Students litigate civil rights cases addressing issues such as: racial justice, police misconduct, voting rights, fair housing, student rights, free speech, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, ethnic and religious discrimination, disability rights, and the right to privacy. Taught by the former long-time legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, the goal of the course is to prepare students to use the law to advance social justice. Students will have the chance to litigate civil rights cases on behalf of individuals as well as larger impact cases.
Students, under faculty supervision, will gain experience in many of the following areas: working with impacted communities to identify injustices; researching and developing winning legal theories; interviewing potential clients; writing public record requests and demand letters; drafting complaints; researching and writing briefs; arguing motions; taking depositions and engaging in other discovery; negotiating settlements; trying cases; drafting appellate briefs; and arguing appeals. It is anticipated that students will work primarily in federal court and will learn how to avoid the many procedural minefields that civil rights litigants face when seeking injunctive relief or recovering damages under 42 U.S.C. section 1983.
The course will also emphasize how litigation can be most effective in achieving change when it is part of an “integrated advocacy” campaign that includes public education, legislation and/or community action. Students will be encouraged to work in coalitions and with community groups to win not only in the court of law, but also in the court of public opinion.
The Civil Rights Litigation Practicum (Law 807) is a recommended but not required prerequisite for the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative. Students must take the Initiative for a letter grade; it is ineligible for letter grade conversion to pass (“P”) election. It fulfills the Law School’s professional responsibility requirement for graduation and the New York Pro-Bono requirement, but not the New York State Bar ethics requirement. The Initiative can either fulfill the Law School’s professional responsibility requirement for graduation or the credits can count toward the Experiential Learning requirement, but not both.