After months of contentious back-and-forth, the UNC Board of Governors voted this morning to ban the UNC Center for Civil Rights from doing legal work on behalf of the state's poor and minority populations. The ban would effectively neuter the Center from providing legal representation to those who cannot afford it—groups it has been advocating for since it was founded by the famed civil rights attorney Julian Chambers in 2001.
Since then, however, the UNC Board of Governors has taken a turn to the right. That's because board members are elected by the state legislature, which, since 2010, has been controlled by Republicans. In many ways, the reorientation of the board's political makeup is a reflection of the state's dramatic rightward shift over the past seven years, which has made its imprint on everything from the redistricting process to, now, the law school's ability to sue on behalf of the indigent and the poor.
The Center for Civil Rights is not the only progressively-oriented UNC body that has taken hit as of late, however. In 2015, the Board voted to close the law school's Poverty Center, which, true to its namesake, focused on the state's low-income populations. The General Assembly also recently slashed the law school's budget by $500,000.
The Center's opponents say that it's inappropriate for one body of the state, such as the UNC system, to sue another; proponents say marginalized communities that would likely be unable to afford legal support in civil rights cases rely on its work. Over the years, the Center has litigated a long list of cases that are almost all related to low-income African-American communities: school segregation, racial discrimination in affordable housing, victims of the state's eugenics program, and more.
In March, the INDY asked
for a full list of cases the Center has been involved with over the past fifteen years. Here's a breakdown:
Leandro v. State: The center intervened on behalf of African-American students suing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools over an inadequate allocation of resources. CMS and the state entered into a consent order on a school turnaround plan.
Gary et al. v. Halifax County: A primarily white city annexed a black community as part of an entertainment district without any notice to residents, then levied additional taxes, forcing some residents out. The center helped the community de-annex and recovered tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes for residents.
Everett et al. v. Pitt County Board of Education: Working with the Pitt County Coalition for the Education of Black Children, the center has been seeking to integrate schools in Pitt County for a decade. In 2008, it sued; a settlement in 2009 held that federal desegregation orders were still applicable. In 2010, the school board passed a new school-reassignment plan; the center sued again, but this time it lost in the Court of Appeals.
Johnson v. Fleming: The center filed a fair housing lawsuit on behalf of the Johnson family against a landlord, real estate agent, and real estate company in Moore County that refused to rent to the Johnsons because of their race. The lawsuit was settled in the Johnsons' favor.
Habitat for Humanity v. Upchurch et al.: The center helped file a lawsuit on behalf of Habitat for Humanity of the North Carolina Sandhills alleging racial discrimination related to a contract over an affordable housing development in Pine Bluff. The lawsuit was settled in Habitat's favor.
ROCCA et al. v. Brunswick County: The center sued to prevent Brunswick County from placing an industrial waste site in a low-income, African-American community. The county ultimately agreed to build an elementary school on that property instead.
In re: Redmond, In re: Hughes, In re: Smith: The center helped victims of the state's eugenics program, which ran from 1929–73, receive reparations. Many were people of color and lower income and would not have received compensation without the center's help.
Silver et al. v. Halifax County Board of Commissioners: The center sued to consolidate three small, low-performing, racially segregated school districts in Halifax County. This case is currently before the Court of Appeals.
Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools v. Johnston County Board of Education: The center sued after the Johnston County school board did not produce public records. The case was settled, and the records were provided.