus curiae and urged the court to adopt a more inclusive interpretation of a statutory provision permitting immigration judges to “waive” the deportation of certain lawful permanent residents who merit relief.

THE CASE: Each year, the government initiates deportation proceedings against thousands of children, but does not guarantee that those children have legal representation. Like adults, children who cannot afford to hire an attorney or find pro bono counsel are forced to navigate the complex and adversarial immigration system on their own, even though the government is always represented by a trained attorney. Although this is a longstanding problem, the number of children affected by it has grown significantly as increasing numbers of children flee violence in Central America and are placed into the deportation process upon their arrival in the United States.

To address this problem, in July 2014, we and our partners (the ACLU, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel, and K&L Gates) filed a nationwide class action lawsuit on behalf of children who are challenging the federal government’s failure to provide them with legal representation as it carries out removal proceedings against them. The complaint charges the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s requirement of a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide legal representation to all children in deportation proceedings.

Contact: Melissa Crow, Legal Director, American Immigration Council, 1331 G St. NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C., 20005

Beth Werlin, Deputy Legal Director, American Immigration Council, 1331 G St. NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C., 20005

American Immigration Council (2017)

Established in 1987, the American Immigration Council is a non-profit organization established to increase public understanding of immigration law and policy, advocate for the fair and just administration of our immigration laws, protect the legal rights of noncitizens, and educate the public about the enduring contributions of America's immigrants.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a non-profit organization established in 1980 to protect, defend, and expand the rights of immigrants in the United States. Marking its 45th anniversary year in 2016, NIPNLG works to promote fairness, dignity, and equality for all immigrants under the law.

The Immigration Council and NIPNLG litigate targeted issues in immigration cases likely to have significant impact. Past collaborations between the Council and NIPNLG, together with our allies, have resulted in the following litigation accomplishments:

  • Brown v. CBP, No. 15-01181 (N.D. Cal.): A recent settlement in a class action lawsuit challenging U.S. Customs and Border Protection's policy and practice of failing to timely produce records under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • M.S.P.C. v. Johnson, No. 14-01437 (D.D.C.): A systemic challenge on behalf of mothers and children detained in Artesia, New Mexico, charging the government with a policy of holding these families to a nearly insurmountable and erroneous credible fear standard as a means to ensure rapid deportations, and placing countless hurdles in front of them. The suit ended after the government closed the detention facility.
  • Duran Gonzales v. DHS, No. 06-01411 (W.D. Wash.): A successful settlement of a Ninth-Circuit wide class action allowing certain individuals who had been deported to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

THE CASE: Under the law, an asylum-seeker must apply for asylum within one year of arrival in the United States. Failure to apply on time generally results in losing the opportunity to seek asylum, with the resulting risk of erroneous deportation to the country from which the person fled. However, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents do not provide notice of the one-year filing deadline to individuals who, upon apprehension, express a fear of persecution. Too many individuals miss the one-year filing deadline simply because they were never informed about it.

Additionally, individuals who attempt to file timely applications regularly are prevented from doing so due to agency-imposed obstacles. Asylum-seekers who are not in removal proceedings must file their applications with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of DHS; those in removal proceedings must file with the immigration court (which falls within the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR). Because there is no consistent nationwide guidance, both USCIS and EOIR often reject applications, each claiming that the other agency has jurisdiction. The applicant is left in a "catch 22," unable to file with either. Even where it is clear that an individual is in removal proceedings, EOIR policies-which, at the time that the suit was filed, included a requirement that an applicant file an asylum application in open court-often prevent timely filing. Because all immigration courts are extremely backlogged, the initial hearing in many cases does not take place until more than a year after the asylum seeker arrived in the United States. Without the systemic relief sought in this lawsuit, thousands of asylum-seekers are at risk of being returned to the countries from which they fled without ever having their asylum claims considered.

