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

2016 Haywood Burns Memorial Award New York State Bar Association Committee on Civil Rights

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. 

The award is given to honor the late civil rights lawyer and academic, Dean W. Haywood Burns. From the age of 15 until his untimely death at age 55 while visiting South Africa, the former head of the City University of New York School of Law sought to expand the civil rights of all people. He was a builder of bridges rather than walls, actively involved in trying to extend connections to diverse groups within the community as a whole.

Please click here for more details and the Haywood Burns Award nomination form.    

Congratulations to the 2015 Haywood Burns Memorial Award Winner Glenn D. Magpantay

For over sixteen years, Glenn D. Magpantay has defended and prompted the voting rights of Asian Americans at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. As AALDEF’s Democracy Program Director, he has pressed for inclusive access to the vote through bilingual ballots and greater political representation and recognition of one of the nation’s fastest growing minority groups.  

Glenn D. Magpantay was honored at the 2015 Haywood Burns Memorial Award Reception that was held during NYSBA's Annual Meeting.  

“Justice, Race and Police Force -- Going Beyond Ferguson and Garner”

Committees on Civil Rights and Diversity and Inclusion

The recent tragic deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have riveted the nation. The relationship between race and the use of force by the police is a topic that cries out for the attention of all members of the legal community. Lawyers should be aware of the issues and take a leading role in improving the relationship between the police and the communities they protect. Lawyers can help to define the legal limits on the use of force and to train others on appropriate policies for the use of force. Lawyers can also help the police to develop an awareness of the consequences of implicit racial bias. Many of us prosecute or defend criminal cases that involve the use of force by police. Many of us seek compensation from or defend law enforcement agencies for civil rights violations with respect to excessive police force. This panel will examine the role lawyers and the judiciary play in ensuring that use of force by the police is evenhanded and free from racial bias. 

Please click here to access video of the "Justice, Race and Police Force - Going Beyond Ferguson and Garner" program that was held during the NYSBA's Annual Meeting


Committee on Civil Rights Report to the House of Delegates

Solitary Confinement in New York State