On the heels of a tumultuous year, 2021 brought its own set of changes, challenges, and triumphs. In a year that began with a violent insurrection at our nation’s capital, LDF remained undeterred in the fight to protect our democracy in the face of unprecedented attacks. The events of January 6 were a devastating reminder that our democracy remains on a razor’s edge. And a reminder of our obligation to protect it, and the vigor with which we must fight.
As states across the country passed voter suppression laws targeting voters of color, LDF swiftly filed lawsuits challenging these attempts to disenfranchise and suppress the voices of communities of color. Though 2021 is the first redistricting cycle without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, LDF has remained steadfast in the fight for fair maps. We championed protestors’ rights and challenged qualified immunity. We continued our decades-long battle to desegregate schools and achieve educational equity. In the face of clear and coordinated attacks against truth and efforts to restrict or ban the truthful teaching of American history, LDF is fighting back.
LDF’s mission has always been transformative: to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society. As we look toward the challenges and opportunities of 2022, we are taking a moment to reflect on the past year, the battles we’ve fought, those we’ve won, and what it means for our collective future.
Florida’s response to the millions of people who took to streets to demand police accountability was to pass a law that criminalizes protest, and gives police greater authority to make arrests and use violence against demonstrators. LDF is challenging H.B. 1, Florida’s anti-protest law that criminalizes protest, alleging that H.B. 1 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by chilling protected speech and criminalizing protest activity. In September, a judge granted LDF and civil rights groups’ request to block Governor DeSantis and three Florida Sheriffs from enforcing the riot definition created by Section 15 of the law.
In July 2018, Joseph Ferguson was tased by Officer McDonough of the Kenosha Police Department. Prior to the tasing, Mr. Ferguson had not actively resisted but Officer McDonough used enough force that Mr. Ferguson’s jacket came off and his pants fell to the ground. He was tased while standing in the street with his hands up wearing only his boxers. Mr. Ferguson filed a lawsuit alleging his civil rights were violated. Officer McDonough claimed qualified immunity as a defense, but in a September 2021 decision, the court allowed his case to proceed and dismissed the officer’s appeal and qualified immunity defense.
In December 2017, Eric Tyler Vette was punched, hit in the face with a dog chain, and bitten by a police dog after he was apprehended by Montrose County, Colorado police. After Mr. Vette filed a complaint against the officers, Sergeant Sanders filed his own affidavit and claimed qualified immunity. The district court denied Sergeant Sanders claim to qualified immunity twice, stating that his actions were a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. LDF and Rights Behind Bars represent Mr. Vette.
In September 2021, LDF filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 1, a new Texas law that greatly restricts access to voting. S.B. 1 includes several suppressive voting provisions that will make it much harder for Texans to vote and disenfranchise some altogether, particularly Black and Latino voters and voters with disabilities.
On the last day of early voting in Alamance County, North Carolina, marchers and prospective voters walking from a church to a nearby polling site—among them young children, elderly individuals, and those with disabilities— were pepper-sprayed without warning or provocation by police. Some prospective voters were unable to register to vote by the 3 p.m deadline. In November 2020, LDF and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against the City of Graham and Alamance County challenging this unwarranted use of force and intimidation of prospective voters Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 1985(3) of the KKK Act, and the 1st and 4th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. In June 2021, LDF and co-counsel reached a settlement in the case.
Filed in November 2021, the lawsuits charge that the newly drawn congressional redistricting map denies Black residents equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of choice, and that both the congressional and state legislative maps result from racial gerrymanders that intentionally pack and crack Black communities in the state, which denies such communities equal protection of the laws.
Filed in August 2020, NAACP v. USPS challenged USPS delivery delays and inadequate measures to ensure timely delivery of mail-in ballots for the November 2020 election. Our suit resulted in USPS implementing court-ordered “extraordinary measures” for the timely delivery of ballots. On December 17 2021, LDF and Public Citizen announced a settlement in the historic case. The settlement ensures that it will undertake similar efforts to prioritize the delivery of ballots in future national elections.
Thomas v. St. Martin Parish School Board is a Louisiana school desegregation case dating back to 1965. The School Board asked to dismiss the case multiple times. At trial in March 2021, LDF urged the court to uphold the consent decrees and school desegregation plan to close racial disparities in academic achievement, remedy the effects of segregation in schools, and end discriminatory disciplinary practices. In June 2021, the court ruled in LDF’s favor and ordered the school board to continue its desegregation efforts. The decision confirmed that the school board had failed to meet the requirements set in the 2016 consent order.
