This Article offers a defense of outsider, legal-political intervention and community triage in inner-city anti-poverty campaigns under circumstances of widespread urban social disorganization, public and private sector neglect, and nonprofit resource scarcity. In mounting this defense, the Article revisits the roles of lawyers, nonprofit legal services organizations, and university-housed law school clinics in contemporary anti-poverty, civil rights, and social justice movements, in part by chronicling the emergence of a faith-based municipal equity movement in Miami, Florida. The Article proceeds in four parts. Part I introduces the notion of community triage as a means of addressing the impoverished and segregated aftermath of urban development in a cluster of postindustrial inner cities. Part II examines the First Wave of anti-poverty campaigns launched by pioneering legal services and public interest lawyers and their inchoate community triage models. Part III surveys the Second Wave of anti-poverty campaigns pressed by more client- and community-centered legal services and public interest lawyers and their alternative community triage paradigms. Part IV appraises the Third Wave of anti-poverty campaigns kindled by a new generation of legal services and public interest lawyers and their site-specific community triage approaches in the fields of community economic development, environmental justice, immigration, low-wage labor, and municipal equity in order to discern legal-political lessons of inner-city advocacy and organizing. Taken together, the four parts forge a larger legal-political vision imagined and reimagined daily by a new generation of social movement activists and scholars—a protean vision of community-based law reform tied to clinical practice, empirical research and experiential reflection about law and lawyers in action.
As immigration reform initiatives driven by established advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C., were successively defeated in the late mid to late 2000s, movement-centered organizations and newly created formations of undocumented youth mobilized against the federal-local immigration enforcement regime of the Bush and Obama administrations. This mobilization included a mix of community organizing, litigation, policy and media advocacy, and direct action tactics. Lawyers supported movement-centered social change campaigns as counsel to existing organizations and to the undocumented youth groups that grew, evolved, and multiplied during this period. Drawing on media, scholarly, and first person accounts, this Article describes the campaigns that constituted the anti-enforcement mobilization between 2009 and 2012, with particular focus on the range of roles played by lawyers and the implications of that repertoire in theorizing about resistance to legality and the place of law and lawyering in social movement activism.
In one of the most striking developments in American legal scholarship over the past quarter century, social movements have become central to the study of law. In constitutional theory, movements have emerged as key drivers of legal reform, creating new constitutional ideals and minimizing concerns of activist courts overriding the majority will. In lawyering theory, movements have appeared as mobilized clients in the pursuit of social change, leading political struggle and shifting attention away from concerns about activist lawyers dominating marginalized groups. In a surprising turnabout, social movements—long ignored by legal academics—have now achieved a privileged position in legal scholarship as engines of progressive transformation. Why social movements have come to play this dramatic new role is the central inquiry of this Article. To answer it, the Article provides an original account of progressive legal theory that reveals how the rise of social movements is a current response to an age-old problem: harnessing law as a force for social change within American democracy while still maintaining a distinction between law and politics.
The prominence of Black Lives Matter in American society today signals the revitalization of alternative forms of participatory democracy—from localized community organizing to widespread social movements—as political expression among racial minorities. For social movement lawyers, this historical moment demands an urgent clarification as to their role and the strategies they should undertake: How should lawyers connect their preexisting advocacy with the broader social movement? Must lawyers be relegated to the background, or might they assume an active role that enhances the leadership of grassroots community members within the movement? What are concrete tools lawyers might deploy in advancing the struggle?
Through a case study of challenging traffic court debt in South Los Angeles, a statewide system that entraps low-income communities of color in cycles of poverty and involvement in the criminal justice system, this Comment proposes a new theory—rebellious social movement lawyering—to resolve these questions. Rebellious social movement lawyering contemplates an active role for lawyers in movements, so long as they are guided by two principles: first, that social movements are necessary to achieve structural social change; and second, that the participation and leadership of grassroots community members, more than professionals and formal social justice organizations, is necessary to sustain such movements. The strategies deployed by rebellious social movement lawyers must be fluid and flexible, ranging from traditional legal devices to confrontational demonstrations, with each decision stemming from community collaboration and the lawyer’s self-questioning as to how a proposed tactic contributes to building the social movement on the one hand, and to enhancing grassroots participation and democracy on the other.
Rebellious social movement lawyering is meant both as a theoretical intervention in rebellious lawyering, movement lawyering, and Critical Race scholarship, and as a methodology to guide public interest legal practitioners. In grounding my theory in a concrete case study, I hope that practitioners across other areas of public interest law will recalibrate their own advocacy as rebellious social movement lawyers working collaboratively to challenge the underlying structures producing material harms for their clients.