Equal Justice Society’s 10th Anniversary

A Message from EJS Co-Founder and President Eva Paterson

In the 1970s, we could bring civil rights cases in the federal courts and win, making the lives of your clients more promising. The radical Right realized that tremendous gains were being made and set about systematically transforming the federal courts and then federal law to make justice much more difficult to find.

At the same time, the Right wing started developing messages and other strategies that encouraged people to act against their own interests. By 1989, the political and legal landscape was radically altered. The federal bench began to be populated by conservative jurists who were often hostile to the aspirations of women, people of color, poor people, and gays and lesbians. The Department of Justice used its intellectual heft to push legal doctrines that had the practical effect of locking the courthouse doors to all but the very powerful.

It was clear that the progressive community was splintered, often working in issue area silos devoid of contact with sister organizations. One analyst called this phenomenon “sitting at separate tables” or “bowling alone.”

During the summer of 2000, a group of lawyers, professors and legal workers met in San Francisco at the home of Professor Stephanie Wildman. We decided that we wanted to start an organization that would effectively fight to advance the rights of the under-represented. We would take on reactionary jurisprudence. We would also make sure that legal scholarship was used in the service of social justice.

We eventually named this group, the Equal Justice Society. And over the past ten years, EJS has developed into a formidable institution. We have formed strategic alliances with law professors, social scientists, Hollywood writers, law students, government officials, labor unions, and many others. We have grown from one attorney housed at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to 10 people who work daily for a “more perfect union” and world.

We are so excited that we are still standing. Many scoffed at our viability. Many thought we added nothing of value to the social justice mix. We are now seen as a vital part of the larger civil rights community. Allies from Hawai’i to Massachusetts work with us on a variety of issues. In the era of “the Great Recession,” we added two new staff members and moved to wonderful new offices. This is said not with false pride but rather with a sense of wonder, amazement, and gratitude. It is also a reminder that dreams can come true.

We are now poised to tackle our biggest challenge, namely overturning the “intent doctrine” as enunciated in Washington v Davis and McCleskey v Kemp. We’ve learned much about how bias and bigotry work through our exploration of the concept unconscious bias or implicit association.

We’ve worked with the best legal minds in the country. We’ve talked with federal judges about scholarship and jurisprudence.

We have worked on figuring out how to develop messages that move uncommitted people to support our positions on various issues. We have litigated in New Orleans and California. We have worked with musicians and dancers to engage our allies on a spiritual and visceral level. We have met with Senators and Members of Congress and other elected officials.

We now stand poised to enter our second decade. We look forward to working with you.