On July 1, 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law opened a Regional Office based in North Carolina that resulted from a merger with the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights. The Co-Managing Attorneys of the Regional Office are Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix, veteran civil rights lawyers who were the co-Directors the Chambers Center, and prior to that, were litigators at the UNC Center for Civil Rights for many years until the UNC Regents voted in 2017 to ban the UNC Center from engaging in litigation.
Guided by a mission of racial justice and commitment to community based lawyering, the Regional Office engages in impact civil rights work in conjunction with DC-based staff that cuts across the Lawyers’ Committee’s program areas.
Building on the Legacy of Julius Chamber
In 2001, Julius Levonne Chambers, the legendary civil rights lawyer and North Carolina native, founded the UNC Center for Civil Rights at UNC Law School. Through the Center, Mr. Chambers created a unique community-lawyering model to help disempowered communities. For 17 years, his Center brought staff attorneys and students together to challenge the barriers these communities faced. The new Chambers Center will continue that mission of training the next generation of civil rights lawyers.
In September 2017, following a two-year series of attacks on the Center’s legacy, the UNC Board of Governors voted to ban the Center from engaging in advocacy or acting as legal counsel to any third party. Subsequently, the University of North Carolina terminated Haddix and Dorosin and discontinued the critical litigation mission of the Center.
The two attorneys created the Julius Chambers Center for Civil Rights to continue the litigation and advocacy that was so vital to the UNC Center’s success.
We have taken all 14 cases that the Center was already pursuing, and we’re now looking at a new set of potential cases that were put on hold while the Center was under investigation. As an independent organization, we can fulfill the vision that led Julius Chambers to found the UNC Center and work with the excluded communities he sought to serve.
The fight to bring racial justice to the forefront of environmental protections continues. This morning, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN) and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP (NC NAACP) filed a motion to intervene in an administrative proceeding between the North Carolina Farm Bureau and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding DEQ’s 2019 Swine General Permit. NCEJN and NC NAACP argue that DEQ acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and failed to follow state and federal law, by refusing to include any measures in the permit to protect communities of color from the disproportionate harms they suffer from industrial hog facilities allowed to operate under the General Permit.
In 2014, NCEJN and others filed a Title VI civil rights complaint with the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after DEQ renewed the state swine permit without anti-discriminatory protections. People of color are disproportionately burdened by the waste of the hog industry, and particularly by the outdated lagoon-and-sprayfield system of disposal. In early 2017, the EPA warned DEQ of its “deep concern about the possibility that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been subjected to discrimination as the result of NC DEQ’s operation of the Swine Waste General Permit program.”
Despite this warning, when the new Swine General Permit was issued in April, it did not contain any of the anti-discriminatory protections which communities have asked for throughout the Title VI complaint process, as well as during public comment periods for the draft permit. Still, the Farm Bureau, which also participated in the public comment period, attacked DEQ for its participation in the Title VI process, calling the permit “tainted” by the input of affected communities.
The Swine General Permit, currently scheduled to go into effect on October 1, is woefully inadequate in actually delivering anti-discriminatory outcomes. “The process DEQ followed was fine,” said Ayo Wilson, NCEJN’s Co-Director, “but the agency’s refusal to comply with its obligations under state and federal anti-discrimination law is unacceptable.”
“North Carolinians have already waited almost two decades for DEQ to do something about the fact that industrial swine facilities burden our communities of color twice as much as they do white residents,” said Dr. Anthony Spearman, the NC-NAACP’s president. “We aren’t waiting any longer.”
On Juneteenth, 2019, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Waterkeeper Alliance and Winyah Rivers Alliance filed suit in Wake County Superior Court challenging amendments to NC’s so-called “Right to Farm Act” which the General Assembly passed over the Governor’s veto in 2017 and 2018.
Devon Hall, REACH’s co-founder and Program Manager, lives near more than two dozen industrial hog operations. “This is my family’s homeplace,” Mr. Hall said. “Although I am not a plaintiff in the ongoing nuisance case, I believe that the North Carolina General Assembly overstepped its constitutional grounds to block me or anyone else from seeking justice in court from anyone that has caused unreasonable harm to a neighbor.” Mr. Hall adds, “How is it that the state can take away my community’s ability to protect our homes and health in this way? How can that be right?”