Center for Constitutional Rights


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Center for Constitutional Rights

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a nonprofit legal and educational organization dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Human Rights. Since its formation in 1966 by attorneys working for Civil Rights demonstrators in the South, the CCR has been a forceful advocate of civil rights for all people. The New York City-based organization seeks to halt what it describes as a steady erosion of civil liberties in the United States and elsewhere. The group addresses such areas as international human rights, government misconduct, sexual politics, indigenous peoples' rights, nuclear and environmental hazards, Women's Rights, civil rights, Freedom of the Press, racism, Electronic Surveillance, criminal trials, Affirmative Action, and abuse of the Grand Jury process.

Cofounded by attorneys william m. kunstler, Morton Stavis, and others in the heady days of 1960s social activism, the left-leaning CCR describes itself as "committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change." As such, throughout its history, the CCR has consistently generated legal and political controversy. African American civil rights leader martin luther king jr. was one of the group's first clients. And, since then, the CCR has won favorable decisions for such diverse figures as antinuclear leaders in the Micronesian republic of Belau and Native American protesters at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Much of the center's work has involved international causes and foreign clients. In the early 1970s, the CCR sued the U.S. government to discover answers regarding U.S. citizens missing in Chile and U.S. involvement in the support of Chilean leader Salvador Allende. The group has broken ground in the battle to establish the right to sue foreign governments or individuals in U.S. courts. In 1986, the CCR represented the government of President Corazon Aquino, of the Philippines, in its fight to recover millions of dollars in assets taken by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. In another case, Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980), the organization won a settlement of $10.4 million for a Paraguayan boy who brought suit against an exiled dictator of Paraguay who had ordered the boy's torture.

In 1998, the CCR joined forces with Green-peace USA and other organizations to block the Japanese corporate giant Shintech from constructing the largest PVC plant in the world in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The local community surrounding the site of the proposed plant had a population consisting of more than 80 percent minorities, 40 percent of whom lived below the poverty level. It also was known for its high degree of chemical Pollution, so much so that it was dubbed "Cancer Alley." The CCR accused the company of, among other things, environmental racism. Shintech abandoned its plans in late 1998. The CCR also played an important role in the 2000 release of Palestinian immigrant Hany Kiareldeen, who was detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for 19 months solely on the basis of secret evidence that neither he nor his lawyers were permitted to review.

The CCR also conducts a number of programs. Its Movement Support Network, started in 1984, provides aid to social activist groups, including legal protection for groups experiencing harassment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other government law enforcement agencies. The Anti-Biased Violence Project (ABVP), established in 1991, uses litigation and education to oppose violence against individuals because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and has defended ordinances that curtail hate speech. The CCR's ella baker Student Program provides internships to law students. In Greenville, Mississippi, the CCR operates the Voting Rights Project, a community-based voting rights litigation group that works in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The CCR also maintains a speakers' bureau and publishes books, pamphlets, and periodicals, the last including Docket and the MSN News.

The CCR maintains its own staff, but also works with many lawyers who donate their time Pro Bono (for free). The group has previously been called the Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund and the Law Center for Constitutional Rights.

Further readings

Center for Constitutional Rights. Available online at <www.ccr-ny.org> (accessed June 12, 2003).

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). 1994. Docket. New York: CCR, spring.

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