Posted by: Castan Centre | December 13, 2016

On the right side of history

By Amy Myers

I am a final year JD law student completing an internship at The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).  This is a blog about my twelve week internship as part of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Global Internship Program.

CCR quite functions differently to other law offices.   The office has a community needs-based model, which involves encouraging the marginalised groups they serve to lead the way in their own legal representation.  Lawyers tend to have activist backgrounds. Empowering people through partnership and elevating the voices of the people directly impacted makes CCR’s clients the heroes of the story, rather than the lawyers.

CCR makes fearless political statements through the cases they pursue and for half a century they has been prepared to take principled stands against contentious and unpopular issues.  Though they often lose their cases, CCR has consistently been on the right side of history. At a time when no one had the inclination to represent Guantanamo detainees for fear of facing treason charges to the long term support of the Palestinian liberation movement, CCR courageously and firmly says ‘no’ to all forms of oppression.

I started here the week after Trump was elected and the sense of collective devastation at the news has been at times overwhelming. The potential effect of his administration on almost all areas of CCR’s work will likely be catastrophic. CCR may have to re-litigate issues they thought they were done with. This may involve wasting precious resources to re-establish obvious principles of international law, such as that torture is – to put it simply – wrong. From the winding back of rights and clearances obtained for detainees in Guantanamo, Trump’s vaguely proposed “Muslim registry,” mass deportations of undocumented people, reestablishing indefinite solitary confinement, and failing to enforce the already frail police accountability mechanisms – this presidency has the potential to undermine and challenge much of progress CCR has worked so hard for.  At this point CCR can only assume the worst and prepare themselves to fight those battles.  There has been discussions on how to practically ensure similar organisations are not doubling up on litigation issues to maximise the effective use of resources but beyond that the cases and appeals will roll along.

On my first weekend in New York City I attended a large anti-Trump rally which marched all the way from Union Square to Trump Tower.  Over 8,000 people attended. Though this election represents a giant national step backwards, it may ultimately be the push needed for much greater and deeper systemic change and political engagement. Some people I know have attended their first protest in the last three weeks, waking up from their apathy.  A senior staff attorney at CCR pointed out that we need to take the 20 year view of the struggle for equality and human rights.  Although this is true, it is frightening to consider the ways peoples’ quality of life can be undermined in the shorter term and what this new America will actually look like.

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