Press Release

Kirkland Partners with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Achieving Landmark Civil Rights Ruling

On October 7, 2013, following a six-week bench trial, Kirkland & Ellis LLP achieved a landmark victory in a pro bono civil rights case on behalf of The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education in its lawsuit against the state of Maryland for the state’s failure to completely dismantle its formerly segregated system of higher education. In a historic, 60-page decision, Federal District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that Maryland has violated the constitutional rights of students at Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by unnecessarily duplicating their programs at nearby white institutions, a practice that began during the era of de jure segregation.

The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2006 and tried in 2012, are students and alumni from the four HBCUs: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Kirkland tried the case with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights as co-counsel.

The district court found that the lack of unique, high-demand programs has a segregative effect at HBCUs and prevents the HBCUs from attracting students of all races. In addition, rather than work to build up the unique, high-demand programs that exist at HBCUs, the state of Maryland established competing programs at nearby white institutions, which caused the program enrollment at the HBCUs to plummet.

The judge ordered the parties to mediation to develop an appropriate remedial plan that would include creating unique, high-demand programs at the HBCUs, and transferring programs from the Traditionally White Institutions (TWI) to the HBCUs, including the “wide use of resources to enhance the quality of current and newly developed programs” at the HBCUs. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the court will schedule a phase II remedies trial.

“We look forward to the remedies phase of the trial,” said Kirkland litigation partner Michael Jones, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “We will present evidence of the costs of developing programs and identifying those programs at the Traditionally White Institutions that need to be transferred to the HBCUs. We will also outline the additional resources that are necessary for those programs to be successful. We expect that at the end of the process Maryland’s HBCUs will be shining examples of the possibilities at HBCUs.”

Along with Mr. Jones, the Kirkland pro bono team included litigation partners Karen Walker, Savaria Harris and Henry Thompson, II, and litigation associate Michele Gutrick.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending; community development; employment; voting; education and environmental justice.

Kirkland & Ellis is a 1,600-attorney law firm representing global clients in complex litigation, dispute resolution and arbitration, corporate and tax, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. The Firm has offices in Washington, D.C., Beijing, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Shanghai.