The Equal Justice Society has received a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, which we will use to support our ongoing efforts using law and social science to change the way racial discrimination limits opportunities to people of color.
The Ford Foundation grant will help advance our initiatives that seek to change the way children of color are disciplined, lessen the role of white supremacy in our society, and to reclaim the 14th Amendment by dismantling the intent standard.
“The Ford Foundation was one of the first funders that supported the Equal Justice Society when we were first founded in 2000,” said EJS President Eva Paterson. “We’re so grateful to Ford for their steadfast belief in our vision of transforming our nation’s consciousness on race and partnering with us on initiatives that advance that goal.”
EJS has seen success in challenging de facto racial discrimination and demonstrating the de jure infrastructure upholding this discrimination is in the area of disparate application of disciplinary actions in the public school system, starting in preschool all the way through high school.
EJS spearheaded litigation against the Kern High School District (KHSD) in Bakersfield, California on behalf of thirty thousand Black and Latinx students who were subjected to racially disproportionate discipline. Black students were 300 percent more likely to be expelled than their white peers and the vast majority of these expulsions/suspensions constituted discretionary discipline for “insubordination.”
The case was settled in 2017 and per the settlement, KHSD has committed to a number of policies and procedures that will eliminate bias. EJS is monitoring the implementation of this settlement for three years until 2020 and sponsors biannual community meetings in Bakersfield to report outcomes to the community.
Reclaiming the 14th Amendment by dismantling the intent standard is another key focus for EJS. The intent standard, established in the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision Washington v. Davis, requires plaintiffs to prove an almost impossible burden namely a decision-maker’s conscious intent to discriminate. Plaintiffs must show that the defendant “selected or reaffirmed a particular course of action at least in part ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” If a plaintiff cannot overcome these challenging hurdles, the law will not recognize the discrimination experienced.
Since our inception, EJS has tracked cases in which the intent standard is implicated, participated in amicus briefs related to intent, highlighted the ways in which the intent standard fails to consider modern social science, worked with social scientists to connect concepts of implicit bias and structural racism to the law, and participated as co-counsel in various anti-discrimination cases.
We continue to work to educate and assist litigators and judges on these issues. We have also taken on direct litigation in cases that present opportunities to undermine the intent doctrine. Our legal team recently reaffirmed our goal of dismantling the intent standard.
With the ascent of Donald Trump and his dog whistle turned megaphone calls to racists and white supremacy, EJS has had to expand its reach. We publish the popular weekly newsletter, This Week in White Supremacy aimed at making sure all Americans are aware of the daily manifestations of racism, intolerance, bias, and pure hatred toward people of color. Our implicit bias trainings have been expanded to plainly discuss and acknowledge the fact that racism is alive and thriving and is a feature not a bug of Trumpism.
Learn more about our work at equaljusticesociety.org.