The University of North Carolina law school has no business participating in one-sided political advocacy or entering lawsuits representing only left-leaning clients, several members of the UNC Board of Governors say.
The staff of the law school’s Center for Civil Rights counters that it offers a voice for progressive causes not provided by the General Assembly. Limiting the center’s ability to litigate would damage its ability to fulfill its mission.
The dispute has resulted in a proposal, introduced by board member Steve Long, that would block the CCR from filing lawsuits and taking other legal actions.
The proposal would forbid the center to “employ or engage, directly or indirectly, any individual to serve as legal counsel or representative to any party in any complaint, motion, lawsuit, or other legal claim against any individual, entity, or government, or to act as legal counsel to any third party.”
“Is it within the university’s mission to represent ‘Moral Monday’ protesters, as they have done? I don’t think so,” Long told Carolina Journal. “[Another] problem I see with that center is their exclusion of different points of view on issues such as voter ID, school vouchers, etc. They have a clear bias at that center, which I don’t think promotes educational inquiry and discussion.”
As part of the UNC School of Law, Long said, the center’s activities leave the impression its left-leaning views have the endorsement of the entire law school and its faculty, students, and alumni. Board member Joe Knott also expressed skepticism about the center’s role.
Since its founding in 2001, the center has “pursued an aggressive social justice agenda combining litigation, scholarly research, and grassroots activism,” according to its history statement.
“I feel like the anti-civil rights position is pretty well represented across our state in the institutions that reflect the legacy of discrimination and segregation, so I’m not certain that the cause of anti-civil rights needs an advocate,” the center’s managing attorney Mark Dorosin told CJ.
“All of our work is overseen by the dean of the law school, so the dean has to approve any litigation before we undertake it,” he said.
Law schools typically sponsor clinics to allow students to work with licensed attorneys and gain courtroom experience before taking bar exams. But the CCR is different because its primary focus is academic advocacy rather than litigating, Long said.
Dorosin said the CCR’s activities aren’t that unusual, citing the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Economic Justice Institute, Albany Law School’s Law Clinic and Justice Center, and CUNY School of Law’s Economic Justice Project.
All three centers identify as legal clinics with a focus on advocacy and social justice.
Like clinics, CCR provides student internships, external field placements, and a legal fellowship for newly graduated law students, he said.
The CCR staffs two attorneys and an attorney fellow. One staff member focuses on academic research and administrative tasks, he said.
Long countered that education should be the sole focus of the CCR.
“They do engage in some research activities, which I think is appropriate for an educational center,” he said. “So I don’t have any qualms with the research they’ve done, because it’s part of the university’s mission to conduct research. And I don’t disagree with every position they’ve taken on various issues.”