Center for Constitutional Rights

Infobox NPO
organization_name = Center for Constitutional Rights
organization_motto =
organization_type = Non-profit
founded = July 1966 by Arthur Kinoy, William Kunstler, Ben Smith and Morton Stavis
location = New York City, New York, U.S.
key_people = Michael Ratner, President: Jules Lobel, Alex Rosenberg and Peter Weiss, Vice-Presidents; Vincent Warren, Executive Director
fields = Defending and promoting civil rights, constitutional rights, racial, economic, gender and social justice, international law and accountability. Defending against illegal detentions, illegal surveillance and attacks on dissent, mass incarceration, human rights abuse and government abuse of power
services = Advocacy, legal representation, public education
num_members =
homepage = []
The Center for Constitutional Rights [ The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)] is a non-profit legal and educational organization aimed to protect and advance the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.] (CCR) is a non-profit legal advocacy organization based in New York City, New York, U.S., founded in 1966 by self-described "radical lawyer" William Kunstler. In recent years, CCR has been frequently in the news for their civil liberties and human rights litigation and activism, as well as their legal assistance to the people imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp.


The Center, originally the Law Center for Constitutional Rights, was set up to give legal andfinancial support to lawyers who were representing civil rights movement activists in Mississippiat the height of the struggle against segregation and economic injustice. Its founders were Morton Stavis, Arthur Kinoy, Ben Smith and William Kunstler. The Center conceived of itself as a "movement support" organization -- that is, an organization that concentrated on working withpolitical and social activists to use the courts to promote the activists’ work. Cases were chosennot necessarily because they could be won, but also because they would raise public awareness of an issue, generating media attention, or energizing activists harassed by local law enforcement in the South. In this regard, the Center differed from more traditional legal non-profits such as the ACLU, which was more focused on bringing winnable cases in order to extend precedents and develop the law, as well as pursuing First Amendment issues.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Center brought scores of cases on behalf of civil rights activists, many of which made their way to the Supreme Court. Despite the Center's ready embrace of litigation strategies promising "success without victory" (as the title of CCR board member Jules Lobel's book put it), many of these lawsuits resulted in victories and set lasting precedents.

The landmark 1980 decision in Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, using the then long-forgotten Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) of 1789 (unearthed by CCR attorney and current board member Peter Weiss), opened U.S. courts for victims of human rights crimes to bring suit against perpetrators from anywhere. From the early 1980s through 9/11, the Center was best known for bringing such claims for violations of international law in United States courts.

Since 9/11, CCR has been best known for bringing a variety of cases challenging the Bush administration's detention and interrogation practices in the so-called "Global War on Terror."

The current organization was formed from the merger of the original Center for Constitutional Rights (formed in 1966 by Kunstler, Kinoy, Stavis and Smith) and the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (ECLC).

Landmark cases

"Dombrowski v. Pfister", 1965: The Center for Constitutional Rights’ first major case was a successful suit against the Louisiana Un-American Activities Committee to invalidate the use of state anti-subversion laws to intimidate civil rights workers. CCR won the case in the Supreme Court and established that such intimidation had a “chilling effect” on First amendment rights and was therefore unconstitutional.

"Abramowicz v. Lefkowitz", 1972: "Abramowicz" challenged New York state laws that restricted abortion, and served as a model for challenges to similar laws in other states. This case marks the first instance of challenge to abortion statues being argued by women plaintiffs in terms of women’s right to choice rather than a doctor’s right to practice.

" [ United States v. Dellinger] ", 1972:CCR attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass vigorously defended the “Chicago 8”, a group of leading social movement figures, after the 1968 Democratic National Convention demonstrations and consequent police repression. The eight defendants, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale, were anti-war, civil rights and human rights activists, and Students for a Democratic Society and Black Panther Party members. All of the eight were found not guilty of their conspiracy charges, but five were found guilty of crossing state lines to incite a riot. However, the Center was able to appeal and then overturn these charges, based on the judge's bias and the refusal to screen jurors for possible cultural and/or racial bias'.

"Monell v. Department of Social Services", 1978: Although this case began as a challenge to New York City’s forced maternity leave policies, its resolution created a precedent that for the first time established local government accountability for unconstitutional acts and created the right to obtain damages from municipalities in such cases. Since 1978, this precedent has been used by lawyers and non-profits as a tool to challenge police misconduct, civil rights violations, and other local unconstitutional acts.

"Filártiga v. Peña-Irala", 1980:"Filártiga" established a precedent for the use of the then-obscure Alien Tort Statute to allow foreign victims of human rights abuses to seek justice in U.S. courts. CCR represented the family of Joelito Filártiga, the son of a left-wing Paraguayan dissident who had been tortured and killed by Paraguayan police. The precedent created by this case has facilitated many subsequent international human rights cases, including "Doe v. Karadzic", and "Doe v. Unocal", cases which established that multinational corporations and other non-state actors can be held responsible for their complicity in human rights violations.

