National Center for Law and Economic Justice

National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) works to advance the cause of economic justice for low-income families, individuals, and communities, using groundbreaking impact litigation, policy advocacy, and support for grassroots organizing. Because poverty disproportionately impacts communities of color and families headed by women, the Center applies this strategy to advance racial, immigrant, and gender justice. NCLEJ believes that this nation should ensure that all have access to the means to meet basic human needs and that all people are guaranteed an equal opportunity to participate. NCLEJ addresses a broad range of issues that impact low-income families. Our work focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on preserving and maintaining access to government benefits; protecting and securing the rights of low-wage workers; combatting unlawful debt collection; and advocating for persons with disabilities. NCLEJ’s staff of award-winning experienced lawyers multiplies its impact by collaborating with major law firms and with civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, and immigrants’ rights organizations.

NCLEJ was founded in 1965, in the heyday of the civil rights movement. From the very start, NCLEJ staff joined with southern civil rights lawyers in landmark cases, worked with community-based organizations around the country, won ground-breaking victories in the courts, and achieved major reforms in legislation and agency policies and practices. Through these early successes, NCLEJ demonstrated that the law can be a powerful instrument for improving the lives of the most disadvantaged members of our society. NCLEJ has guaranteed access to benefits for hundreds of thousands of people providing a baseline of economic security to help stabilize low-income families and individuals, holding agencies accountable to comply with the law, and safeguarding important legal and constitutional rights.

THE CASE: The Barbara McDowell Foundation is helping to fund NCLEJ’s work in Montgomery, Alabama, which challenges pervasive and long-standing systematic and unlawful targeting of communities of color and the aggressive, punitive traffic stops and arrests resulting in millions of dollars in revenues on the backs of low-income residents. In addition, Plaintiffs contend that the City of Montgomery’s court system has a pattern and practice of jailing debtors who cannot afford to pay their criminal debt and has created conditions that have forced debtors to engage in court-imposed community service to reduce their time in jail.  Plaintiffs also seek to hold accountable a private company that acted as a collection agent for the City of Montgomery. As the Court observed has:

“The complaint in this case regards the City of Montgomery, Alabama's alleged creation of debtor's prisons. Plaintiffs maintain that indigent individuals were made to sit in jail and "sit out" fines they could not afford to pay without ever being informed of their rights. This was done without any determination as to whether the plaintiffs could afford to pay the fines.”

This case arises at the intersection of two of NCLEJ’s ongoing areas of litigation focus - racial justice and unfair and abusive debt collection practices.

Grant contact: Greg Bass, bass@nclej.org, 212-633-6967