For more than 25 years, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) has been a leader in the fight to uncompromisingly defend democracy and advance constitutional rights by litigating landmark civil rights and First Amendment cases and providing robust defense to social justice activists and movements. Our work is focused on creating meaningful social and legal changes and dismantling systems of repression.
The PCJF’s impact litigation program challenges law enforcement and government abuses that repress grassroots movements organizing for racial equality, climate protections, and social justice.
Championing a movement-centered model, this transformative work is carried out in partnership with those most affected, centering the demands of oppressed communities and activists including racial justice uprisings nationwide, peace movement demonstrations, anti-globalization protests, the Occupy movement, and Indigenous-led opposition at Standing Rock and Line 3.
The PCJF has won groundbreaking cases enforcing constitutional rights and resulting in extensive, systemic changes in law, procedures, and policies governing police conduct. We have won millions of dollars in damages for persons whose rights have been violated, including the largest monetary settlements for the violation of protestors’ rights in U.S. history. Our work also includes major cases challenging discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, and sexual orientation. The PCJF’s hard-hitting investigative work and transparency program has forced the disclosure of thousands of government documents reflecting its secret and illegal surveillance programs resulting in groundbreaking analysis and exposés. This work has revealed the government’s use of anti-terrorism agencies and funding to target peaceful political protest in America.
Our Center for Protest Law & Litigation works to protect and advance the rights of protestors to organize, assemble, and demand justice around the country. We defend free speech rights through affirmative civil litigation fighting for access to public space and against the mechanisms of police violence, as well as criminal defense of protestors swept up in political arrests.
Our impact litigation goes hand in hand with an emphasis on education and outreach. The PCJF provides technical support to advocates across the county to strengthen legal resources available to justice movements and communities in need while providing education, outreach, and resources to communities and activists. The PCJF exists to serve and support movements, communities, and people who are moving this country forward but are too often left behind or left alone to beat back institutional oppression.
PCJF successes include:
- Successful Class Action Litigation Against Federal and Local Police on Behalf of Activists. Our attorneys have secured injunctive relief and the largest monetary awards in U.S. history for protestor class actions. With a focus on imposing rules or court orders to ban illegal police tactics and prevent recurrence, establish accountability mechanisms, and obtain compensation for persons whose rights have been violated, the class action work includes representation of thousands across the country. Federal judges have called this work “historic” and a “benefit for future generations.”
- Jane Fonda and Fire Drill Fridays for Climate Justice. Legal representation and criminal defense for Jane Fonda and Fire Drill Friday activists during their multi-month Washington, DC, actions for climate justice.
- Defended Indigenous-led water protectors at Line 3. Mounted criminal defense of water protectors securing dismissals of all charges for those our attorneys directly represented. Facilitated and supported a collaborative team of movement attorneys who secured hundreds more dismissals, including beating back outrageous “felony theft” charges leveled against peaceful water protectors for civil disobedience against the pipeline company. Won a permanent injunction on behalf of leaders Tara Houska and Winona LaDuke against the outrageous law enforcement blockade of a water protector camp. Also successfully forced dismissal of charges filed against actors Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener and Taylor Schilling targeted for their First Amendment activities in support of the Indigenous movement at Line 3.
- Protecting Protest at the Presidential Inaugural Parade. Secured a Federal Court-issued permanent injunction against the Federal government for unconstitutionally denying access to the parade by protestors while favoring big political donors and corporations, which resulted in an historic expansion of access for protestors and the public that will last far into the future.
- Forcing Government Disclosure of Anti-Protestor Surveillance Through FOIA Litigation. Forced the disclosure of thousands of government documents about secret and illegal surveillance programs revealing the U.S. government’s use of anti-terrorism agencies and funding to target peaceful political protest in America.
- Challenging Police Infiltration, Agents Provocateur, and Disruption of Protest Groups. Our litigation revealed that the Washington, DC, Metro Police Department maintained a domestic spying operation in which police officers were sent on long-term undercover infiltration assignments posing as members of protest groups to report on and disrupt political activities, even in the absence of allegations of criminal conduct. Consequently, these officers’ activities were terminated.
- Secured Significant Monetary Damage Awards for Activists Beaten or Brutalized by Police. Our successful cases include pursuing justice for protestors beaten in the face with clubs by officers whose identifying tags were removed, activists pepper sprayed and struck by unidentified law enforcement officers in plain clothes, peaceful activists pepper sprayed by the NYPD, an activist who was beaten with a baton by an unidentified officer in plain clothes because the activist had taken photos of other police brutality, an activist held down on the ground and clubbed in the head by police, hundreds of activists falsely arrested and hog-tied in stress and duress positions for 24+ hours, among others.
- Standing Rock. Part of the Water Protector Legal Collective civil team in federal civil rights litigation challenging mass violations of constitutional rights and brutal force by law enforcement.
- Defeated Trump’s Anti-Protest Plans. Led a nationwide coalition that submitted over 140,000 comments forcing Trump to completely withdraw proposed regulations that would have eviscerated the ability to protest in the Nation’s Capital including on the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, Lafayette Park and many other central and iconic locations. This work was coupled with a robust legal case our attorneys built to immediately enjoin the regulations.
- Model Restrictions to Stop Federal Police Violation of Protestor Rights including in Lafayette Park. In a class action against the U.S. Park Police, imposed new police orders and policies that restrict interventions against protestors – including at Lafayette Park. The presiding Federal Judge approvingly called the changes “a model for local jurisdictions across the country.”
- Model Legislative Changes to Protect Protestor Rights. Catalyzed and informed groundbreaking omnibus legislation adopted by the District of Columbia to restrict police conduct and to enhance the rights of protestors to access the streets, sidewalks and parks in Washington D.C. This legislation is serving as a model for jurisdictions nationwide.
- Protecting Activists Targeted for FBI Interrogation and MPD Arrest Based on Political Profiling. Secured damages against the District of Columbia for targeting 13 activists dressed in black and perceived as anarchists for arrest without probable cause who were then handed over to the FBI for interrogation about their political activities and associations. Also obtained sanctions against the government after exposing the withholding of evidence.
- Striking Down Philadelphia’s Unconstitutional Curfew and Permitting Regulations. Enjoined the City of Philadelphia’s curfew law in the context of free speech activities and enjoined the City’s unconstitutional protest permitting system.
- Holding Police Personally Accountable at the Highest Ranks. We secured a landmark ruling holding that former D.C. MPD Police Chief Peter Newsham was not entitled to qualified immunity and was personally liable for the mass false arrest of hundreds and that former-Chief of Police Charles Ramsey could also be held liable.
- Keeping Green Spaces and Parks Open to Protest and Political Assembly. We successfully challenged New York City’s efforts to discriminatorily restrict mass assembly on the Great Lawn of Central Park in connection with the Republican National Convention.
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