Network for Justice

In the late 1940s and 1950s, African Americans launched a campaign that would transform civil rights in America. At the core of this effort was Howard University School of Law, which played a seminal part in training the lawyers who would lead the movement, developing strategies for a civil rights campaign in the courts, and monitoring the progress that was being made. Howard was able to play this role in the quest for equality because it attracted the best and the brightest black youth and scholars from around the country. Today, as our nation confronts levels of inequality unprecedented since the Gilded Age, we find ourselves at the precipice of a new civil rights moment. Yet, as we experience a new era of civil rights, there are few spaces that cultivate this type of legal and legislative leadership. The lack of any law school that can play this role is a special burden for the emerging Latino population, which is projected to account for nearly one out of three people in America by 2050.

Our Vision. We propose a vision for a network that will help to remedy this institutional gap. Today we have resources that did not exist in the mid-twentieth century. As a result of the rise of the clinical education movement, there are now appellate advocacy and public policy clinics at many law schools around the country. Some focus on U.S. Supreme Court litigation, others on cases before the federal appeals courts, and still others on state appeals. Policy clinics tackle the challenge of drafting or commenting on reform legislation. At present, these clinics generally pursue their work independently of one another without significant or sustained collaboration. However, we now have the technology to link them effectively. We believe that if properly coordinated, these programs could provide a vital network of resources for the Latino community to address the legal challenges that it faces. Although the support would not be housed at a single institution, the network would allow us to create a kind of “virtual Howard.” Indeed, this network could have distinct advantages in addressing the unique needs of the Latino population. Because clinics exist around the country, the network would be able to address regional and local challenges as well as national concerns, and it could do so at the state and federal level in both courts and legislatures.

The recent case of Evenwel v. Abbott is instructive in thinking about how a network like this one could enhance law and policy related to the Latino community. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case to determine whether the principle of basing apportionment on “one person, one vote” should instead be changed to “one eligible voting-age citizen, one vote.” This shift would have profound consequences for many communities and would negatively affect the Latino population in particular, which is more likely to include non-citizens, youth under the minimum voting age, and felons ineligible to vote. The level of representation for Latino communities would shrink dramatically just as the total population grows substantially. As of October 27, 2015, 39 amicus briefs have been filed, six of which address whether to grant certiorari and 33 of which address the argument on the merits. Only a few are from law school centers or professors, and only one of these addresses the impact on historically disadvantaged groups, including Latinos. None involve a Supreme Court clinic representing a concerned Latino constituency.

We have begun to look at recent decisions of importance to the Latino community in lower courts as well. So far, we have found a similar pattern: appellate clinics have not been representing clients or amici in cases about important issues like immigration, education, workers’ rights, and voter participation. Legislative clinics are smaller in number and newer to the clinical world, and we want to explore whether they are addressing policies of concern to Latinos in their courses.

Though these results with respect to clinical representation of the Latino community are disappointing, there is a way to change this picture. Imagine how different the landscape of advocacy might be with a network of law school clinics committed to addressing legal matters affecting Latinos. The network would alert clinics to these matters, determine which clinics in partnership with civil rights lawyers planned to file briefs or participate in legislative hearings, which clients the clinics would be representing, and what the briefs or legislative recommendations would cover. The clinics could share their materials with one another to see what approaches have been taken and how they could complement one another’s efforts.

Because the network would forge relationships among the clinics and national, regional, and local organizations working on issues affecting Latinos, those organizations could easily turn to the clinics to get advice about a case or proposed legislation and whether to get involved. Courts and legislatures in turn would benefit from broader input from a range of constituencies with an interest in the case or legislation. Last but certainly not least, students would have an invaluable opportunity to work on the briefs or legislative recommendations and to develop leadership skills that should serve them well in practice, whether as attorneys at public interest organizations, in government, or at law firms with a pro bono practice.

Our Goals. By creating this network, we seek to advance the following goals:

  1. Improving the representation of organizations and individuals concerned with Latino-related issues. There has been widespread recognition of a gap in access to justice in America. Because of disparities in characteristics such as education, income, wealth, citizenship status, and language proficiency, Latinos are likely to find it difficult to obtain legal representation. By creating a network of law school clinics around the country that build ongoing relationships with organizations that advocate on behalf of Latinos, we anticipate that these interests will be more systematically represented in critically important litigation and legislative hearings.
  2. Building a network of support among law school clinics. At present, there is relatively little coordination among law school clinics that are working on Latino-related issues. Our network would allow clinics to share information about cases or legislation, develop new strategies, and think about long-term trends and their implications for law and policy in this area. This collaboration among clinicians should result in enhanced representation of clients as well as a richer educational experience for students.
  1. Creating better connections among law schools, the practicing bar, and the Latino community. Latino attorneys remain severely underrepresented in all sectors of the profession. For that reason, the Latino population may have little contact—formal or informal—with attorneys and little in the way of lasting connections that build the trust needed for the highest quality of representation and advocacy. Our network would be designed to forge long-term relationships among law school clinics, organizations focusing on Latino-related issues, and law firms that offer support to these clinics. Those connections should produce more sustained and meaningful attention to Latino concerns than can come from episodic representation in an occasional case.
  1. Cultivating the next generation of leadership. The partnerships that are forged among clinics and the practicing bar should help to create a pipeline of lawyers who are familiar with and prepared to address the legal issues facing the Latino community. In the long run, this training can help to mitigate the serious access to justice gap for Latinos. Students who participate in a law school clinic that is committed to addressing Latino concerns will be aware of the organizations that are advocating in this area, the legal trends that are emerging, and the strategies that are being brought to bear to address the need for reform. When these students graduate, they should have the knowledge, skills, and inclination to advance the representation of Latinos’ interests through a public interest, government, or pro bono practice.

On November 7, 2016, we held our Network for Justice Planning summit at UCLA. As part of this summit, Project Manager Dr. Pilar Margarita Hernández Escontrías prepared a demographic profile on Latinxs in California, which can be viewed here.