Filed in June 2016, Mendez-Rojas v. Johnson, No. 16-01024 (W.D. Wash.), seeks timely notice of the one-year filing deadline and a mechanism—to be applied uniformly across the country-that guarantees an asylum seeker the opportunity to file an application within one year of entry. Since the lawsuit was filed, the immigration courts have announced they will take steps to resolve some of the issues raised in the lawsuit by accepting asylum applications by mail or at the court window (as opposed to only accepting them at a hearing in open court). However, the remaining claims in the suit remain unresolved.

Defendants are the Attorney General, EOIR, DHS, and its components, USCIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In addition to the Council and NIPNLG, Plaintiffs are represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and a small immigration law firm, Dobrin & Han.

Contact Persons: 
Melissa Crow, Legal Director, American Immigration Council, mcrow@immcouncil.org, 202-507-7523 
Mary Kenney, Senior Staff Attorney, American Immigration Council, mkenney@immcouncil.org, 202-507-7512 
Trina Realmuto, Litigation Director, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, trina@nipnlg.org, 617-227-9727 ext. 8

American Immigration Council (2019)

Established in 1987, the American Immigration Council, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts towards immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council’s legal department contributes to this mission through impact litigation to protect and defend the rights of immigrants, the filing of amicus briefs to educate the courts about immigration law and immigrants’ rights, and technical assistance provided to immigration attorneys.

THE CASE: Moreno v. Nielsen, No. 1:18-cv-01135 (E.D.N.Y.), challenges a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) policy that unlawfully blocks otherwise eligible noncitizens with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from gaining lawful permanent (LPR) status. The case was filed on behalf of a class of TPS holders who, but for this policy, are eligible to become lawful permanent residents because of a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen or through their U.S. employer. TPS provides a temporary haven for noncitizens living in the United States when natural disasters or civil strife in their home countries render it unsafe for them to return. While holding TPS, a noncitizen is in a lawful, though non-permanent status; authorized to work; and protected from deportation. Most TPS holders have held this status for upwards of two decades and consequently have established deep roots in the United States. However, DHS is terminating TPS for six countries over the next 18 months and TPS holders from those countries will lose their protected status and eligibility to work and will become subject to deportation unless they can gain LPR status. Hundreds, if not thousands, of TPS holders are blocked from becoming LPRs solely due to USCIS’s unlawful policy. This policy states that TPS holders who entered the United States without inspection cannot demonstrate that they were “inspected and admitted or paroled” into the United States, a requirement to adjust to LPR status. However, as the Sixth and Ninth Circuits have both held, the plain language of the TPS statute itself deems a grant of TPS to be an inspection and admission for purposes of adjustment of status. The Eleventh Circuit has held the opposite. USCIS applies the Sixth and Ninth Circuit decisions to TPS holders living within those jurisdictions but refuses to do so for TPS holders living within the jurisdictions of the nine courts of appeals that have not ruled on the issue. As a result, whether these TPS holders will be able to remain with family and community depends on the arbitrariness of where they reside. The suit seeks to overturn the policy as applied in the jurisdiction of the nine courts of appeals that have not ruled on the issue.

Contact: Mary Kenney, Senior Attorney, 202-507-7512.

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (2015)

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS), founded at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1999, protects the fundamental human rights of individuals who flee persecution, with a special focus on women, children, and LGBT refugees. CGRS litigates impact asylum cases to advance the law, trains and mentors attorneys who represent asylum seekers and develops resources to support their cases, develops policy to improve U.S. immigration law and the immigration system for refugees and immigrants, and conducts in-country fact-finding on the root causes of the violence that compels people to flee their homes. Each year, CGRS attorneys serve as mentors and expert consultants and provide litigation resources for over 800 asylum cases and train nearly 3,000 attorneys on representing asylum seekers.

THE CASE: CGRS is co-counsel in Matter of R-P-, currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case involves a Mam Maya woman from Guatemala who endured severe domestic violence in a relationship she was forced into at the age of 15. An immigration judge denied her asylum, despite finding that the abuse she suffered constitutes both persecution and torture, because he held that the abuse was not on account of a protected ground. On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the immigration judge’s decision. In March 2014, CGRS filed a request asking the Board to reconsider its dismissal of Ms. R-P‘s case and simultaneously appealed the Board’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. Among other points, the Center argued in both the motion and the appeal that the Board misapplied Ninth Circuit law on the standard for a particular social group when it required Ms. R-P-‘s group to be homogenous and narrow.

