Julius Chambers, the noted civil rights lawyer, has agreed to represent a group of teachers recently laid off by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Chambers mentioned the agreement in passing at the weekly meeting of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, where he accused CMS leaders of retreating from the district’s commitment to educate all students equally.
He declined to speak further about his work with the teachers. “We don’t want to go into details about the merits of the case,” he said.
Chambers, a partner at the Ferguson Stein Chamber Gresham & Sumter law firm, argued court cases that helped shape civil rights law, including the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case regarding school busing. He also served as chancellor of his alma mater, North Carolina Central University, from 1993 to 2001.
Chambers’ efforts to challenge CMS layoffs would be one of several developing in the city’s African American community.
“It’s appalling the way they went about that,” Chambers told the audience. “And we didn’t say anything about it. And we still aren’t saying anything about it.”
Chambers said he worries that Charlotte no longer has organizations or individual to challenge issues relating to civil rights.
“We go on about our business and never worry about it,” he said. “That’s not the Charlotte I have known.”
Chambers praised U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as an “excellent choice” and called the current high court “the most conservative I have seen.”
His sharpest words, however, were reserved for those who oppose busing to achieve racial balance in public schools.
“There is no way we’re going to establish equality in Charlotte-Mecklenburg unless we integrate the schools,” he said. “If we put all the poor kids in west Charlotte, we shouldn’t expect any academic performance. We knew that. We knew that when we put them together.”
Chambers, who serves on the board of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, urged the group to become more politically active and to financially support organizations that continue the fight for civil rights.
He said the defense fund has initiated two cases that could expand the current limits of civil rights protection.
The first case, launched simultaneously in several states, would seek to overturn a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that found discrimination against the poor was not Constitutionally forbidden. The second case, he said, would seek to define healthcare as a basic right.
“It aught to be as much a right as the right to life,” he said.