"Texas v. Johnson", 1989:5 to 4 decision by the Supreme Court invalidating prohibitions on desecrating the American flag in force in 48 of the 50 states.

"Rasul v. Bush", 2004:CCR represented Guantanamo detainees seeking fair trials and an end to their indefinite imprisonment without charge. The Supreme Court case established precedent for U.S. courts’ jurisdiction over the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, affirming detainees’ right to habeas corpus review. This right was later putatively revoked when President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law. CCR brought many of the same habeas corpus petitioners to the Supreme Court again in "Boumediene v. Bush", decided in 2008, in which the Supreme Court declared the relevant parts of the MCA unconstitutional and restored the rights won in "Rasul".

Current activities and litigation


"Al Odah v. United States":"Al Odah" is the latest in a series of habeas corpus petitions on behalf of people imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The case challenges the Military Commissions system’s suitability as a habeas corpus substitute and the legality, in general, of detention at Guantanamo.

" [ Arar v. Ashcroft] ":This case challenges U.S. government’s extraordinary rendition policies and highlights the experience of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen sent by the United States to be tortured in Syria. He has never been charged, and has been found by the Canadian government to be uninvolved with terrorism. He and the Center for Constitutional Rights seek an acknowledgment of the U.S.'s involvement and an end to the rendition program.

"Abtan v. Blackwater.":CCR has filed suit on behalf of the civilian victims of the infamous September 16 2007, Blackwater Baghdad shootings in Nisoor square, Baghdad, by Blackwater USA’s armed contractors. The suit charges that Blackwater “created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company’s financial interests at the expense of innocent human life.” Blackwater is also accused of extrajudicial killing and war crimes, assault and battery, wrongful death, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring, training and supervision.

" Bandele v. City of New York":CCR filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of three members of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement who, while peacefully and lawfully videotaping NYPD officers, were arrested and imprisoned in 2005.

" Barre v. Gates":CCR has placed a Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) petition for an official UNHRC Somali refugee currently being held at Guantánamo.

" CCR v. Bush":This lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the NSA’s surveillance of people within the United States without warrant or prior court approval.

"Celikgogus v. Rumsfeld":This case is seeking declaratory relief and compensatory damages for five former Guantánamo detainees who had never been members of any terrorist group and who were all released from Guantánamo without being charged with any crime.

"Daniels, et al. v. the City of New York", 2003 / "Floyd, et al. v. The City of New York, et al.", 2008:This case forced the New York City Police Department to end their practice of stopping and frisking people solely on the basis of their race or national origin. The case also highlighted the practices of the notorious NYPD Street Crimes Unit (responsible for the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo), leading to its disbandment. The case’s settlement created an internal audit system of officers engaged in stop and frisks, the results of which are turned over to CCR on a quarterly basis. In addition, the settlement required the NYPD to begin “know your rights” public education programs. CCR is currently attempting to compel the NYPD to comply with the terms of the settlement.

"Estate of Ali Hussamalde Albazzaz v. Blackwater Worldwide, et al.": This case is a civil suit filed on behalf of the family of an Iraqi man killed when Blackwater Worldwide personnel opened fire on innocent bystanders in and around Al Watahba Square in Baghdad. CCR is therefore charging Blackwater Worldwide with warcrimes.

"Khan v. Bush":This suit is filed on behalf of Majid Khan, a U.S. asylum-holder who was held in secret detention at a C.I.A. "black site" for three years, after which he was transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. CCR has filed a habeas corpus submission on his behalf.

"Kilmon, et al. v. City of Miami, et al.": This lawsuit, on behalf of 21 activists participating in lawful protests in 2003 during the meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), is challenging the government’s assault on the civil rights of protesters through a deliberate and coordinated disruption of their lawful political protests and their violations of demonstrators’ constitutional rights during the November 2003 meetings.

"Kunstler v. City of New York": This lawsuit charges the New York Police Department with unlawfully arresting peaceful anti-war protesters and holding them for excessively long periods of time.

"Mamani, et al. v. Sanchez de Lozada/ Mamani et al v. Sanchez Berzain": These two suits have been filed against the former President of Bolivia, Gonzalo Daniel Sánchez de Lozada Sánchez Bustamante and former Minister of Defense, Jose Carlos Sánchez Berzaín for their roles in the deaths of civilians during popular protests against the government of Bolivia in September and October 2003.

"Matar v. Dichter":CCR is presenting a federal class action lawsuit against the former Director of Israel’s General Security Service (GSS), Avi Dichter, on behalf of the Palestinians killed or injured in a 2002 “targeted assassination” air strike in Gaza. It charges him with extra-judicial killing, war crimes and other gross human rights violations.

"Saleh v. Titan":Saleh is a federal class action lawsuit against Titan and CACI International Incorporated, contractors who provided interrogation services at Abu Ghraib. The lawsuit accuses the contractors of cruel and humiliating treatment during interrogations.

