Legal Methods II: Social Justice Advocacy - January 2020

Legal Methods II: Social Justice Advocacy

L6130 Section 006: January 2020

Course Description

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Litigation and legal advocacy play a critical role in movements for social justice. Across a range of cutting edge issues legal advocates work closely with movement leaders to mobilize litigation as one of the tactics deployed to combat structural racism, sexism, homophobia, economic inequality, abusive state power, and other forms of oppression.

This intensive course will examine the tactics and strategies deployed by social movement lawyers.  Much of legal education focuses on mastery of doctrine, procedural rules, and the legal process abstracted from the socio-, political-contexts within which legal advocacy takes place.  Success is largely measured in terms of positive rulings from a judge or jury.  Social movement lawyering, by contrast, provides an excellent example of how lawyers use litigation as part of an overall advocacy strategy, deploying it as a tool in a larger toolkit that can include communications/media strategies, grass roots mobilization, Freedom of Information Act disclosures, public education, and other tools.

Key questions that will be addressed in this course:

  • When should lawyers lead the advocacy strategy and when should they take direction from movement partners?
  • When is the goal of the advocacy strategy about the enforcement of rights rather than the advancement of a larger notion of justice?
  • How can legal strategies attack not just the symptoms of social injustice but the structure that maintains it?
  • When might losing a case in court be a kind of “success without victory”?
  • When might a step-by-step strategy (i.e. NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s desegregation and Lambda Legal’s marriage equality strategies) be the best approach and when might a more radical approach be called for (including questioning the legitimacy of the legal system itself)?
  • Under what circumstances might a legal claim be more likely to succeed if the litigation is not framed in terms that explicitly name the kind of injustice being addressed (i.e. using the administrative procedure act or the vagueness doctrine, rather than alleging race/sex/sexual orientation based discrimination)?

This course will be comprised of a combination of classroom lectures, outside speakers, practicums, and group work.  Students will be expected to attend all classroom sessions and participate actively in the work of small groups.  Each group will prepare and file a freedom of information act/law request on an issue that supports a social justice movement (topics will be provided) and will prepare a memorandum on how the FOIA/FOIL request figures in a larger social justice advocacy strategy.  Students are expected to spend a minimum of two and ½ hours each day on the assigned readings preparing for class.

There are four TAs for this class, and they will work closely with the FOIA/FOIL groups.

List of FOIA Projects is here,  (Links to an external site.)please sign up for a project no later than January 9th.

Students will be evaluated (pass/fail) based on their class participation and group projects.

No laptops are permitted in this class.


Monday, January 13th


  • Thomas Hilbink, The Profession, The Grassroots and the Elite: Cause Lawyering for Civil Rights and Freedom in the Direct Action Era, in Cause Lawyers and Social Movements (Sarat and Scheingold eds., 2006)
  • Michael Grinthal, Power With: Practice Models for Social Justice Lawyering, 15 U. Pa. J. L. & Soc. Change 25 (2011)
  • Robert M. Cover, Foreword: Nomos And Narrative, 97 Harv. L. Rev 4 (1983), excerpts

9:30 – 12:00 - Introduction to the course and to Social Movement Advocacy Methods

1:00 – 3:00 - Freedom of Information Act Training – Ian Head, Center for Constitutional Rights

3:30 – 5:00 - Work in small groups framing/planning FOIA-based project


Tuesday, January 14th


  • Jules Lobel, Success without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America (2003), Introduction
  • Bill Quigley, 20 Tools for Movement Lawyering
  • Center for Constitutional Rights, Creative Legal Strategies
  • Center for Constitutional Rights, How We Define VictoryLinks to an external site.
  • New Chemical Complex Would Displace Suspected Slave Burial Ground in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley”, Intercept, December 18, 2019
  • ALEC Attacks: How Evangelicals and Corporations Captured State Lawmaking to Safeguard White Supremacy and Corporate Power, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Dream Defenders, Palestine Legal,
    The Red Nation, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, December 3, 2019

9:30 - 11:00 - Class lecture/discussion on social justice lawyering

11:00 – 1:00 - Nadia ben-Youssef, Advocacy Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

1:00 – 2:00  - Lunch

2:00 – 5:00 - Group work on FOIA Request


Wednesday, January 15th


  • Pendergrass & Marton, How Progressive Prosecutors Can Transform the Criminal Justice System, Boston Globe, July 15, 2019
  • Justice 2020 Report (Links to an external site.), Kings County District Attorney's Office
  • Amna Akbar, Toward a Radical Imagination of Law, 94 NYU L.Rev. 405 (2018) excerpts, skim section I.

9:30 - 11:00 - Class lecture/discussion on social justice lawyering

11:15 – 1:15 - Jill Harris, Policy and Strategy Counsel, Brooklyn DA’s Office

1:15 – 2:00  - Lunch

2:00 – 5:00 - Group work on FOIA Request

Thursday, January 16th


  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham JailLinks to an external site.
  • Amicus Brief, U.S. v. Warren
  • The State of Black Immigrants Parts I and II: A Statistical Portrait of Black Immigrants in the United States, BAJI & NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic
  • Joe Penney, Cameroonian Asylum-Seekers at the Border Are Fleeing a U.S.-Backed Military Force

9:30 - 11:00 - Class lecture/discussion on models of social justice lawyering

11:15 – 1:15 - Tsion Gurmu, Legal Director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

1:15 – 2:00 - Lunch

2:00 – 5:00 - Group work on FOIA Request

Friday, January 17th

9:30 – 12:00

  • Presentations by each group on FOIA projects and strategy memos

1:00 – 4:00   

  • Presentations by each group on FOIA projects and strategy memos

Legal Methods II: Social Justice Advocacy - January 2020 - Reader 1

Legal Methods II: Social Justice Advocacy - January 2020 - Reader 2