Collaborative Effort Will Enlist Law Schools and Law Firms–Both Inside and Outside of Louisiana–to Unleash Wave of Lawsuits Challenging Racially Discriminatory Policing, Limit Qualified Immunity
NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana today announced plans for an intensive litigation effort to challenge racially discriminatory policing practices and combat police violence against people of color. “Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial” will enlist for-profit law firms and law school legal clinics to unleash a wave of lawsuits intended to hold police accountable for unconstitutional misconduct and stop racially discriminatory policing. By focusing intensive efforts on a single state, the initiative aims to establish a litigation blueprint for altering police conduct across the country.
“For centuries, law enforcement officers have brutalized Black communities with near impunity – with justice coming too late or not at all,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “A dearth of lawsuits challenging these unconstitutional abuses has exacerbated this crisis, compounding the systemic racism that pervades our criminal legal system and allowing these practices to continue unchecked. As we continue to work to dismantle institutionalized racism and reimagine the role of policing in our communities, Justice Lab will complement these efforts by unleashing a wave of litigation to hold police accountable and provide a powerful incentive for police departments to combat racist policing.”
“Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial” will seek to enlist 100 for-profit law firms and 25 law school legal clinics in bringing up to 1,000 cases challenging racially-motivated stops and seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and any other applicable laws.
Louisiana has the largest ratio of police officers to residents of any state and has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Moreover, state law allows police to expunge any alleged violation of criminal battery and assault involving domestic violence from their personnel files if the formal complaint at issue was made anonymously or was not substantiated within twelve months.
“We’re putting law enforcement agencies on notice: the era of impunity is over,” said Nora Ahmed, ACLU of Louisiana legal director. “Regardless of the outcome of each individual legal action, the sheer volume of cases will help incentivize police districts and individual officers to alter their conduct and respect the constitutional rights of the people they serve. The more individual civil actions we bring, the more we reinforce that Black and brown lives matter—and that racist policing will not go unchallenged.”
Under the initiative, participating law school legal clinics will be responsible for appealing unfavorable constitutional and qualified immunity decisions with an aim to limit and curtail the scope of qualified immunity.
Decades of federal court precedent has made it increasingly difficult for people to hold police officers and departments accountable for actions that imperil public safety and endanger human life. These decisions have expanded the doctrine called “qualified immunity,” which holds that police officers cannot be punished in civil litigation when they kill or injure someone, as long as the police officer didn’t intentionally violate “clearly established law.”
The first phase of the effort will begin immediately and involve building infrastructure and enlisting the support from law firms and legal clinics. This will be followed by a coordinated effort to identify up to 1,000 plaintiffs to come forward to challenge unconstitutional stops and seizures.
The effort will be led by Nora Ahmed, who is joining the ACLU of Louisiana as legal director after seven years litigating for one of the country’s largest law firms. As a Big Law associate, Nora worked to chisel away at unconscious bias and barriers to opportunity that plague women of color in the industry – all while fighting for civil rights and civil liberties in wrongful conviction, immigration, special needs class action, and Fair Housing Act cases.
Law firms, law schools, community organizations, groups, and activists that are potentially interested in participating in Justice Lab are encouraged to email Nora Ahmed at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “Justice Lab Inquiry.”