The future of the UNC Center for Civil Rights is unclear after a proposal was filed to ban lawyers at the center from litigation.
The Educational Planning, Policies and Programs Committee of the board debated the proposal earlier this month, and has requested reports from UNC and North Carolina Central University before making a decision.
The center’s managing attorney Mark Dorosin said it’s important for the center to continue to do the things it was founded to do in 2001.
“One is educating the public—public policy research and training,” he said. “The second is training law students to become civil rights and public interest lawyers and the third has been representing individuals, families and communities trying to address the continuing legacy of segregation and discrimination in this state.”
The center has done work that relates to race, education and voting rights. Earlier this month, a voting rights case was filed in Jones County, and Dorosin said the center assisted in research for it. He said it will be impossible to do those things if the center can no longer participate in legal action.
“This policy, if it was approved, would prohibit that,” he said. “And in fact, it may have been in part motivated by that very situation.”
The proposal was filed by board member Joe Knott. But board member and supporter of the proposal, Steve Long said all UNC centers should focus solely on education, and shouldn’t be able to sue the state, according to the News and Observer.
But Dorosin said a sector of the school suing the state is hardly out of the ordinary.
“School boards sue county commissioners, cities sue counties, the legislature sues cities as we’ve seen, the governor sues the legislature and vice versa,” he said.
He also said the center doesn’t receive any money from the state.
“All the money that supports our advocacy is raised privately through grants, foundations, private donations and so the resources we’re using to represent our clients are not state funds,” Dorosin said. “But ironically, since they’re often going against government agencies, our clients who are also tax-payers are paying for the lawyers that are working against them.”
Dorosin said the chancellors from both universities are expected to present their findings at the July board meeting in Asheville.