Matter of R-P- raises critical issues in asylum law concerning claims for women survivors of domestic violence and holds the potential to set precedent that could affect protections for women fleeing domestic and other gender-based violence. The funding provided by the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation will support continued litigation of Matter of R-P- to obtain lasting relief for this asylum seeker as well as to cement protections for women survivors of domestic violence who flee to the U.S. for safe haven.

Contact: Lisa Frydman, Associate Director and Managing Attorney, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, 200 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (2016)

The mission of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) is to protect the fundamental human rights of refugees and immigrants with a focus on women, children, and LGBT individuals. In 1999, following her groundbreaking legal victory in Matter of Kasinga, CGRS Director and Professor Karen Musalo founded CGRS to meet the needs of asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence. Fauziya Kassindja, a young woman from Togo, fled to the United States to escape female genital cutting and a forced polygamous marriage to a much older man. Building on the momentum from the Kasinga decision—the first precedent decision to recognize gender-based persecution as deserving of asylum—CGRS strategically combined the use of impact litigation with media attention, national grassroots advocacy, and technical assistance and training for attorneys to successfully expand protections available to refugee women.

In keeping with the overarching goal to extend refugee protections to de-valued and under-recognized groups, our mission soon grew to embrace advocacy for the rights of child refugees and LGBT asylum seekers. CGRS is now an established nationwide leader on asylum issues affecting women, children, and LGBT individuals. In the past year alone, we provided expert consultation, mentoring, and litigation resources in over 1,700 cases. Our goals include achieving grants of protection in individual cases and developing refugee law in a manner that ensures recognition of gender-based and children’s claims, consistent with international norms.

THE CASE: Recently CGRS, working in coordination with other advocacy groups and private counsel, secured a huge victory in the landmark decision Matter of A-R-C-G-. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in A-R-C-G- formally recognized for the first time that domestic violence can serve as the basis for asylum. CGRS laid the groundwork for A-R-C-G- not only directly through an influential amicus brief filed with the BIA, but also through years of painstaking work in every pivotal gender-based asylum case considered by the BIA, from Kasinga onward, and in countless individual cases.

As part of an overall strategy to build upon the landmark A-R-C-G- ruling, we will litigate a domestic violence case, which we refer to herein as Matter of A-, pending before the Eloy Immigration Court in Arizona. We believe that this individual case in one of the nation’s most hostile immigration courts will make a meaningful difference for detained women who seek protection from domestic violence. Our involvement will also contribute toward positive precedent and an expansive application of A-R-C-G- in the immigration courts.

The Eloy Immigration Court hears the cases of women refugees who are detained at the nearby Eloy Detention Center. We will seek to ensure that immigration judges and government attorneys engage in fair and correct application of A-R-C-G- within the Eloy jurisdiction, where judges have among the highest denial rates in the nation.

Together, the four Eloy immigration judges average over 94% denials in asylum cases, notwithstanding a nationwide denial rate of only ~50% in asylum cases. Both the University of Arizona and a local legal services provider, the Florence Project, have alerted us that the high denial rates apply also to women raising domestic violence claims, even following A-R-C-G-. Both groups have requested that we mentor and assist attorneys representing women in detention at Eloy.

With the support of this request, we plan to co-counsel in Matter of A-, a case currently pending before an Eloy immigration judge, who has a denial rate of 94% (among the highest in the nation), and to develop through that case model pleadings and a legal strategy that can be used in other Eloy cases. CGRS will also aim to represent women before each of the three other Eloy immigration judges, who likewise decide cases of detained women and who also have extremely high 94+% denial rates.

Previously, CGRS was instrumental in ensuring proper treatment of domestic violence asylum claims for women and children detained at Artesia, New Mexico prior to the closing of that family detention facility. CGRS co-counseled the first two immigration court cases of women detainees raising domestic violence claims at Artesia, and wrote an amicus brief for the third woman’s case. Intervening in this focused way at an early stage strongly influenced the outcome of later gender cases. Advocates won the vast majority of merits hearings out of Artesia before its closure: a total of 15 asylum grants by immigration judges.

Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (2019)

In 1999, following her groundbreaking legal victory in Matter of Kasinga, Karen Musalo founded the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) to meet the needs of asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence. Since its inception, CGRS has helped thousands of advocates around the country secure protection for their clients. CGRS has also continued to litigate high-impact cases like Kasinga, achieving positive precedential decisions that have advanced the law for women, children, and LGBT individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries.

CGRS envisions a world where no refugee is denied her right to protection under U.S. and international law. We strive to achieve this vision by: 1) providing technical assistance and training to attorneys representing asylum seekers; 2) tracking and monitoring the adjudication of asylum cases nationwide to expose disparities and bias in decision-making; 3) undertaking strategic litigation to advance sound asylum laws and defend due process rights; 4) engaging in policy advocacy to align U.S. policies with international human rights norms; and 5) conducting international human rights fact-finding to document human rights abuses and address the root causes that drive migration.

THE CASE: In 2018 U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions intervened in an asylum case involving a domestic violence survivor from El Salvador known as Matter of A-B-, certifying the case to himself for reconsideration. CGRS immediately joined the applicant’s legal team and began rallying attention to her case. In June Sessions issued a misguided and legally incorrect decision in A-B-, reversing a previous grant of asylum to our client and casting doubt on the viability of all asylum claims based on domestic violence, gang brutality, and other forms of persecution perpetrated by nongovernment actors. The ruling marked a clear attempt by Sessions to shut down access to asylum for the vast majority of individuals seeking protection at our southern border.

CGRS is now launching a multifaceted campaign to reverse Sessions’ decision in Matter of A-B-, including litigation as well as nationally coordinated public advocacy. With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, CGRS will challenge Sessions’ ruling in Matter of A-B- before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. We will work to secure a positive, precedential decision that upholds the right of women, children, and families fleeing persecution to seek asylum. To bolster our efforts we will coordinate a national amicus strategy in support of our arguments. A positive decision from the Fourth Circuit on this issue would improve the ability of asylum seekers to secure protection in the United States and restore the progress that has been achieved on behalf of those fleeing nongovernment persecution.

Contact: Moira Duvernay, Deputy Director, 200 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 565-4877.

Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2011)

The National Immigrant Justice Center for Human Needs and Human Rights asserts and attempts to protect the legal rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers by bringing impact litigation to protect due process and fundamental fairness for immigrants. NIJC has filed briefs in numerous circuit courts and in the Supreme Court related to judicial review, procedural fairness, overbroad interpretation of deportable offenses, and impartiality.

THE CASE: A grant was made for legal work related to the case brought by Carlyle Dale, who spent more than five years in unlawful civil detention. NIJC filed a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act to hold the government accountable for the damages suffered by Mr. Dale for a series of chronic illnesses. Mr. Dale had successfully challenged his deportation in a case brought in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center, 208 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 1818, Chicago, IL 60604.

Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2012)

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) ensures human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.NIJC provides direct legal representation to thousands of immigrant women, men and children. This service informs NIJC’s critical work in the areas of policy reform, impact litigation, and public education.This unique approach enables NIJC to meaningfully and effectively seek broad-based systemic change.

Through strategic litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Courts of Appeals, NIJC seeks to uphold constitutional protections, regardless of citizenship status. NIJC challenges laws, policies, and practices that violate constitutional and human rights standards related to the interpretation of the Refugee Act, judicial review, procedural fairness, impartiality, and overly broad interpretations of deportable offenses.

