Committee on Civil Rights Home

“The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.” -- President John F. Kennedy


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 work place. “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. Most recently, the Committee has been active on issues of privacy and national security, Executive Detention and due process, the rights of immigrants, and marriage equality. The Committee’s participation on these various fronts takes many forms, from sponsoring programs to spark informed debate, to authoring encyclopedic reports 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.

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.

Diana Sagorika Sen
Committee Chair

Jeremy Benjamin
Committee Secretary

Annual Meeting 2015 Events

2015 Haywood Burns Memorial Award

The Haywood Burns Memorial Award is presented each year by the Committee on Civil Rights during the Annual Meeting of the New York State Bar Association in January. Nominees must be an individual, not necessarily a lawyer, who has contributed to New York State in a manner that reflects Dean Burns’ commitment to the struggle for justice and the qualities that made him an outstanding advocate for civil rights and the empowerment of the powerless.


Committees on Civil Rights and Diversity and Inclusion

Thursday, January 29 Meeting from 2:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Recent tragic deaths involving Eric Garner and Michael Brown haunt us. The intersection of race and excessive police force is critical to our society. Lawyers have a role in governing use of force by law enforcement, especially with respect to racial minorities. Lawyers help define and train on policies for use of force and on the impact of implicit bias on law enforcement. We prosecute and defend criminal charges with respect to use of force by police. We seek retribution from or defend law enforcement agencies for civil rights violations with respect to excessive police force. This panel will examine the critical role lawyers and racial justice activists play in ensuring that use of force by police is evenhanded and free from racial bias. 

Please click here to register to attend


Committee on Civil Rights Report to the House of Delegates

Solitary Confinement in New York State 

Please click here for full report