Litigation

Ending the American Money Bail System

No one should spend time in jail simply because he or she is poor, but every day about 450,000 Americans sit in jail for that very reason. Despite the constitutional guarantee that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, our current money bail system forces arrestees to pay an arbitrary amount of bail money to secure release before trial. Those who can afford to purchase their liberty walk free, while those who can’t languish in jail pending trial. The result is discriminatory pretrial detention based on wealth-status, not any meaningful assessment of flight risk or danger to the community. Read more


Fighting Abusive Private Probation Practices

Equal Justice Under Law and the law firm Baker Donelson filed a landmark RICO and constitutional class action lawsuit in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee challenging the predatory practices of Pathways Community Corrections (“PCC”), a private probation company in Murfreesboro whose employees extorted, threatened, and abused probationers who were poor. Read more


Protecting the Rights of Drivers Who Are Poor

The State of Michigan—like many other states—uses driver’s license suspension as an extra punishment for people who are poor. If a person cannot pay his or her routine traffic fines or court costs, then the state suspends their driver’s license. In 2010 alone, Michigan suspended 397,826 licenses for failure to pay court debt and failure to appear, meaning that thousands of Michiganders are punished simply for being poor. Read More


Shutting Down Debtors’ Prisons

Although debtors’ prisons were banned in the U.S. in 1833, Equal Justice Under Law has uncovered modern-day debtors’ prisons that target people who are poor. Cities are unconstitutionally using local courts and jails to generate millions of dollars in profits off the backs of residents who are poor. Equal Justice Under Law has won settlements in Montgomery, Alabama; Jennings, Missouri; and Jackson, Mississippi that benefited thousands of class members, while our lawsuits in Ferguson, Missouri and New Orleans, Louisiana are on track to help thousands more. Read more


Challenging Wealth-Based Banishment

In September of 2016, the City of McCrory Arkansas passed a “Trailer-Banishment Ordinance” which states that anyone who lives in a mobile home or trailer worth less than $7,500 must leave the city or face exorbitant fines — when their only ‘crime’ is being too poor to afford a more expensive home. There has never been a more important moment in American history to fight against the criminalization of poverty. Along with Little Rock law firm McMath Woods P.A., Equal Justice Under Law is challenging this law, calling it unconstitutional. Read more


Defending Against the Government’s War on Drugs
and the Landmark Prosecution of the Kettle Falls Five

Every year, the federal government spends more than $50 billion on its War on Drugs, which overwhelmingly targets the poor and minorities, contributing to the highest incarceration rate in world history and labeling as dangerous criminals people who have never hurt anyone. Equal Justice Under Law represents a family — known in the media as the Kettle Falls Five — prosecuted by the federal government for growing medical marijuana. This landmark prosecution will have significant ramifications for the scope of the War on Drugs and has the potential to set important constitutional limits on the government’s efforts to imprison people without compelling justification. Read more


Opposing Militarized Police Forces and Violent Home Invasions in the District of Columbia

In 1980, there were 3,000 armed paramilitary raids in the United States. By 1995, there were 30,000, and in 2001, there were 45,000. By 2005, there were between 50,000 and 60,000. This is a growing pandemic. Equal Justice Under Law has filed 7 lawsuits in the District of Columbia challenging the police’s use of race-based, militarized home invasions in low-income communities of color. Read more


Challenge to Alabama’s Sex Offender Registration Law

In 2011, Alabama passed the most punitive sex offender registration law in the country: “ASORCNA” — the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act. It forbids all former sex offenders from living or working within 2,000 feet of a school or daycare, a zone of exclusion encompassing virtually the entire cities of Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa. In some situations, registrants are denied the right to live with their own parents, siblings, spouse, or other family members. ASORCNA’s restrictions also create impediments to travel, levy excessive fees and fines, and impose unparalleled reporting requirements that are unmatched across the United States. ASORCNA has caused countless Alabamians to become homeless and unemployed.  Read more