EJS 20th Anniversary – Reflecting on 2015: Laying the Groundwork for 2020’s Proposition 16

Our 2015 gala honorees and presenters: (top left) the late Jeff Adachi (L) presenting to Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt; (top right) Pastor Michael McBride (L) presenting to Rev. James Lawson; (bottom right) the late Joaquin Avila, honoree; and (bottom left) Lateefah Simon (R) presenting to Alicia Garza on behalf of Black Lives Matter. Photos by Bob Hsiang.
Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt, Lateefah Simon, and Joaquin Avila are MacArthur Genius grant winners. Rev. James Lawson spoke at the funeral of Congressman John Lewis.

EJS 20th Anniversary – Reflecting on 2015: Laying the Groundwork for 2020’s Proposition 16

2020 is the 20th anniversary of the Equal Justice Society. Our celebration this year on September 17 will be virtual and we’re working on an exciting and engaging program including an oratorio by Marcus Shelby inspired by the courage of Harriet Tubman and by the two decades of EJS. Every week leading up to the celebration, we will highlight one year in our history.

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This week we remember 2015 when we grappled with the aftermath of SCA 5, legislation that sought to partially repeal Prop. 209. The bill didn’t pass, but the effort taught us critical lessons that we applied towards our successful passage of 2020’s ACA 5 and the current campaign to pass Proposition 16.


Legislative Hearing on the Impact of Prop. 209 on California MWBEs – On February 24, EJS helped coordinate a legislative hearing before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on the adverse effects on MWBE contractors that resulted from the elimination of the use of race and gender in the award process. This hearing was seen as a way to heal the wounds between the API community and the Black and Latino communities that were created by the dust-up around SCA 5. Since all communities of color have been harmed in the contracting arena, it was thought that these hearings could have a palliative effect. We also released the Surdna-funded report that shown that contractors of color and women contractors have lost one billion dollars a year since 1996, the year Prop 209 was passed. Our report was issued on February 24 at an information hearing by the Calif. Assembly Judiciary Committee. Eva secured a grant from the Surdna Foundation allowing us to hire researcher Tim Lohrentz to collect data and write a report on the impact of Prop. 209 on MWBEs. The data collected indicates that one billion in contracts dollars (in today’s value) has been lost annually by MWBEs because of Prop. 209.

State of Texas v. The Inclusive Communities Project Amicus Brief – EJS collaborated with Mona Tawatao, Bill Kennedy of LSNC, Rachel Godsil of the Perception Institute, and Wilson Sonsini on an amicus brief in the case of State of Texas v. The Inclusive Communities Project. The Inclusive Communities Project (ICP) case was brought by a non-profit that assists low-income, predominately African American families eligible for the Dallas Housing Authority’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program in finding affordable housing in predominately white suburban neighborhoods. For several decades, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) awarded many millions of dollars to private developers to build affordable apartments through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. The ICP challenged the TDHCA’s practice of giving the developers tax credits when they largely concentrated the affordable housing units in in low-income Black neighborhoods in South Dallas, instead of in white neighborhoods and/or neighborhoods with no subsidized housing. In an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court upheld disparate impact as a means to prove race discrimination in housing and recognized that “disparate impact liability under the [Fair Housing Act] also . . . permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus as disparate treatment.” This was the first reference to unconscious or implicit bias in any Supreme Court majority opinion, to EJS’s knowledge. Justice Kennedy was exposed to these concepts at an implicit bias training with participation from EJS.

Settlement with Antioch Schools Results in Groundbreaking Collaboration to Address Civil Rights Violations – EJS, the East County Branch of the NAACP, DREDF, and the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) achieved a settlement in March with Antioch Unified School District (California) resulting in what we thought at the time to be a groundbreaking effort to identify the causes of disparities in school discipline by examining the subtle, complex, and often unintentional ways in which race, disability and discipline intersect. The District promised to hire nationally recognized experts to conduct a wide-ranging review of the district’s disciplinary practices and special education services with particular attention to identifying implicit biases, stereotype threats, racial anxiety and other unconscious phenomena that could produce disparities. The agreement responded to complaints of violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 brought on behalf of the organizations. Unfortunately, the District later reneged on the agreement and EJS and our partners are to this day continuing to hold the District accountable.

EJS Pulls Student Out of School-to-Prison Pipeline – In a rare exception to our policy against representing individuals, EJS intervened in a case where a Bakersfield student was tasered twice, handcuffed, and sent to juvenile hall. Despite have a dean’s note to excuse his tardiness to class, the teacher refused to mark the student as present. In addition to having a dean’s note excusing his lateness, the student was also late because he suffers from anxiety issues, and his mother instructed him to take a few minutes when necessary to collect himself before returning to class. The student became upset and the teacher asked him to leave the class, which the student refused to do. Instead of working through the situation, the teacher called a school police officer, who proceeded to taser the student twice, and handcuff him. The student was sent to juvenile hall and was on track to be suspended. EJS’s Chris Bridges intervened in this process and at a “504” meeting on May 8 and was able get the school to agree to accommodations that would ensure the students had his academic needs met and reducing his time on campus where he generally feels unsafe. We also worked out a “safe space” location where the student can go when he is feeling anxious. The Bakersfield High School Principal also completed an independent investigation and the student’s suspension and recommendation for expulsion would be dismissed and wiped from his school record.

