CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — An academic center that helps the poor and disenfranchised may be stopped from performing courtroom work under a proposed ban approved by a committee on Tuesday.
If approved by the University of North Carolina’s policy-making board, the ban would prohibit the UNC Center for Civil Rights from representing clients who pursue cases involving school segregation, equal education rights and environmental justice issues such as a landfill in a poor community.
The member of the UNC Board of Governors who has led the fight for the ban said the proposal “reflects two key principals. One, the state should not hire full-time lawyers to sue itself or municipalities,” attorney Steve Long said. “And two, academic centers, which operate under Board of Governors’ policies should be focused primarily on academics. I believe adoption of this policy will protect the university by ensuring that its education mission remains paramount.”
The committee voted 5-1, with one abstention, to recommend the ban to the full board, which will consider it in September. Committee chair Anna Spangler Nelson cast the lone vote against the ban, saying that she believes the discussion should be held at the campus level.
“Some people would call it overreach,” she said after the meeting.
The center was founded in 2001 by noted civil rights attorney Julius Chambers, an African-American whose home, office and car were bombed as he pursued school desegregation cases in the 1960s and 1970s.
A litigation ban will “betray but not diminish the legacy of Julius L. Chambers, one of North Carolina’s greatest citizens,” center director Ted Shaw said. “The book on Julius has already been written, and it’s closed. The book on the UNC law school, the University of North Carolina and the state of North Carolina is still open.
“It is my hope and indeed my prayer that you don’t diminish that book.”
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who defeated the Republican incumbent in November, said Tuesday in Raleigh that the center should be allowed to litigate cases. “I think the Center for Civil Rights is doing a good job and a good public service and I believe that the university needs this (litigation) as part of its effort,” he said.
Associated Press reporter Gary D. Robertson contributed to this story from Raleigh.
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