Monday, November 17, 2014

Unfinished Business: The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education | The Center for Professional Responsibility

Unfinished Business: The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education | The Center for Professional Responsibility:

By William C. Hubbard
William C. Hubbard is the President of the American Bar Association. Mr. Hubbard is a partner with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP in Columbia, South Carolina.
This article is adapted from remarks to staff at ABA headquarters, Chicago, at an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In December 1953, a taxi carried Thurgood Marshall from the Wardman Park Hotel to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue his biggest case, Brown vs. Board of Education. Marshall turned to his co-counsel William T. Coleman and said, “I have to be at my best today.”
Marshall said he was going to have to be as good as Henry V at Agincourt, where the young king led his vastly outnumbered forces to victory over the French. The two lawyers knew what the stakes were on that exciting, memorable day. Marshall rose to the occasion, and their work changed history.
But has it changed history in the way that the Supreme Court and Thurgood Marshall and William Coleman thought it would? Regrettably, unfinished business is the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. We need to finish this unfinished business if we are to fulfill the promise of Brown.
A close friend and law partner of mine in South Carolina, Steve Morrison, devoted 10 years of his life and several million dollars of pro bono time to a case called Abbeville v. State of South Carolina. The case, which seeks to address inequitable school funding and was brought on behalf of poor, rural school districts, has been litigated for 10 years. It has been before the South Carolina Supreme Court three times, but we have yet to receive a final decision.
The case was tried in the Clarendon County Court House in South Carolina, which was the trial courthouse of a case called Briggs v. Elliott – one of the five cases that were consolidated under the caption, Brown v. Board of Education.
What an irony that 60 years later cases are still being tried to fulfill the expectation of Brown. Those are our battles today, and we can’t let down our guard. We cannot let the legacy of Brown go unfulfilled because if we don’t have full, equal, and fair funding of public schools in this country, we haven’t met the promise of Brown v. Board of Education.
If we don’t do the hard work to make quality education, from early childhood through high school, available to everyone so that we can develop the pipeline of leadership and give people a fair opportunity to have a successful life, then we will not have met our obligation and fulfilled our duties under Brown and the Civil Rights Act.
Mr. Morrison worked hard on Abbeville and sadly died last December in his early 60s, in part I’m convinced because the effort that he put into the case left him exhausted. In his closing argument, he told the story about babies floating down a river. Men and women said, “We have to get these babies out of the river,” and they started pulling the babies out. Two men started walking upstream, and they were asked, “Where you going? These babies are floating down the river. We must get them out.” And the two men said, “We’re going upstream and we’re going to find out who’s tossing these babies in the river. We’re going to stop them.”
We have to stop tolerating separate and unequal schools in this country today, and we must reenergize public education in America through equitable funding. If we don’t take that step, we will not only have not fulfilled our obligations under Brown, we will threaten the very underpinnings of our constitutional democracy.
The ABA addresses these and other matters of inequity every day by working to improve access to justice. We know that 80 percent of the poor in the United States do not have adequate access to civil justice. We know that there’s an unfulfilled promise under Gideon v. Wainwright to have adequate counsel in many criminal proceedings.
This year, through the new Commission on the Future of Legal Services, the ABA will be particularly focused on bridging the justice gap by developing new and innovative ways to provide legal services to the poor. The research shows that when the poorest of the poor—disproportionately persons of color—get an eviction notice, they assume, “Well, that’s just life. That’s what I deserve. That’s what happens to me.” They don’t realize that they have rights and can do something about those situations if they have access to our legal system.
We will work on these issues this year and through the year that my successor Paulette Brown is ABA president to try to bridge that justice gap so that more people have a fair shot.
We also will focus on issues involving disparities and discrimination in sentencing. Through the efforts of our Criminal Justice Section, Governmental Affairs Office, and other groups that are working on these issues, we will promote state and federal sentencing reform and advocate for laws to reduce the collateral consequences of incarceration. In many states, hundreds of laws prohibit people, once they’ve been released from incarceration, from ever being able to get certain licenses, qualify for student loans, and get a fair shake in reentering society in a way that they can live productive lives.
All of these are priorities of the American Bar Association. That’s our way of trying to do something to meet our obligations and our duties under Brown v. Board of Education.
Editor's Note: On November 12, 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a final decision inAbbeville v. State of South Carolina, ruling for rural school districts in holding that legislators had failed for decades to ensure public school students from disadvantaged communities their opportunity to succeed.
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