Fisher v. UT Austin Amicus Brief – EJS, along with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and the Haas Institute for A Fair and Inclusive Society, filed another amicus brief on Nov. 2 in the second Fisher v. UT Austin case at the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief, filed on behalf of 35 social scientists, argued that the holistic admissions policy at UT Austin was necessary and narrowly tailored, and that it must consider race to promote equal educational opportunity for all students and account for the structural barriers, pervasive residential segregation, and disparate educational opportunities for students of color in Texas. The Daily Journal published an October 2 op-ed on Fisher II by EJS President Eva Paterson, Allison, and Wilson Sonsini’s David Berger and Lisa Davis. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that UT Austin’s admissions process that considered race, among other factors, was lawful under the Equal Protection Clause.

Amicus Brief Related to Lead Poisoning of Children of Color – EJS signed onto an amicus brief along with Consumer Attorneys of California and the Prevention Institute in a case on appeal in the Sixth Appellate District in California. After fourteen years of litigation and a six week court trial, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ordered Defendants ConAgra, NL Industries, and Sherwin-Williams to pay $1.15 billion into a lead abatement fund dedicated to reducing or eliminating childhood lead exposure in ten of the largest counties and cities in the state. The groundbreaking judgment found that Defendants had created a public nuisance by manufacturing and promoting lead paint for household use despite knowledge of its dangers. The court-ordered fund provides invaluable new resources for abatement efforts throughout the state. Defendants are appealing the judgment based in part on arguments that lead paint no longer poses a significant public health threat.

Opposing HUD’s Current Formula for Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Renewal Funding – On June 16, 2015, EJS was invited to sign a letter written by CLPHA, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities. The letter is addressed to the office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and objects to HUD’s current formula for Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) renewal funding, which would result in a zero-inflation factor for the coming year. Prior to 2012, the renewal funding formula used inflation factors based on regional variations in rent and utility cost increases in different geographic regions. However, in 2012, HUD changed its methodology and set inflation factors using projections based on prior trends in national voucher costs. This new approach produced low inflation factors even when per unit costs were increasing, but after sequestration, the formula has resulted in zero increases for inflation, even in regions with rapidly increasing costs.

Police Misconduct/Pattern and Practice Litigation Against Wayward Jurisdictions – As a direct result of meetings EJS attorneys had with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, we are in conversation with Reverend Michael McBride of PICO, a faith-based organization with national reach. He was dismayed by the fact that there have been so few prosecutions at the federal level for police shootings of unarmed people. He feels that the intent standard is a deterrent to these cases being brought and won. On April 10, we met with Reverend McBride to discuss how we could work together as legal counsel and community organizers to explore litigation around police abuse of power and shootings.

AB 86: Independent Investigation of Police Shootings – EJS worked with the California Civil Rights Coalition and persuaded Assemblyman McCarty, the bill’s author, to amend and strengthen his bill. The bill was pulled at the April 21st hearing. The hearing was rescheduled for April 28th. EJS Chair Mona Tawatao and EJS Board member signed the letter urging the adoption of the amendments. EJS ally Pamela Merchant, former federal prosecutor, will testify in support of independence. This was a way for EJS to deal with our collective grief and rage at the images and reality of Black and Brown bodies lying dead as the result of police shootings. Coalition members met with Bryan Singh, primary legislative aide to Mr. McCarty. It is now unclear if any legislation will go forward that will provide truly independent investigations and prosecutions of police shootings.

Meeting with California Governor Jerry Brown – On June 3, 2015, EJS joined representatives from NAACP, Onyx, Chinese for Affirmative Action, PICO, and PolicyLink to meet with Governor Brown to discuss the very high incidence of police shootings in CA and throughout the country and to address legislation that we want him to support that would bring about an independent investigator to examine these shootings. At the meeting, we touched on the community outrage and anguish in response to these police shootings. We also discussed AB 953, a racial profiling data collection bill, and AB 86, a 2-year bill held in suspense that would provide an independent prosecutor to investigate police shootings in CA.

Mind Science Conference – EJS successfully hosted its second Mind Science Conference convening in June at the East Bay Community Foundation in Oakland. We had a total of 17 speakers, 101 registrants, and great attendance on both days. Our panelists spoke on a wide range of topics including: the impact of implicit bias in the media; the intersectionality of implicit bias and the social justice world; girls and implicit bias; trauma and implicit bias in the classroom and the “School To Prison Pipeline”; interventions/debiasing/neuroplasticity; police and lethal use of force against unarmed people of color; bias, anxiety, and inter-group relations.

Petition in Support of the ‘Black Friday 14’ – EJS developed an online petition for an effort to pressure the Alameda County DA to drop all charges against the “Black Friday 14” – the Black Lives Matter activists who shut down portions of BART service on Black Friday. The petition achieved nearly 500 signatories. After EJS President Eva Paterson intervened, DA O’Malley met with the activists. After the meeting, the DA dropped the charges on December 4. 

We welcome sponsorships to our 20th anniversary virtual celebration on September 17, 2020. The evening will include an oratorio by Marcus inspired by the courage of Harriet Tubman and by the two decades of EJS. Please contact Ginger Johnson at gjohnson@equaljusticesociety.org for more information. Thank you!