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Timna Axel posted a blog on Feb 13, 2017

The Interview Show at Lagunitas Brewery - Featuring The Voting Rights Project

Voting -- the right to do it, easy access to the polls -- seems     like a no-brainer to us. We don't get people who don't vote. And we don't get why it's made difficult for many people who do want to vote. These seem like things people of all political persuasions can agree on. But there's a lot of work to be done to ensure voters rights.

We're doing a special show at Lagunitas, in Chicago, to raise some money and awareness about the Voting Rights Project of Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

                                               Purchase Tickets HERE!

Timna Axel posted a blog on Nov 8, 2016

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Encourages Voters to Share Their Stories and Questions on Election Day Toll-Free Nonpartisan Hotline

November 8, 2016

 Contact:         Timna Axel, Communications Associate

                       Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

                       taxel@clccrul.org | 312-888-4194
Chicago – As Illinois poll places open their doors for today’s general election, some experts are predicting a record breaking surge in voter turnout – and potentially a surge in problems as well.
The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLC) is partnering with the national nonpartisan voter protection coalition, Election Protection, to protect the right of every citizen to vote. More than 300 legal volunteers have been trained to monitor polling places in Chicago and the surrounding counties, and to staff the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline.
Throughout the day, the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline will be open to all voters, election officials, and poll watchers who need assistance addressing questions about Election Day Registration, provisional ballots, improper requests for ID, and other issues. CLC encourages all voters to call the hotline to report any incidents of overcrowding and long lines, voter intimidation, and deceptive practices, so these issues can be tracked and addressed with election officials.
In addition, the United States Justice Department has announced that its Civil Rights Division will monitor compliance with federal voting laws, including in Chicago and Cook County. Complaints related to disruption at a polling place should be reported immediately to local election officials, including officials in the polling place. Complaints related to violence, threats of violence or intimidation at a polling place should be reported immediately to local police authorities by calling 911. 
Ami Gandhi, Director of Voting Rights and Civic Empowerment, is closely monitoring today’s events.
“The 866-OUR-VOTE hotline is open and our trained volunteers are answering calls. We want voters to feel comfortable sharing their stories and questions with us, regardless of which party they vote for. Together, we can ensure that every eligible person is able to cast a ballot today.”
Bilingual hotlines are also open today for Spanish speakers (888-VE-Y-VOTA) and in Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog, Korean, and Vietnamese (888-API-VOTE). Information about Election Day Registration and other Election Day resources can be found at http://www.votingrightsillinois.org/election-protection.
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Media Note:  For media interviews or Election Day observations, please contact Ami Gandhi at agandhi@clccrul.org or 773.251.1010. Election Protection spokespersons are also available; please contact Staci Burgess at sburgess@lawyerscommittee.org or 202.662.8317 to coordinate.
Clara Kent posted a blog on May 20, 2016

City of Chicago Releases Important Fair Housing Study and Action Plan

The City of Chicago has taken an important step addressing racial and ethnic segregation and other housing discrimination in releasing its Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, including recommended actions. The federal Fair Housing Act requires that government recipients of federal housing and urban development funds do more than not discriminate; they must affirmatively further fair housing. This means they must analyze their areas and develop and implement plans to address housing discrimination. We are pleased that the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee advocacy efforts has resulted in the City producing this comprehensive analysis and plan.  The report is here:http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cchr/AdjSupportingInfo/AdjFORMS/2016%20Adjudication%20Forms/2016AItoFairHousing.pdf

 
The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee agrees with many recommendations, including that the City amend its fair housing ordinance to hold media outlets liable for allowing discriminatory housing advertisements and that the Chicago Housing Authority expand its Housing Choice Voucher mobility program and implement comparable efforts citywide to increase integration.  It urges the City to increase Chicago Commission on Human Relations staff to prevent and respond to housing discrimination. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee letter is here.
Clara Kent posted a blog on Feb 16, 2016

Black History Month Spotlight: Claudette Colvin

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Most Americans have grown up familiar with the name and story of Rosa Parks, but she was not the first African American woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus. 15 year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 2, 1955.

Colvin was a hardworking student in one of Montgomery’s poorer neighborhoods, earning mostly A’s, and one day as she was riding home from school on a city bus  she refused to give up her seat, saying, “It is my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fair, it’s my constitutional right.”[1] Colvin later told Newsweek, “I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing me down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other- saying, ‘Sit down girl!’ I was glued to my seat.”

If Colvin stood up for her rights in the same way as Rosa Parks, and nine months before, then why haven’t we heard about her? At the time, the NAACP and other organizations, felt Rosa Parks, who was the secretary of the NAACP, made a better icon for the movement than a teenager. As she was known and respected, they felt middle class America would be more attracted to supporting her and the cause.