LDF represents DeAndre and K.B. Arnold in a lawsuit challenging the BHISD’s discriminatory hair and grooming policies. After refusing to cut their locs, both students were effectively expelled from the school they had attended their whole lives. In March 2021, LDF filed an amended complaint arguing that, not only did BHISD selectively enforce its discriminatory hair policy to target Black students with uncut locs, but, when the discrimination made the local news, BHISD ramped up enforcement of the hair policy against other students in an apparent attempt to conceal the selective enforcement.
Since our founding, LDF has worked to increase fairness and equal opportunity for Black Americans in all aspects of the economy. In 2021, we filed an amicus brief in a landmark employment discrimination case standing up for the rights of Black workers and urging the court to address discrimination in the labor movement. First filed in 1971, the case alleges that Local 580 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by excluding Black workers from the union and failing to refer them to employment opportunities.
This case concerns New York City’s Third Party Transfer (TPT) Program and its devastating impact on homeowners of color. TPT has been used to unjustly seize homes from older homeowners, primarily in communities of color, without paying the homeowners the surplus equity of their homes. In December 2021, LDF filed its second amicus brief in the case, alleging that the TPT Program violates the Takings Clause of the U.S. and New York State Constitutions by unlawfully stripping older homeowners of color of wealth and equity without just compensation. The brief also argues that plaintiffs have adequately alleged that the program deprives communities of color of their constitutional right to equal protection.
After then President Trump issued Executive Order Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping that prohibited speech and activities promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, LDF swiftly filed a lawsuit challenging the order as a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of Free Speech and the Fifth Amendment guarantees of Due Process and the Equal Protection of the Law. In January 2021, LDF filed an amended complaint adding American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity (AAAED) as a plaintiff, and naming several federal agencies as defendants. Though it was rescinded by the Biden Administration, the EO had already had a chilling effect. The EO became the blueprint for states to craft their own anti-truth laws that could ban the truthful teaching of American history in schools and quell efforts to promote diversity, and equity.
The impact of hair discrimination cannot be overstated. Schools and workplaces across the country often have dress codes and grooming policies in place prohibiting natural hairstyles, like afros, braids, bantu knots, and locs. These policies that criminalize natural hair have been used to justify the removal of Black children from classrooms, and adults from their employment.
The CROWN Act would change that. The legislation establishes protection against race-based hair discrimination in the workplace and public and charter schools.
This year, in advance of CROWN Day, LDF compiled a list of Natural Hair Discrimination FAQs and cases to learn more about Black hair, how natural hair discrimination perpetuates systemic racism, and how you can help fight back against natural hair discrimination.
LDF honored the legacy of Constance Baker Motley in a September 14, 2021 event — the 100th anniversary of her birth. The commemoration included remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, son Joel Motley, and a panel featuring Harvard University Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin, historian and professor Martha S. Jones, JD, PhD, and Estée Lauder Vice Chairman Sara Moss.
LDF’s first female attorney, Constance Baker Motley wrote the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education and pioneered the legal campaigns for several seminal school desegregation cases. She was the first Black woman to argue before the Supreme Court and went on to win nine out of ten cases. Motley became the first Black woman to serve in the New York State Senate and the first woman to serve as Manhattan Borough President. She later became the first Black woman to sit as a federal judge.
This year, LDF launched our groundbreaking Marshall-Motley Scholars Program named after Constance Baker Motley and LDF founder Thurgood Marshall. The MMSP supports and develops the next wave of civil rights lawyers in the South, where the majority of Black Americans live. Over the next five years, LDF will invest in the establishment of a corps of 50 civil rights attorneys equipped and prepared to advocate on behalf of Black communities in the South seeking racial justice and equity.
In May 2021, LDF announced the first 10 person cohort of the MMSP. The inaugural cohort is a stellar collection of individuals committed to racial justice and equality. Each of the 10 Scholars is either from the South or was raised in the region.
At this moment, more than at any time in my lifetime, more Americans understand what it means to fight for democracy, understand that democracy doesn’t just come in a box and you open it up and you stand it up and it stays that way forever, but that it’s actual work.
People ask me all the time, what can we do to help? And that makes me incredibly hopeful, because not only does that mean that there are people who are prepared to fight, but they are not fighting to return to where we were. They are fighting for something fresh, and new and better, and thats what I’ve been fighting for in my career.