"Turkmen v. Ashcroft": This suit, filed on behalf of a class of Muslim, South Asian, and Arab non-citizens, is a class action civil rights lawsuit contesting their being swept up by the INS and FBI in a racial profiling dragnet following 9/11. "United States v. City of New York (formerly Vulcan Society v. City of New York)":This is an Equal Opportunity Commission charge filed by CCR on behalf of the Vulcan Society, an organization of Black firefighters in New York City. The lawsuit charges Fire Department of New York with discriminatory hiring practices.

"Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Wiwa v. Anderson, and Wiwa v. Shell Petroleum Development Company ": These are three lawsuits focusing on the human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria. They are being brought against the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company (Royal Dutch/Shell), the head of its Nigerian operation, and Royal Dutch/Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary for their complicity in the abuses.

"Zalita v. Bush": This case forwards a habeas corpus petition for Mr. Al Qassim, a Libyan refugee currently detained in Guantanamo after almost six years who the U.S. government wishes to transfer back to his native country despite the possible threat of torture and persecution.


*According to NGO Monitor, an Israeli non-governmental organization with the stated aim of monitoring other non-governmental organizations in the Middle East, the Center for Constitutional Rights has a biased political position against Israel. NGO Monitor writes, "CCR consistently disregards the context of terror, denies Israel’s right to self-defense, and accuses it of deliberately targeting civilians."cite web
title=Center for Constitutional Rights: Serial Abuse of International Law
date= 2007-07-17
*Matthew Vadum of Capital Research Center, a conservative non-profit organization which aims to study non-profit organizations, called the Center for Constitutional Rights "The Terrorists' Legal Team" because of his belief that CCR is "an ultra-leftist public-interest law firm" that "has protected the supposed constitutional rights of those who would destroy the United States." cite web
title=The Terrorists' Legal Team
last = Vadum
first = Matthew
date= 2006-10-03


* Rachel Meeropol, an attorney for the CCR is the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted and executed for providing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.
* The merger between CCR and the ECLC was marked by a wedding ceremony with the groom, Arthur Kinoy of CCR, walking down the aisle with the bride, Edith Tiger of ECLC.

See also

* 1996 shelling of Qana
* Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse
* Al Odah v. United States
* American Freedom Campaign
* Arthur Kinoy
* Baher Azmy
* Blackwater Baghdad shootings
* Bowoto v. Chevron Corp.
* CCR v. Bush
* Chicago Seven
* David D. Cole
* Death squad
* Ghost detainee
* Guantanamo Bay attorneys
* Guantanamo Bay captives habeas corpus
* Gitanjali S. Gutierrez
* Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
* International Federation of Human Rights
* Jailhouse lawyer
* Legal challenges to NSA warrantless searches in the United States
* Maher Arar
* Majid Khan (Guantanamo detainee)
* Military Commissions Act of 2006
* Movement to impeach George W. Bush
* Michael Ratner
* Rasul v. Bush
* Ronald Daniels
* State Secrets Privilege
* Unlawful combatant
* Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007
* William Kunstler
* Winter Soldier Investigation
* Yvonne Wanrow


External links

* [ Official site]
* [ Articles of Impeachment Against President George W. Bush, Huffington Post, June 28, 2007]
* [ CCR's success: Prison Telephone Project]
* [ Center for Constitutional Rights and Corrie Family Respond to Decision by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Stop Caterpiller, September 17, 2007]
* [ Civil Libertarians Warn of "Patriot Act Lite,” Inter Press Service News Agency, November 29, 2007]
* [ Evidence to Be Preserved in Guantanamo Torture Case: Court, Agence France Presse, December 11, 2007]
* [ Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit - FindLaw]
* [ Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act Raises Fears of New Government Crackdown on Dissent, Democracy Now, November 20, 2007]
* [ Human Rights Crusader Michael Ratner: We'll Keep Going After Bush and Cheney When They Leave Office, AlterNet, December 3 2007.]
* [ Human Rights Now article]
* [ Interview with the President of CCR, Michael Ratner, on PBS Frontline which aired 10/18/05]
* [ Morton Stavis The People's Defense Lawyer]
* [ PBS: David Brancaccio: Ron Daniels of the Center for Constitutional Rights]
* [ The Advocates; Scrappy Group of Lawyers Shows Way for Big Firms, New York Times, June 30, 2004]
* [ The Fear of Torture, (London) Guardian, December 14, 2007]
* [ (Video - 6 mins.) Guantánamo Bay: 'No End In Sight' A Young Activist Talks about Her Experience Visiting the Detention Center, Where 380 Men Who Have Not Stood Trial Are Being Held, MTV, May 15, 2007]
* [ Young Activist Fights For Detainee Rights At Guantanamo. MTV, May 15, 2007]
* [ WNYC News: A Guantanamo Diary with audio and pictures]

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