THE CASE: Through the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation grant, NIJC will engage in strategic litigation to promote the positive development of refugee jurisprudence as it relates to “particular social groups” for purposes of asylum. In particular, NIJC will advocate for the courts to recognize gender as a “particular social group” that merits protection, consistent with international law standards.  NIJC will formulate and promote legal arguments that support this interpretation of the law and respond to “floodgates” concerns that have been employed by adjudicators to deny protection to victims of gender-based violence.  NIJC will collaborate with colleagues and pro bono attorneys to raise these cases in strategic venues.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center, 208 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 1818, Chicago, IL 60604

Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2014)

Since its founding more than 30 years ago, NIJC has demonstrated an exceptional track record in protecting human rights and access to justice for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. With a staff of 17 attorneys and an unparalleled network of more than 1,000 pro bono attorneys from prominent law firms and corporate legal departments, NIJC has built a national reputation for litigation expertise. Together, we identify structural barriers to justice and work to end egregious abuses in the immigration enforcement and detention systems through direct representation, federal impact litigation, strategic communications, alliance-building, and administrative and legislative reform. As the preeminent source for expert information and analysis on immigration, NIJC’s work is featured in media outlets including The New York TimesLos Angeles Times, and CNN.

NIJC and its pro bono network help more than 10,000 individuals annually. Projects include: Defenders Initiative; Detention, Democracy & Due Process Project; Asylum Project; Gender Justice Initiative; Immigrant Children’s Protection Project; Immigrant Legal Defense Project; and the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative.

Among its achievements over the past year, NIJC:

  • Litigated nearly 100 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and district courts;
  • Helped achieve a victory in Moncrieffe v. Holder, in which the U.S. Supreme Court cited NIJC’s amicus brief in rejecting an agency rule that imposed burdensome and unfair mini trials on immigrant detainees as a pre-qualification to being allowed to request discretionary relief from deportation;
  • Convinced the U.S. Senate to include language in proposed immigration reform limiting the use of solitary confinement to the most exceptional circumstances; and
  • Engaged pro bono attorneys to represent more than 400 immigrant youth eligible for protection.

THE CASE: Immigration detainers are the lynchpin of ICE’s interior enforcement strategy. The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses detainers to instruct state and local law enforcement (LEA) to keep an individual in custody for up to 48 hours to permit ICE to assume custody. Individuals held by local LEAs are commonly identified for possible removal through fingerprint sharing via the Secure Communities program. These collaborative practices between federal immigration authorities and LEAs trap and isolate thousands of individuals in the immigration detention system, many of whom were identified through routine traffic stops. Yet no policies or procedures exist to ensure the protection of fundamental due process rights. Immigrants who find themselves caught in the immigration detention and deportation pipeline, often as a result of questionable enforcement practices, have no right to court-appointed counsel. This dangerous cooperation relies on and increases racial profiling, which results in the illegal detention of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs). To combat this abuse of power, NIJC filed a class action lawsuit, Jimenez Moreno v. Napolitano, 11-cv-5452 (N.D.Ill.), to challenge the legality of ICE’s use of immigration detainers. Both of the named plaintiffs, Jose Jimenez Moreno, a U.S. citizen, and Maria Jose Lopez, an LPR, were unlawfully subjected to immigration detainers. NIJC defeated DHS’s attempt to dismiss the litigation, conducted extensive discovery, and is currently seeking class certification.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center, 208 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 1818, Chicago, IL 60604

Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2017)

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement. From the very start, NCLEJ joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground breaking victories in the courts and committed resources to bring about legislative reform. Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) upholds due process and human rights protections for immigrants by leveraging its network of 1,500 pro bono attorneys and organizational partnerships. Informed by its direct legal service work with approximately 10,000 immigrants annually, NIJC identifies and challenges systemic barriers to justice. NIJC advances equity and inclusion so that all individuals – regardless of ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, or criminal background – can exercise their rights, reach their potential, and participate fully in society.

For several years, NIJC has been challenging the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) position that a prior removal order bars a noncitizen from being considered for asylum. In passing the Refugee Act and signing onto the Refugee Convention, Congress made the right to seek asylum broadly available and subject to limited exceptions. The categorical denial of this right to individuals who have been previously deported is improper. Nonetheless, DHS has denied thousands of people who previously were deported the opportunity to seek asylum.

