Committee on Civil Rights Home

"Privilege blinds, because it's in its nature to blind. Don't let it blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly." 

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Welcome to the home page of the Committee on Civil Rights for the New York State Bar Association.

The term “civil rights” means many different things to many people. To some, the term evokes the epic struggle of the latter half of the 20th century for racial and gender equality, a struggle which still continues today. To others, it calls to mind the right of the individual to be free from arbitrary government restraint on one’s liberty and the exercise of freedoms held dear, such as the freedom of speech, assembly and religion. Still others see “civil rights” as covering the rights chiseled into local, state and federal laws preventing discrimination in housing, in school and at the workplace. “Civil rights” fall under a broad umbrella of due process and equal protection guarantees found in our Constitution and laws. The understanding of a “civil right” has evolved and continues to evolve with the forward progress of our national conversation in the American experiment.

The Committee on Civil Rights was founded in 1952 and over the years has worked on a broad range of issues affecting the public and legal profession in New York. The Committee has been active on issues of privacy and national security, Executive Detention and due process, the rights of immigrants, marriage equality, solitary confinement, discrimination in the workplace, and the links between Public Health and Environmental Laws to Civil Rights.

The Committee's participation on these various fronts takes many forms, from blog posts about current issues, to sponsoring programs that spark informed debate, to authoring encyclopedic reports and obtaining passage of relevant resolutions by the NYSBA’s House of Delegates on signal issues of the day, to honoring those who have done the most in our community to bend the long arc of history toward justice. If you want to learn more about the Committee's work in general, please click on the tabs on the left of this web page. If you would like to learn more about the Committee's work on habeas corpus and Guantanamo in particular, access the Committee's blog.

Today's political climate – with the growing political divide in our own country, and authoritarian rule throughout the world, bringing with it increased violence and a change in laws and government policy – makes protecting civil rights absolutely vital. We endeavor to bring the latest news regarding civil rights to light and do our best to inform and advocate for everyone's civil rights.

Thank you for visiting the Committee's website and we hope that you find it informative and maybe even a little inspirational. Check back often for informative updates to the website and timely blog postings.

View Our Online Community here (for committee members only)! A committee roster can be found here

Congratulations to 2019 Haywood Burns Award winner John R. Dunne, Esq.


Members of the Committee on Civil Rights pose with 2019 Haywood Burns Memorial Award winner John R. Dunne, Esq. during the Award Ceremony at CUNY Law School on October 16.

View additional photos from this event.

Mr. Dunne, former New York State Senator and U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, was Chair of the State Senate's Corrections Committee in 1971 when he traveled to Attica Prison during the riots to attempt to seek a peaceful resolution for the inmates and hostages. 

The award is given in remembrance of the late civil rights lawyer and academic, Dean W. Haywood Burns. From the age of 15 until his untimely death at age 55 while visiting South Africa, the former head of the City University of New York School of Law sought to expand the civil rights of all people. He was a builder of bridges rather than walls, actively involved in trying to extend connections to diverse groups within the community as a whole.

Here is a history of past award winners.

upcoming EVENTS

Lead in Drinking Water: Its Environmental and Social Impacts | Thursday, January 30 as part of the Local and State Government Law Section's full-day CLE program. 

Co-sponsored by the Committee on Civil Rights, the NYSBA Environmental and Energy Law Section's Committee on Environmental Justice and the NYSBA Local and State Government Law Section.

In recent years, lead in drinking water has emerged as an area of environmental concern for the public, law makers, practitioners, and engineers. Following the crisis in Flint, Michigan it has become clear that improper management of public drinking water systems can have disastrous consequences for public health. However, lead occurs not only in those parts of the system controlled by municipal entities, but also in service lines, internal plumbing, faucets and fixtures. The Panel will discuss common sources of lead in drinking water, public health concerns and public outreach and education efforts.

Legislation adopted in 2016 requires all school districts in New York to test potable water systems for lead and to take responsive actions. However, the legislation does not comply with EPA’s lead and copper rule and offers a modified testing protocol with varying consequences. There is current legislation to extend this testing requirement to public parks and other public facilities. The Panel will offer insights on where legislation is going, implementation of the regulations, and the impacts of modified testing protocols.

Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by lead as lead in drinking water has a cumulative impact. These communities are more likely to have other types of lead exposure as well increasing the risk of negative health impacts to residents. The Panel will discuss public outreach and education efforts, public health impacts of cumulative lead exposure and need for additional attention to these communities.  

Past evenTS

Redeeming the Pledge...And Justice For All from New York State Bar Association on Vimeo.

Legal Developments in Transgender Rights
Sponsored by the Committees on Civil Rights and Diversity & Inclusion
During NYSBA's Annual Meeting January 2017 a CLE program was held that took an empirical look at implicit bias and bias interrupters in the legal profession.   
Please click hereto access the coursebook for Disrupting Implicit Bias to Advance Diversity & Inclusion CLE Program.
Please note, only people that were able to attend the program in-person are eligible for CLE credit. 

Sponsored by NYCLA and the Committee on Civil Rights 
In October our panel of experts discussed The Voting Rights Act of 1965, amendments to the law, key decisions interpreting the law and the impact on the disenfranchised.  Special attention was paid to the recent state actions imposing limits or restrictions on voting rights, as well as some state actions that have actually made it easier for people to register to vote. 

In April, the Committee on Civil Rights sponsored a MCLE Credit program (1.5 credits in professional practice) that examined current laws and addressed the issues regarding the need for reforming bail procedures in New York State courts.
Please click hereto access the coursebook for the Bail Reform in New York State: Moving Forward CLE Program. 
Please note, only people that were able to attend the program in-person are eligible for MCLE credit.  

The Committees on Civil Rights and Diversity & Inclusion sponsored this program during The New York State Bar Association's 139th Annual Meeting.  Whether you are a criminal defense attorney, judge, law school clinician, legal services attorney or the managing partner of a major law firm, implicit bias affects you every day. This program demonstrated implicit or unconscious bias so all lawyers understand how it impacts our work. A few specific views of bias in our profession were explored: Are law schools preparing lawyers who have awareness of the impact of bias? How can implicit bias affect setting bail or jury deliberations? When do we see implicit bias in the courtroom? How can we overcome the impact of bias in law firm employment determinations including promotion and partnership? 

Justice, Race and Police Force -- Going Beyond Ferguson and Garner


Report on Executive Detention, Habeas Corpus and the Military Commissions Act of 2006

Solitary Confinement in New York State: Committee on Civil Right's Report to the House of Delegates