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Challenges and Opportunities

December 2, 2010

As the year draws to a close, our mission of promoting racial equality and equal opportunity in our nation is paradoxically both threatened and strengthened on many fronts in an ever evolving and changing political and economic climate.

We have witnessed a tremendous reversal in much of the economic progress for racial minorities for which the civil rights movement has fought so hard.  The economic downturn has been devastating for African Americans and Latinos with a double whammy of high unemployment and crippling home foreclosures, particularly those resulting from racially targeted predatory lending and loan modification scams. Unemployment is at an all time debilitating high of 16.2 percent for African Americans and 13.2 percent for Latinos versus 8.9 percent for Whites.  African American youth unemployment is at a staggering 25 percent.  It is clear that racial discrimination also is a key factor in these disparities, especially when unemployment for White and Black college graduates is considered.  These debilitating unemployment numbers for Blacks and Latinos, coupled with widespread foreclosures in minority communities, have led to a critical decrease of Black and Latino incomes and wealth, widening the already significant gulf with that of Whites.  Consequently, the numbers of Blacks and Latinos in poverty have risen tremendously: for Blacks from 22.5 percent in 2000 to 25.8 percent in 2009; Latinos 21.5 percent  in 2000 to 25.3 percent in 2009; and Whites from 7.4 percent in 2000 to 9.4 percent in 2009.   Reversal of these trends requires targeted governmental action. 

Yet the takeover in the mid-term elections of the US House of Representatives and many state legislatures by conservative majorities that are less supportive of our civil rights mission and agenda presents us with significant new challenges.  This incoming Congress will have on its calendar crucial legislation including the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act.  Also, because of the federal budget deficit, many of the federal programs constituting the social safety net which have supported the socially disadvantaged are being threatened with severe cuts even as the number of persons in poverty, especially those who are racial minorities, has risen at a disturbingly high rate. 

Additionally, several key civil rights executive positions have yet to be confirmed, most notably the Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.  Judicial vacancies are also at an all-time high, as partisan feuding in the Senate prevents confirmations.  There is also the possibility of a Supreme Court vacancy in 2011, which will undoubtedly involve a contentious confirmation battle.  Our advocacy in the area of executive appointments for civil rights vacancies and for judicial confirmations will be central to the success of our work in 2011 and beyond.

In the last year, we have had great litigation successes in our voting rights and fair housing agenda.  We have filed and are filing new significant class action lawsuits in the areas of employment discrimination and education.  And we are pursuing major new transactional matters in the Gulf Coast through our Community Development Project.   Our Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network, after more than 7,000 recorded complaints, is about to enter a new phase by filing cases against some of the more egregious scammers.  In addition, our Election Protection program will be gearing up for 2012.   Education reform will continue to be an area in which the Lawyers’ Committee will strengthen and expand its programming.  With a grant from Qualcomm, Inc., we have launched our first Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program in San Diego. 

Active engagement in redistricting will be of critical importance to the Lawyers’ Committee’s 2011 substantive agenda.  With all Congressional seats, state legislative districts, county commissioners, school boards and other governance bodies being up for redistricting, the Lawyers’ Committee will play a seminal role in ensuring that racial minorities are not subjected to gerrymandering and vote dilution practices.

Importantly, we recognize that the Lawyers’ Committee must exercise leadership within the civil rights community.  We are already leaders of the Election Protection Coalition and the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network.  We will be working with the American Constitution Society, the NAACP LDF, MALDEF, the Leadership Conference and other civil rights organizations to hold a convening in early 2011 to explore the new challenges presented by the change in Congress and other developments to devise better and stronger coordination as we move forward. 

In summary, the Lawyers’ Committee continues to be a civil rights legal organization of impact and influence when strong leadership, constructive action and resonating voices on racial justice are critically needed. 

Best,

Barbara R. Arnwine
Executive Director

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