After arrested, Colvin pled not guilty but was convicted and given probation. Colvin later became one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gale, the case which successfully overturned bus segregation laws in Alabama.

Claudette Colvin’s story has recently been told in Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, being honored as the 2009 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and a 2010 Newberry Honor Book.



[1] Claudette Colvin Biography, http://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378#background-forerunner-to-rosa-parks

Clara Kent posted a blog on Feb 10, 2016

Voting Rights Success for Minority Representation

Less than a year after releasing The Color of Representation (a comprehensive review of minority representation in Illinois), the Voting Rights Project (VRP) has had its first success in improving local minority representation in Greater Chicago.  On Tuesday night, February 9, the Blue Island City Council voted to adopt a new redistricting plan that includes three majority black wards and one majority Latino ward (out of a total of seven wards).  This is an increase of one Latino and one black majority ward, and means that people of color will be able to elect their candidates of choice to a majority of the City Council in the coming years.

The vote to adopt a new plan came after months of public hearings that were instituted in response to a pre-litigation letter sent by the VRP with the expert assistance of Jeff Cummings and Judd Miner of Miner, Barnhill & Galland and Jorge Sanchez of MALDEF.  The VRP worked with local activists from CASA Blue Island and the NAACP Far South Suburban Branch to bring dozens of community members to hearings to testify about what they want their community's democracy to look like.  The work does not end here though.  The VRP is continuing to help to build the power in under-represented, minority and low-income communities, starting February 10, by teaching Rock the Vote's Democracy Class to seniors at Eisenhower High School, where hundreds of 17 and 18 year olds are expected to register to vote for the first time in 2016.

If you would like to sign up to offer pro bono legal assistance on cases to improve minority representation, please email Ruth Greenwood at rgreenwood@clccrul.org.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Feb 4, 2016

“Jobless and Out of School”-CLCCRUL’s Educational Equity Project Fights for the Rights of Students

 By Candace Moore and Jessica Schneider, EEP Staff Attorneys 

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“My friend would be alive today if he had a job.”

Those are the haunting words of a young woman at a community hearing quoted in a recent report by the Great Cities Institute at UIC. The recently released report entitled, “Lost: The Crisis of Jobless and Out of School Teens and Young Adults in Chicago, Illinois and the U.S.,” provides data and anecdotal evidence of young people in Chicago and throughout the state who are unemployed and/or out of school. For 20 to 24-year olds in Chicago, joblessness in 2014 was as follows: 54 percent for Blacks, 37 percent for Hispanic or Latinos, and 27 percent for Whites. Young Black people in Chicago who are both out of work and out of school had the highest percentage, with Black 16 to 19 year olds at 14.3 percent and Black 20 to 24 year olds at 41 percent. These Chicago percentages are higher than New York City, Los Angeles, the State of Illinois, and the U.S as a whole.

The report confirms that low rates of employment are concentrated geographically in neighborhoods that are racially segregated. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (CLC) is focused on the underlying problems highlighted by this report, particularly barriers in education. Youth employment rates are tied to conditions of inequity and discrimination in neighborhoods and cannot be seen as a distinct problem. The unemployment rate perpetuates a cycle of poverty that creates devastating effects on Chicago’s neighborhoods and the city as whole.

At the core of the Educational Equity Project’s (EEP) fight to keep students in school is the belief that opportunities in school open doors for the type of employment that is necessary to breakdown conditions of poverty. However, an increasing number of students in Chicago and across Illinois are subject to “school push out,” a combination of policies and practices that remove students from the school setting with little or no educational services. Most of these policies and practices focus on using suspension and expulsion as primary disciplinary measures, which forces students out of school. In Illinois and Chicago, our Black, low-income, and disabled students are the most at risk. As students are pushed out of school, they fall prey to the School to Prison Pipeline, which abandons educating young people and leaves them vulnerable to the criminal justice system. This pipeline is driven by harsh, biased, and exclusionary discipline policies and practices; lack of supportive community resources; and an inability to access the private resources that many higher income families can to avoid such negative effects.

Students who are out of school for a long period of time are less likely to graduate. In fact, just one out-of-school suspension has been shown to increase the chances that a student drops out of high school. At-risk students are also disproportionately arrested at school for the same offenses committed by their peers in more affluent communities creating a direct pipeline to the juvenile justice system that feeds off students of color who live in the most disadvantaged circumstances.  Lack of a high school diploma and past criminal records create barriers for young people to access higher education and other types of opportunities needed to secure meaningful employment. With this understanding, EEP works to combat the use of harsh, biased exclusionary discipline because, instead of improving school safety, it creates an unhealthy school climate that produces a devastating impact on the lives of young people.

