The year was 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in civil rights history. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April rocked the nation. In the San Francisco Bay Area, sixteen prominent members of the San Francisco Bar—headed by Richard C. Dinkelspiel, then president of the Bar Association San Francisco, and Robert H. Fabian, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Bank of America—were motivated by these troubled times and pondered how the legal system could support civil rights advocacy and ensure the enforcement of new civil rights laws. In response, “[t]o enlist the members of the legal profession and their skills, leadership and special competence in a major effort to help solve the problems of low income communities,” they formed the San Francisco Lawyers’ Committee for Urban Affairs, now known as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR).
The Early Years
In the early years, LCCR was made up of a membership of lawyers who, through financial contributions and volunteer time, advanced a variety of projects. Such initiatives included developing innovative bank financing arrangements for African American retailers making credit sales to minority customers, drafting fair housing ordinances for an ad hoc committee comprised of representatives of numerous local fair housing groups, and creating publicly funded neighborhood organizations that provided assistance to African American teens in the juvenile justice system.
Since then, LCCR has grown in size and in the breadth of the legal work conducted. Over the years, LCCR staff and a host of pro bono attorneys have provided thousands of hours of free legal assistance and representation to advance civil rights, including the rights to adequate housing, employment and social services, education, voting rights, economic security and fair treatment within the criminal justice system.
Key Victories Through the Years
1973 – Unanimous ruling from the United States Supreme Court confers standing under the 1968 Civil Rights Act for existing tenants of the Park Merced neighborhood in San Francisco to challenge discriminatory housing practices.
1981 – U.S. District Court consent decree requires the San Francisco Unified School District to implement a specific plan for integrating schools and improving the quality of public education at all levels.
1987 – U.S. District Court injunctive orders and consent decree result in the hiring of the first San Francisco women firefighters and hiring and promotional goals for minorities and women within the San Francisco Fire Department.
1989 – Asylum granted by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to Salvadoran kidnapped by guerillas in first case to find that a refugee facing forcible recruitment by non-governmental groups has a “credible fear of persecution”.
1992 – California Supreme Court orders the Richmond Unified School District to stay open after the school board announced it would be shutting down school 6 weeks early. This was a key education law case in California as it established there is a right to education in California and that right is violated if students are provided an education that was not substantially similar to that provided in other districts.
1993 – The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds San Francisco ordinance that promotes minority – and women – owned businesses.
1994 – San Francisco Superior Court restraining order blocks implementation of Proposition 187 in schools. Prop. 187 would have denied access to public education to undocumented immigrant children.
1996 – U.S. Supreme Court orders California’s governor to implement the federal “Motor Voter” law requiring states to provide voter registration opportunities to people seeking licenses and other state social services.
1999 – In case decided favorably three years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court rules again that, pursuant to section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, Monterey County may not implement its at-large election system even though the system is a product of state law.
2002 – Enactment of state legislation (AB540) entitling undocumented immigrant students and others at California higher education institutions to obtain waiver of non-resident tuition fees.
2003 – Settlement provides damages to airline passenger who was a victim of racial profiling for looking “Middle Eastern” – first ever cash payout in a post-September 11th airline profiling matter.
2004 – Alameda County Superior Court upholds Berkeley Unified School District’s voluntary school desegregation program.
2006 – U.S. District Court decision strikes down Redondo Beach law preventing day laborers from seeking work.
2007 – In first suit testing constitutionality of the California Voting Rights Act, Court of Appeals upholds the Act and U.S. Supreme Court refuses to reverse ruling.
2008 – Classwide injunction issued against City of Fresno on behalf of homeless persons whose personal possessions were being confiscated and destroyed by city employees. $2.25 million settlement, including permanent injunctive relief and damages for injured class members, reached.
2011 – The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional an ordinance in a southern California town that prevented day laborers on public sidewalks from soliciting work from passing drivers.
2011 – Settlement reached with City of Modesto and Stanislaus County on a civil rights action challenging the discriminatory delivery of municipal services to Latino communities in Modesto, California. These primarily Latino communities were excluded in previous annexations by the city that benefited bordering areas; thus, they remained unincorporated and without the municipal services provided to other residents, who often reside in adjacent neighborhoods.
2011 – The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) ordered California’s High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to open up its closed contracting system to resolve a civil rights complaint filed by small minority-owned businesses. Citing evidence of insular bidding practices and misrepresentations regarding receipt of federal funds, the FRA ordered far-reaching reforms to CHSRA’s system for awarding contracts to private businesses.