THE CASE: With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, NIJC will pursue this litigation in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on behalf of a Honduran environmentalist, Carlos, who left the United States after he was ordered deported in absentia in 2003. When Carlos returned to Honduras, his environmental activism affected powerful interests, leading to him being kidnapped and tortured for three days. When he went to the police to seek help, he realized that the police were involved in his torture. Fearing for his life, Carlos fled to the United States and was detained at the border. The immigration judge granted Carlos withholding of removal (a lesser form of protection) and denied asylum.

NIJC has represented Carlos throughout his immigration process, and has identified his case as presenting strong arguments to advance this issue. The issue in his case affects thousands of asylum seekers with prior deportation orders nationwide.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, 208 S. LaSalle, Suite 1300, Chicago, IL 60602, (312) 660-1351

Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (2013)

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) seeks to ensure human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. NIJC provides direct legal services to and advocates for these populations through policy reform, impact litigation, and public education.

Since its founding three decades ago, NIJC has uniquely integrated individual client advocacy with broad-based systemic change. NIJC and its pro bono attorneys are on the vanguard of federal impact litigation and advocacy, setting positive precedents for those seeking human rights protections within our borders. In 2012, NIJC played a key role in the Department of Justice’s issuing regulations requiring the Department of Homeland Security to extend Prison Rape Elimination Act protections to detained immigrants.

THE CASE: NIJC is involved in the litigation of the case, Cece v. Holder, currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. NIJC argued this case before the court in a rehearing en banc as amicus. The case involves an Albanian woman who feared she would be trafficked for prostitution due to the widespread trafficking of young, unprotected women in Albania. In support of Cece, NIJC is arguing that her particular social group is viable and not fatally flawed. NIJC’s brief asserts that victims of persecution – particularly those who are pro se – should not be denied relief for failing to articulate a clear PSG when they have shown they will be harmed on account of a characteristic they cannot change. NIJC is seeking to promote arguments similar to the ones raised in Cece in other federal circuits. In a similar case, NIJC is preparing an amicus brief in support of rehearing for another young Albanian woman who fears trafficking in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center, 208 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 1818, Chicago, IL 60604

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (2012)

The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s mission is to provide quality immigration legal services, law-related education, and advocacy to meet the steadily increasing needsof Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities. ILCM’s Appellate Litigation Project provides and facilitates high quality representation for immigrants before the U.S. Courtof Appeals and Board of Immigration Appeals, prioritizing cases with the potential to benefit large numbers of immigrants in Minnesota and immigrants across the United States.

THE CASE: A grant was made for legal work related to the case of Sandoval v. Holder, 641 F.3d 982 (8th Cir. 2011), a case originating in Minnesota which will address ifunaccompanied alien children can be subject to permanent inadmissibility to the United States for making a false claim of U.S. citizenship.

Contact: Ben Casper, Appellate Litigation Project Director, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, 450 North Syndicate Street, Suite175, Saint Paul, MN 55104.

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (2019)

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a national non-profit organization that works to protect and advance the rights of noncitizens by developing cutting-edge strategies to respond to unlawful immigration enforcement, government overreach, and efforts to erode immigrant rights. NIPNLG promotes justice and equality of treatment in all areas of immigration law, providing technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, jailhouse lawyers, and all advocates for immigrant rights.

THE CASE: Through the generosity of the Barbara McDowell Foundation, NIPNLG will represent detained immigrant children at the Berks County Residential Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It will seek to force the state to revoke the facility’s license to run a child residential facility due to egregious regulatory violations related to health services, mental health care, and language access, as well as traumatic night-checks that repeatedly interrupt children’s sleep. Without a license, the child detention facility will no longer be able to operate, and ICE will be required to release children to the community pending their deportation proceedings. Questions about this grant may be directed to Elizabeth Simpson at esimpson@nipnlg.org.

North Carolina Justice Center (2016)

The North Carolina Justice Center is the leading advocacy and research organization in the state focused on a wide range of issues that impact low- and moderate-income North Carolinians. The organization was founded in 1996 through the merger of two former Legal Services organizations. Our mission is to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household in the state has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security. To that end, we work toward the following goals: consumer protections from abusive practices; safe and affordable housing; excellent public education for every child; access to quality and affordable health care; fair treatment for everyone in North Carolina, including immigrants and refugees; jobs that are safe, pay a living wage, and provide benefits; public investments that expand opportunities for economic security; and a fair and stable revenue system that adequately funds public investments while fairly distributing tax responsibility.