The racial bias in school discipline and school push out contributes to the racial disproportionality in unemployment rates of young Black people in Chicago. In Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the country, Black students make up approximately 40% of the total district enrollment. But in the 2013-14 school year, they represented 75% of the students that received out-of-school suspensions, and 79% of the students that were expelled. This racial disproportionality and the problems illustrated in the Great Cities report, must be addressed through targeted solutions. For instance, when suspension and expulsion numbers are reduced through the use of appropriate interventions and restorative practices, but are not targeted to drive down racial disparities, the overall numbers go down but the racial disproportionality often remains. One way to begin developing targeted strategies is to understand that racial implicit bias unconsciously affects everyone, including teachers and administrators that are making disciplinary decisions. Many times, without intention, teachers and administrators interpret the behaviors of students of color, particularly Black students, to be more threatening and violent.  This leads to harsher consequences for students that are not merited by their actions. EEP strongly advocates for all school district personnel to undergo professional development that recognizes the problems of implicit bias and employs de-biasing strategies and other targeted solutions aimed at driving down inequities in school discipline.

Access to a quality education is also often determined by neighborhood, which, due to the hyper-segregation in the Chicago area, means it is also impacted by race. EEP has mapped the schools in Chicago with the highest expulsion rates and shown that the schools with highest expulsion rates are predominately charter high schools and many of those schools are located in largely Black neighborhoods on the West and South sides of the city. It is also Chicago’s Black neighborhoods that have experienced the extraordinary instability from disinvestment and massive school closures. Map 6 of the Great Cities report shows that “areas with 40.1 percent to 60.0 percent and 60.1 percent to 80.0 percent (the highest two categories) of jobless individuals were remarkably similar to the areas with the highest concentration of Black Individuals age 18 to 24 with over 90 percent Black populations.” Without investments in these communities and strategies to keep the students in school, too many young people will end up being one of these statistics.

A current example shows the “havoc” that the Great Cities report says can be created by these unemployment numbers. Chicago State University is a public university located in the Roseland neighborhood, which according to the report in 2014 had a population that was 96.9% Black. The university’s students are primarily Black and low income, and the school relies heavily on state funding. It receives about $36 million. With the lack of a state budget, the legislative standoff in Springfield, and the school receiving absolutely no state funding since July of last year, the situation has become dire. The hashtag #SaveCSU has been featured in a social media campaign to bring public awareness. If the University is forced to close its doors, many of these students will have no other meaningful 4-year college options that are affordable and accessible. The school is in a neighborhood with one of the highest jobless rates of 18 to 24-year olds at 61.6% (once again as shown in Map 6 of the Great Cities report). In light of this report, we are reminded how losing Chicago State University would only add insult to injury. We must continue to support the institutions and strategies that provide opportunities for our young people. We must invest in all Chicago’s communities and understand that the conditions of one block, one neighborhood, or one community are inextricably connected to our collective well-being. EEP continues to fight for equity in our education system, knowing that our work is always connected to the need for equity on all fronts.

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Check out the Great Cities report here: https://greatcities.uic.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/YEH2016_Report_012516.pdf

For more information and/or to get involved with the Educational Equity Project contact Jessica Schneider at jschneider@clccrul.org

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jan 27, 2016

CLCCRUL Advocates for Families Suffering from Lead Poisoning

Recent media is bringing to light an issue largely considered solved, but that continues to be a problem for clients of the Health Disparities Project (HDP). Unfortunately, many of our clients’ children are suffering from lead poisoning, particularly in low-income neighborhoods of Chicago. HDP has been working with the Health Justice Project, a Medical-Legal Partnership among Erie Family Health Center, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and LAF Chicago, to advocate for these families. While HDP provides direct legal services to families, we also advocate for systems-level improvements.

From our HDP Lead Attorney, Sarah Hess:

"Lead poisoning is at the intersection of race, poverty, and health. It has lifelong consequences for children even at very low levels. As a legal issue, it largely impacts people of color and low-income people who don't have the resources to protect themselves. Our clients don't have the resources to move, and they don't have the resources to remediate properly, so they need civil legal aid and programs like the Medical-Legal Partnership at Erie Family Health to support them in trying to keep their children safe. Change has to come for individual families, but also at the legislative and policy level. The results of inaction are children with permanent neurological damage and special education needs, who are more likely to be engaged with the criminal justice system. The consequences of doing nothing will only get worse, but the most important element of this cycle is that lead poisoning is entirely preventable."

