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Graphic: SF Civil Rights Panel

2022 Summer Forum: The Fight for Civil Rights Continues

By Kelly Panlaqui

On Thursday, June 23 the fourth Summer Forum 2022 panel discussion was held regarding civil rights and civil liberties. Jennifer Tschirch, Assistant Director, Office of Public Interest and Community Service at Georgetown University Law Center led the conversation with the following panelists:

  • Tara Ramchandi, Partner, Relman Colfax
  • Jonathan Smith, Executive Director, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
  • Erinn Martin, Director of Nominations & Cross-Cutting Policies, National Women’s Law Center
  • Jim Ferg-Cadima, Deputy Legal Director, Lambda Legal

The fight to protect civil rights and civil liberties continue to top the headlines. The panel in today’s discussion focused on some of the most pressing issues around privacy and technology rights, voter protection, and reproductive rights. In particular, Jim Ferg-Cadima discussed an emerging field for lawyers regarding privacy and technology rights, especially on social media platforms. He talked about how recent current events have increased the urgency for advocating for online protections. Tara Ramchandi concurred, adding that given rapid advancements in technology the challenge is the law does not keep pace with the advancements. Thus, a greater need for legal recourse and an increased need for pro bono lawyers to take on cases in this area.

Erinn Martin and Jonathan Smith then discussed their work at the National Women’s Law Center and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs respectively. Both advocate around some of the issues that have been front and center in the national debate – voting rights and LGBTQ+ rights. Additionally, Erinn has been on the frontlines of the fight for reproductive rights. Jonathan stated “our rights don’t mean much if there is no enforcement.” That is where pro bono volunteers can help. He elaborated on the intersectionality of the enforcement of civil rights in many areas of practice including housing, domestic relations, public benefits, and more. In essence, the civil rights movement continues, just in different ways and through different means than in the past.

While recent Supreme Court decisions and the actions of some state legislatures have painted a grim picture, Tara urged us to find ways that will create change. She pointed out, “as grave as it looks, there is leverage for making a change. There are still wins to be had at the trial court level.” The discussion concluded with Tara’s statement, “we’ve seen defendants with their civil rights being violated. This shouldn’t be the case, but it’s definitely something that we are pushing to address and need more support in that area.” Although fighting for civil rights protections is complex and hard at times, everything from a single client representation to systemic advocacy can make a difference. The key is for us to never give up.

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Kelly Panlaqui is our 2022 Summer Intern.

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