Rights into Action: Public Interest Litigation in the United States

Ford Foundation



For more than forty years, the Ford Foundation has supported groups that use the law to secure human rights and improve the lives of people in vastly different settings around the world. Funding for law-related projects began in the 1950s in the United States and by the 1970s had been extended to parts of Latin America and South Africa. As we enter the year 2000, the Foundation is involved in sustained grantmaking for public interest law groups in over twenty-five countries through its New York headquarters and eleven of its overseas offices around the globe. Many Roads to Justice: The Law Related Work of Ford Foundation Grantees Around the World includes seven case studies, of which this is one.
Ford Foundation support for law work started in the United States in the late 1950s, with funding for legal education, indigent defense, and legal services for the poor; it later focused on civil rights litigation on behalf of minorities, women, and immigrants. While grantees have employed a full range of strategies in their law-related work, this case study limits its focus to litigation efforts of Ford grantees during the last two decades. Despite its drawbacks, litigation has proven to be a powerful agent for change in the United States. It has addressed racial discrimination, reproductive health rights, inequities in educational opportunities and school financing, voting rights, immigration policy, Native American treaty obligations, and many other issues. With changes in the U.S. political climate, grantees developed legal strategies to oppose attempts to dismantle civil rights protections. They also supplemented litigation with public education and community mobilization efforts, and began to forge alliances with new partners, such as business, academic, and community groups whose activities complement courtroom efforts.



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