News & Media

Amicus Brief Filed in Virginia Driver's License Suspension Case

The Committee joined a group of 16 law professors, 18 civil rights and poverty law organizations, and the Institute for Justice to file an amicus brief urging the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the trial court’s dismissal of Stinnie v. Holcomb for jurisdictional reasons.

Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit challenging a Virginia statute that automatically suspends driver's licenses over unpaid court fines. The statute has trapped hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in debt and poverty by suspending their driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines.

Amicus brief

Jonathan Smith Condemns Racial Hatred and Violence in Charlottesville

We watched with horror and sadness the events unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Racial and anti-Semitic hatred is nothing new in this Nation. Our history is ridden with the oppression of people of color. Christopher Columbus seized Native Americans as slaves on his first voyage and the wealth of the continent was built off the backs of those brought here by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Jim Crow, mass incarceration, debtor’s prisons, segregation, Native American genocide and anti-Semitism have left unhealed wounds.

We must do the work necessary to overcome this history. Real, but halting progress has been made. It would be a dishonor to the heroes and martyrs of the civil rights movement to not recognize what they accomplished, but much more work needs to be done. We stand on their broad shoulders as we continue the struggle for justice.

The display we saw in Charlottesville, while not new, has taken on a renewed force in the last year as hate has become normalized in this political climate. This is not a debate between two competing ideas or between “many sides,” but a fight between those seeking to annihilate and oppress and those seeking equity and justice. Falsely equating them gives credence to speech and conduct that is reprehensible and unconscionable. This is not who we should be and we cannot live up to the promise of our democracy so long as hate is tolerated and encouraged.

The very presence of White Supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville harmed that community. We offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, whose life was cut far too short by an act of hate. We are keeping those injured by the violence in our thoughts and hope that the community of Charlottesville, that was harmed by the words and deeds of White Supremacists, can begin to heal.

Jonathan Smith
Executive Director

Lawyers' Committees Pen Open Letter to Charlottesville Police Department Concerning the Planned “Unite the Right” Rally

Al S. Thomas, Jr.
Chief of Police
Charlottesville Police Department

Dear Chief Thomas:

On August 12, 2017, hundreds of demonstrators from the Ku Klux Klan, the Nationalist Front, and other groups advancing racist and white supremacist messages are expected to descend on Charlottesville for a planned “Unite the Right” rally. Their presence on Saturday, like the presence of the Klan in Charlottesville on July 8, will be deeply traumatic and painful for many in the Charlottesville community. Thousands of demonstrators opposed to the messages of hate will be taking to the street in opposition to the Klan and others.

The law enforcement response to the rally on August 12 and future rallies must account for the real and significant harm the rally will inflict on Charlottesville residents, particularly communities of color. Your department must calibrate its actions to permit counter demonstrators to express their anger and emotion within the context of the Constitution.  At the most basic level, officers should be reminded about the harmful impact of hateful speech and the presence of hate groups in the community.

To read the full letter, click here.

The Committee, Public Justice Center, and the ACLU of Maryland file an Amicus Brief Regarding Important 4th Amendment Issue

The amicus brief filed in the Court of Appeals of Maryland urges the Court to reverse the Court of Special Appeals’s holding. The Court of Special Appeals found that presence in a “high crime” area and flight upon seeing police was per se reasonable suspicion to engage in a Terry stop.

In addition to its implication in criminal cases, the holding will also have an impact on potential challenges to unconstitutional stop and frisk practices. 

Read the full brief here...

Staff Spotlight: Deepa Goraya

This month, Deepa Goraya, who focuses on disability rights advocacy at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, shared what drove her to become a civil rights lawyer, and how she sees her personal experiences reflected in her current practice.


Almost 50 Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Groups Endorse the Private Prison Information Act (H.R. 1980)

WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization that has spent nearly thirty years advocating for the rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities, joined with 45 other civil rights and criminal justice groups and individuals to demand greater transparency from private prisons that contract with the federal government. 

Almost one out of every five prisoners held by the federal government, and two out of every three immigrant detainees, are housed in for-profit prisons that contract with federal agencies. Unlike government-operated facilities that are required to comply with federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, private prisons operate under a veil of secrecy.


Equal Rights Center Files Lawsuit Against Uber For Providing Services That Are Inaccessible To Wheelchair Riders

Investigation reveals higher fares and longer wait times for wheelchair users

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, the Equal Rights Center (ERC)—a national non-profit civil rights organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.—filed a lawsuit against Uber Technologies, Inc., alleging that Uber has designed and operated its transportation service in the District of Columbia in a way that effectively excludes wheelchair users from its basic “UberX” product,  and instead, directs them to the limited number of accessible DC taxi cabs through their “TAXI WAV” (wheelchair accessible vehicle) option. The lawsuit also alleges that none of the 30,000 or more vehicles operated by Uber drivers in the District is capable of transporting individuals who use wheelchairs that cannot be folded and stowed in a trunk. As a result, wheelchair users are deprived of the opportunity to ride in Uber-affiliated vehicles, and subjected to substantially longer wait times and higher fares as compared to other Uber customers.


Staff Spotlight: Catherine Cone

This month, Committee Fair Housing Staff Attorney Catherine Cone shares some details about her work, our clients, and life in DC.


John Lewis, Eric Holder Call Lawyers to Action at 2017 Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon

At the 2017 Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon, on Wednesday, June 7, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs celebrated achievements of the past year and focused attention on the civil rights, anti-poverty, and equal justice advocacy work that must be addressed in the year ahead.


Federal Prisoners Sue Over Unconstitutional Isolation Practices

HARRISBURG, PA - The DC Prisoners’ Project of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs filed a class action lawsuit today alleging that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has systematically mistreated seriously mentally ill prisoners at the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, by denying them access to the most basic mental health care in violation of the United States Constitution. Three prisoners filed the case on behalf of all mentally ill prisoners at the facility.

The lawsuit, styled McCreary v. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, seeks to compel the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to comply with its own existing policies and rules regarding the placement and treatment of men suffering from mental illness. It also seeks to define a minimum level of care and mental health treatment for those in custody that is sufficient to satisfy the prohibitions of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment.


Copyright © 2008-2017 Washington Lawyers' Committee