The Equal Justice Society is a national legal organization focused on restoring Constitutional safeguards against discrimination. Eva Paterson and other civil rights advocates founded EJS a decade ago to reverse an imbalance in our courts, where it is now more difficult for those experiencing discrimination to receive justice, and in the hearts and minds of the public, where too many believe that discrimination no longer exists.
We aim to achieve a society where race is no longer a barrier to opportunity. We use a three-pronged approach — combining legal and policy, Grand Alliance and communication strategies — to reverse those laws and policies that erode the protections guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The 14th Amendment, enacted after the Civil War to ensure that all Americans would receive equal protection of our nation’s laws regardless of their race or ethnicity. Despite the passage of the 14th Amendment, the nation suffered almost a century of State-sponsored segregation, intentionally promoted by right-wing ideologues who value money and power over fairness and equality.
Many thought that era had ended when after decades of courageous – and often brutal – struggles for civil rights, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1954, in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education that the legal underpinnings of segregation were unconstitutional.
Yet two decades later, a more conservative court decided in Washington v. Davis that the protections against racial discrimination only applied if one could prove that it was intentional, creating what is known today as the Intent Doctrine. Today, because of the Intent Doctrine, it is no longer sufficient to prove that discrimination happened – one has to now prove that it was intentional, a legal standard absent in the international community of democratic societies.
So today, more than 140 years after the 14th Amendment was enacted, and five decades after Brown v. Board of Education, deep racial disparities persist. Equal protection jurisprudence has failed to keep pace with the way that discrimination is now practiced and experienced in contemporary American society. Three factors explain why: an assault by ideologues who promote a “colorblind” society; the doctrine of “intent,” which obstructs access to justice for victims of implicit bias and structural exclusion; and a conservative judiciary that has steadily chipped away at civil rights protections.
One of the most profound impacts of discrimination shows in our continued use of the death penalty, which continues despite overwhelming evidence that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately sentenced to die. In McCleskey v Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that without evidence of conscious, deliberate bias by law officials, evidence of racial sentencing disparities in the death penalty was, “an inevitable part of our criminal justice system.” This was despite the fact that defendants are three to four more times likely to be sentenced to die in cases where the victim is White than in cases where the victim is African American or Latino.
We do not accept the notion of discrimination as “inevitable.”
Our mission then is to:
- Help those subjected to discrimination find justice in our courts by restoring the guarantees of the 14th Amendment and ensuring that existing equal protection law provides a remedy for modern day racism and bias;
- Fight the rightward drift of the courts and beat back concerted efforts to weaken civil rights law, including attacks against the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; and
- Collaborate and join in coalition with allies to build an effective progressive movement in the state and in the country to combat inequality.
We will accomplish this by:
- Educating the legal community about modern forms of discrimination and the legal barriers that prevent remedies for bias through convenings and conferences; introducing implicit bias theories and social science research into law and legislation, joining in amicus briefs that target the intent doctrine and incorporate implicit bias research, and lending our expertise and assistance to allies as co-counsel in various discrimination cases; and directly challenging the Intent Doctrine and reclaiming the 14th Amendment by litigating cases in two areas: death penalty and the local services divide (municipal disparities).
- Disputing the “color blind” myth through communications, social media and popular culture by heightening awareness about modern day forms of discrimination and bias, which tend to be implicit and structural rather than explicit.
- Developing the Grand Alliance by strengthening the progressive infrastructure in California and around the country, amplifying and supporting social justice efforts to advance equality, such as marriage equality, immigrants’ rights, equal opportunity, economic equality, voting rights for ex-felons and the anti-death penalty movements.
Since its founding in 2000, the Equal Justice Society has become a valuable member of the social justice and civil rights communities and is proud to be a member of coalitions like The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Alliance for Justice. EJS also manages the California Civil Rights Coalition and the California Fairness coalition. For more information about EJS, visit http://equaljusticesociety.org and connect at http://facebook.com/equaljusticesociety and at http://twitter.com/equaljustice.