To read more about the work of HDP and the Health Justice Project around lead poisoning in Chicago, visit: 

CHA shrugged off high lead levels in kids

Durbin urges action on lead threat to children

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jan 6, 2016

Systematic Investigation Uncovers Discrimination against People with Disabilities

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee & Open Communities Negotiate Settlement in Housing Discrimination Lawsuit against Rentology

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. (CLCCRUL) and Open Communities announced a settlement agreement that resolves a two year housing discrimination investigation of Domus Group LLC and their agent, Rentology.

In August 2013 and January 2014, CLCCRUL and Open Communities conducted reasonable accommodation fair housing tests at various Chicago area locations of the rental property management company Rentology. The tests revealed different terms and conditions, and unwillingness to accommodate requests for service animals or emotional support animals. Federal and state laws against housing discrimination require landlords to make reasonable changes to their rules to accommodate residents with disabilities, including those needing support animals to cope with their disabilities.                                                                                                                     

On January 9, 2015, CLCCRUL and Open Communities filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleging that the Domus Group LLC discriminated against people with disabilities based on their refusal to rent or grant reasonable accommodations to fair housing testers. HUD transferred the complaint to Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) who conducted its own investigation.

The agreement includes $11,000 in damages for CLCCRUL and $3,000 for Open Communities, fair housing training for staff, and a written fair housing and equal opportunity policy that will require leasing agents to comply with fair housing laws including requests for reasonable accommodations. The settlement agreement also requires the company to add a fair housing logo and the “Equal Housing Opportunity” slogan to its website.

CLCCRUL and Open Communities were represented by Linton Childs, a partner with CLCCRUL member firm, Sidley Austin LLP. CLCCRUL staff attorney Jessica Schneider and Open Communities Director of Fair Housing Neda Nozari Brisport were co-counselors. “It is imperative that housing providers make every accommodation or modification required to ensure tenants have equal access to and enjoyment of his or her housing,” said Ms. Schneider. “We are hopeful that cases like these set precedent for other property managers who truly want to provide safe, accessible and welcoming homes to all people. And Open Communities is here as a resource to provide free fair housing trainings for those interested,” said Ms. Brisport.

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The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Dec 17, 2015

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights wins crucial victory in Wisconsin voting rights case

A federal three-judge panel today unanimously rejected Attorney General Brad Schimel’s motion to dismiss a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit filed by 12 Wisconsin Democrats. The ruling in Whitford v. Nichol means this case will continue, with trial scheduled for May 2016.

Originally filed in July, the lawsuit asks that the state legislative Assembly district map be thrown out, calling the line-drawing process “secretive” and “partisan,” and the maps unconstitutional for overly advantaging one party. The lawsuit fulfills a call issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in previous cases for a standard to measure how much partisan gerrymandering is allowable, and shows how Wisconsin’s map is far outside acceptable redistricting norms.

“This decision means that the court has determined that the victims of Wisconsin’s egregious gerrymandering can win their case if we prove what we alleged in the complaint,” said lead trial attorney Peter Earle of Milwaukee. “In other words, the court has provided us with a blueprint for winning a judgment on the merits.”

“As I said when we filed this case, our rights as voters are being violated,” said retired university professor Bill Whitford, the lead plaintiff. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly indicated that partisan gerrymandering could be held unconstitutional if a workable standard could be found, and we now have a case moving forward that has a real chance to set that Constitutional standard.”

The original complaint, referring to Wisconsin’s Act 43, says, “[P]artisan gerrymandering is both unconstitutional and profoundly undemocratic. It is unconstitutional because it treats voters unequally, diluting their voting power based on their political beliefs, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, and because it unreasonably burdens their First Amendment rights of association and free speech.”

“Extreme partisan gerrymandering is also contrary to core democratic values,” continues the complaint. “In the end, a political minority is able to rule the majority and to entrench itself in power by periodically manipulating election boundaries.”

“We are hoping the victory at this stage of the case will spur litigation in other states where partisan gerrymanders exist,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Ruth Greenwood of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. “This is a nationwide problem, and this decision means we have a chance to finally get a nationwide solution.”

You can read the full opinion here

More information about the lawsuit and campaign can be found at the Wisconsin Fair Elections website at fairelectionsproject.org, or on Facebook and Twitter using @WIFairElections.

Contact: Ruth Greenwood rgreenwood@clccrul.org

Clara Kent posted a blog on Dec 3, 2015

CLCCRUL Age Discrimination Case Gains Public Attention

CLCCRUL's Employment Opportunity Project has taken on an age discrimination case in which the claimant (a 59 year-old executive) believes that a company's hiring process intentionally weeds out older applicants. The job description required that applicants have three to no more than seven years of experience, meaning anyone with more experience, and consequently older, could not apply.

An article in the Cook County record discusses the claims in the complaint and how they've survived a motion to dismiss from the defendant. Click here to read more.