2012 – Lawsuit challenging the closure of Doyle Park Elementary School in Santa Rosa, CA is settled when school board officials agree to keep the school open for one more year. The school was to be closed and replaced by a new French American Charter School, which was not likely to accommodate the high Latino enrollment in Doyle Park.
2013 – The report “Held Back” is released, which indicates that school districts have been disproportionately requiring minority 9th graders to repeat Algebra I, even when they have performed well on standardized tests and successfully passed the class in 8th grade. It outlines how such practices violate federal and state civil rights laws and urges reform of placement practices.
2013 – A complaint filed against the Oakland Unified School District by Skyline High School students from Black Student Union represented by LCCR charging that the school was in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits providers of programs and activities that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or nationality was resolved.
2013 – The report “Pushing the Line” is released, which highlights racial disparities in peninsula area High School student assignment plans that have a disproportionate impact on minority students in East Palo Alto. The report outlines how the District’s assignment plan potentially runs afoul of federal and state civil rights law and urges the District to change its school assignment practice.
2013 – Enactment of the Reentry & Employment Opportunities Act (AB 651). Under this law, people sentenced under Realignment will have the opportunity to clean up their records upon a showing of rehabilitation. The bill was co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee, the ACLU, the East Bay Community Law Center, and A New Way of Life Reentry Project.
2013 – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Associated General Contractors, San Diego Chapter v. Caltrans (AGC v. Caltrans), affirming the California Department of Transportation’s outreach program to promote fairness and equity in its federal contracting. AGC brought suit in 2009 challenging Caltrans’ Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, which seeks to ensure that minority and women-owned businesses are on equal footing to compete for federally-funded contracts.
2013 – A nationwide settlement was reached in Martins v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services et al., which ensures that the Government will no longer categorically deny applicants for asylum access to the notes taken by the asylum officers who interview them. These notes are intended to document the content of the asylum interviews.
2014 – Uelian de Abadia-Peixoto, et al. vs. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al. – Settlement reached in class action lawsuit between immigration authorities and immigrants held in custody during their civil immigration proceedings in San Francisco. The settlement ended the federal government’s practice of forcing detained immigrants to go through their civil immigration painfully shackled at the waist, wrists, and ankles in every hearing before the immigration court, regardless of individual circumstances.
2014 – Enactment of the Fair Chance Act by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. This legislation will strengthen and expand the City’s current fair hiring policies, known commonly as “ban the box,” to private businesses, affordable housing, and contracting, and remove unnecessary barriers to stable housing and employment for individuals with conviction records.
2014 – In Scott v. Bowen, an Alameda County Superior Court Judge ruled that Secretary of State Debra Bowen illegally stripped tens of thousands of people of their voting rights in 2012, saying people on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and mandatory supervision under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act are eligible to vote.
2015 – The report, Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, is released, which highlights highlights the growing trend of license suspensions, how the problem happens, the impact on families and communities, and what can and should be done about it.
Part of a Network
As it has been since our inception, the effectiveness of LCCR’s organizational model is rooted in our ability to harness the power of the Bay Area private bar in support of critical civil rights issues. From direct legal services to high impact litigation, we have made significant contributions in the fight for racial, immigrant and economic justice.
As part of a network of eight other independently funded and governed public interest law firms working to protect and promote the rights of communities of color, immigrants, refugees, and low-income individuals, we have become – and remain – one of the most active affiliates nationwide. These “committees” are affiliated by similar principles, goals and history.
The first, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, based in Washington, DC, began at the behest of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to assist the civil rights movement in the South, which was seeking to make equal protection of the law a reality for African Americans. Spread throughout the country, the seven other committees are:
- Boston, Massachusetts – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice
- Chicago, Illinois – The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.
- Denver, Colorado – Colorado Lawyers Committee
- Jackson, Mississippi – Mississippi Center for Justice
- Los Angeles, California – Public Counsel
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
- Washington, D.C – The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area is proud of our role as leading legal advocates in the racial, immigrant, and economic justice movement. Through expanded partnerships with community based organizations and law firms that offer pro bono expertise, our core staff, fellows and volunteers work daily to protect and advance civil rights in our three priority areas: Racial Justice, Immigrant Justice, Economic Justice.