The Workers’ Rights Project, one of the Justice Center’s seven projects, strives to enforce and expand policies that ensure safe workplaces, fair treatment, a living wage, and a strong safety net in times of hardship on behalf of all workers in North Carolina. Much of the Workers’ Rights Project’s litigation has focused on the rights of farmworkers and other migrant workers.

THE CASE: We are preparing to file a class action case on behalf of a group of H-2A workers from Mexico who worked for an H-2A labor contractor in Florida and eastern North Carolina. The H-2A visa program allows employers who are granted permission by the U.S. Department of Labor to import foreign workers to fill temporary agricultural jobs. North Carolina agricultural growers have been the leading user of the H-2A program – bringing in more than 10,000 visa workers each year. Over the last few years we have observed a growing number of labor contractors, as opposed to growers, bringing H-2A workers to the state because growers see hiring workers through an H-2A labor contractor as a way to save money and insulate themselves from liability. The problems that H-2A workers have historically faced—wage theft, poor housing conditions, not being reimbursed for their visa and transportation costs, exposure to pesticides and illegal deductions from their pay—are exacerbated for employees of labor contractors as labor contractors are more unsophisticated and undercapitalized. Our complaint alleges violations of the H-2A contract, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act and Florida’s minimum wage law. Our goal through this class action and subsequent litigation we hope to undertake against H-2A labor contractors is to stop the trend towards using H-2A labor contractors by holding both growers and contractors jointly liable to workers when there is a violation.

Contact: Carlene McNulty, Litigation Director, North Carolina Justice Center, 224 S. Dawson Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

Tahirih Justice Center (2011)

The Tahirih Justice Center, founded in 1997, seeks to enable women and girls fleeing gender-based violence to access justice through legal services, social service case management, and education. Tahirih has helped over 11,000 women and girls who have been victims of violence since 1997.

Tahirih provides legal representation to women and girls seeking protection under immigration law from gender-based violence -- such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, torture, rape, trafficking, and domestic violence. Tahirih was involved in over 900 separate legal matters in 2009.

THE CASE: A grant award was made to Tahirih for the Matter of MA, a case aimed at establishing domestic violence against women in a woman’s home country as a basis for obtaining asylum under United States immigration law. The individual involved in this case was brutalized in her home country and fled after the local courts there refused to intercede. The individual fled to the United States and her request for asylum was denied. Her case is now pending in the Bureau of Immigration Appeals.

Contact: Layli Miller-Muro, Executive Director, Tahirih Justice Center, 6402 Arlington Blvd., Suite 300, Falls Church, VA 22042.

Voting Rights +

Without equal voting rights citizens in a free country cannot seek redress of their grievances often necessitating litigation as the only means to establish that right.

The following grantees made significant progress in protecting and securing voting rights.

Scroll down to read about each grantee and the case for which they received funding and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Brennan Center for Justice (2011)
$5,000
Fair Elections Center (2020)
$40,000

Brennan Center for Justice (2011)

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University of Law is a public policy and law institute that focuses on voting rights, campaign reform, and public education on constitutional law issues. The Center was founded in 1995 by the law clerks and family of the late Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan.

THE CASE: A grant was made for legal work related to Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a challenge on the basis of racial discrimination to the state law in Washington that disenfranchises people with felony convictions. The case was brought in conjunction with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In Washington, African Americans make up only 3 percent of the state’s population but nearly 25 percent of all black men in the state are denied the right to vote because of their criminal convictions.

Contact: Michael Waldman, Executive Director, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 161 Avenue of the Americas, 12th Floor, New York, New York 10013.

Fair Elections Center (2020)

Fair Elections Center is a national, nonpartisan voting rights and election reform organization that works to remove barriers to registration and voting, particularly those disenfranchising underrepresented and marginalized communities, and to improve election administration. Fair Elections Center was established in 2017 as a 501(c)(3) organization and continues the work of the Fair Elections Legal Network, which was established in 2006 by Washington D.C. public interest lawyer Bob Brandon and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman.

