Civil rights

When will civil rights lawsuits no longer be necessary?


When someone’s civil rights are violated, everyone’s civil rights are threatened.

Like a warm quilt, our constitutional rights protect us from government actions that directly or indirectly interfere with our exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and other fundamental freedoms. Continuing the analogy, any time the fabric is torn there is a risk that the tear will widen, threatening the integrity of the whole, unless it is quickly repaired – the proverbial “dot to dot” time “.

We recently saw how civil rights abuses can affect communities far from the source. On November 19, a riot broke out in Portland, Oregon to protest the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on charges of killing three men in Kenosha, Wis., In 2,100 miles away. The physical damage was low, mainly from the broken windows.

Most of the protests are peaceful. The Washington Post reported on October 16, 2020 that its four-year study of 7,305 political mob events found less than four percent of them resulted in property damage or vandalism. Injuries to people, including protesters and peace officers, occurred in less than three percent of the events.

It’s not always the case. In the aftermath of the cruel and senseless murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, protest demonstrations were held in more than 140 U.S. cities as of June 13, 2020, according to the New York Times.

Most were non-violent, although small, violent factions caused massive insured property damage, estimated by the World Economic Forum at more than $ 2 billion as of February 2021.

Cuts in civil liberties can lead to violence, often on one side obstructing those freedoms, and opportunists on the other side who exploit peaceful and fervent protests to wreak havoc. The losses in such cases are, in this author’s opinion, more devastating than the monetary losses. While these people do not speak for the vast majority of peaceful protesters or peace officers, they are the ones who speak the loudest, fueling the prejudices that have stirred up and still motivate the worst natures of the opposing party.

Imagine the emotional costs that fear, anger and mistrust impose on a person or a society, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Many readers won’t have to imagine.

On a large scale, and over the decades, movements in defense of precious freedoms move society forward, in spurts. Think of the 19th Amendment, emancipating 50% of the population; the civil rights movement of the 1950s and continuing to this day, which prompted Congress to enact civil rights and voting rights laws. The MeToo movement does not change the law, but allows victims of abuse to stand up and expose their abusers.

On a microscopic scale, we have another recourse: lawsuits that challenge and erode the government’s encroachments on civil rights. These cases can achieve economic justice, that is, damages. Without going too deeply into legal parlance, the Civil Rights Act encourages such lawsuits by allowing federal trial courts to award winning plaintiffs their attorney fees and costs.

More rarely, civil rights cases can uphold the rights of others, as well as those of plaintiffs. Some of these cases have passed from law books to our vocabulary. Such cases define the appropriate role of government with respect to individual and associative rights to privacy, advocacy, assembly, and equal protection of the law.

A victory at the Supreme Court

On July 1, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a civil rights case that I adjudicated, won and lost on appeal. The High Court issued 64 decisions during its 2020-2021 term. Mine was the 64th to be decided. We filed it to defend a nonprofit’s right to keep its donors confidential from a state regulator – anonymous advocacy being at the heart of the founders’ business. against King George III – although we also sought to hold the rule unconstitutional on its face, and therefore generally applicable to nonprofits.

As the case moved to the Supreme Court, it became clear that the “facial challenge” was the right one to pursue. Under the guidance of experienced Supreme Court lawyers as co-counsel, we presented the case and on July 1 won it as a facial challenge.

The case lasted six years from filing to decision. It was certainly worth it for the client and 501 (c) (3) nonprofits alike, and will be the highlight of my career.

As a lawyer for 41 years and an assistant professor of law, you would think I would be very supportive of civil rights lawsuits. I am, but I wish they weren’t necessary, just as I wish protest marches weren’t necessary to advance societal decency, one step at a time. An ounce of prevention – recognizing and respecting established civil rights – is worth $ 2 billion in healing, or six years in the courtroom.

Civil unrest is not a natural disaster. We did it. We could end it, although it would take a long time. After all, it took almost four centuries to get us to where we are.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Info

Louie castoria is a partner of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck LLP and teaches Litigation at Golden Gate University Law School in San Francisco. He urges action to strengthen the security of our dearest freedoms – work still in progress.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of his law school, law firm or clients.