Fair Elections Center’s attorneys and advocates deliver nonpartisan creative solutions to the complex barriers that continue to be erected to prevent citizens from registering to vote and casting a ballot that counts. Working alongside other national and state civil rights and community-based organizations, the Center works to make the processes of voter registration, voting, and election administration accessible for every American, focusing on underrepresented communities and students.

THE CASE: The Center and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center are challenging Kentucky’s arbitrary process for voting rights restoration for felons. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight former felons. Kentucky is one of three states that deny the right to vote to all former felons until they petition for rights restoration. 

According to the Sentencing Project, as of 2016, Kentucky had an estimated 242,987 felons who were still disenfranchised after completing their full sentences including parole and probation, or 7% of the state’s voting-age population.  Kentucky's voting rights restoration process requires felons who have completed their full sentences to apply for restoration to the Department of Corrections' Division of Probation and Parole. The Division screens the applications and forwards them to the governor’s office where the governor has unconstrained power to grant or deny applications with no rules, laws, or criteria governing these restoration determinations. Without any rules, applicants seeking restoration are subjected to arbitrary decision-making and the risk of biased treatment, violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit. The process also lacks any time limits for when the Department of Corrections or the governor must act. This delay has created a backlog of applications in Kentucky. As of March 2018, there was a backlog of 1,459 restoration of civil rights applications.

Grant contact: Robert M. Brandon, president and CEO, rbrandon@fairelectionscenter.org, 202.331.0114


Veterans' Rights +

Those who served their country honorably should not be denied their statutory rights for any unlawful reason so that litigation is often their only recourse.

The following grantees made significant progress in protecting and securing the rights of veterans.

Scroll down to read more about each grantee and the case for which they received funding.

National Veterans Legal Services Program (2020)
$40,000

National Veterans Legal Services Program (2020)

Established in 1981, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), a high-impact, independent nonprofit organization, has been dedicated to ensuring that our government lives up to its obligations to provide our 22 million veterans and active service members the benefits they have earned due to disabilities resulting from their military service to our country.

NVLSP advances its mission by directly representing individual veterans on disability claims at no cost to the veterans; bringing class actions and other law reform litigation for veterans  to remove systemic barriers to justice; recruiting, training, and mentoring thousands of volunteer attorneys and veterans’ advocates to represent veterans; providing representation through our Lawyers Serving Warriors® pro bono program; and producing and distributing advocacy and educational materials to enable other advocates to assist veterans and their families in securing the benefits they have earned.

Since its founding, NVLSP has secured more than $5.2 billion in disability, death and medical benefits for veterans and their survivors, many of whom rely on these recoveries as a substantial or even primary sources of income. Most recently, NVLSP made history in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) convincing the Court to certify its first two class certification in the landmark cases, Godsey v. Wilkie and Wolfe v. Wilkie.

THE CASE:  The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) seeks support for a law reform project challenging the legality of a policy employed by the United States Department of the Navy that has resulted in the discharge of more than 16,000 members of the Navy and Marine Corps without the military disability retirement benefits to which they are entitled. The proposed project involves a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of the Navy to be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.    

Congress has provided a generous disability retirement system for those service members who are medically discharged as not fit for continued military service due to disabilities incurred in service.  Since 9/11, Congress has found that in order to avoid the expense of providing lifetime medical care to disabled veterans and their families, the military departments often “low-ball” the disability rating assigned to service members who have medical conditions that make them unfit for continued military service. The lawsuit would seek an injunction requiring the Navy to change the way it assigns disability ratings to comply with applicable laws and regulations.

While NVLSP will seek the pro bono services of a law firm to serve as co-counsel on this substantial undertaking, NVLSP would provide the subject matter expertise on the laws and regulations governing military disability retirement, secure appropriate class representatives, and communicate with and review the records of putative class members after the lawsuit is filed.

Grant contact: Ana Reyes, Director of Development, ana@nvlsp.org (202) 265-8305


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