Racial Justice Timeline

Highlights of BBA History: Our Work Advancing Justice and Equality in our Community and Society

Highlights of BBA History: Our Work Advancing Justice and Equality in our Community and Society


BBA Launches CORI Sealing Clinic

The CORI Sealing clinic, building on the work of the BBA’s comprehensive criminal justice reform report, No Time to Wait, aims to alleviate some of the collateral consequences of the racial and ethnic disparities identified in the report.  Many of the report’s recommendations were eventually signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker, including a decrease in the time individuals must wait before having certain records administratively sealed. As a result, the BBA, in collaboration with Greater Boston Legal Services, launched a monthly CORI Sealing Clinic. Since then, over 205 members of the community have been assisted by pro bono volunteers to remove the barriers of a CORI, enabling them to be better positioned to obtain jobs, housing, educational opportunities, and more.  The CORI Sealing Clinic continues even through the pandemic, in a remote format twice monthly.


BBA Joins Freedom For All Massachusetts: Yes on 3 Campaign

In keeping with its mission of promoting equal justice for all, the BBA builds on its decade-long advocacy for transgender rights by joining the Yes on 3 Campaign. The campaign was the shared effort of a broad coalition of more than 1,500 organizations and convened to rally support for the transgender antidiscrimination law, which provides protections for transgender individuals from discrimination in public places such as restaurants, stores, and doctors’ offices. The coalition’s members ranged from individuals in the community to businesses, nonprofits, law enforcement, elected and public officials, faith leaders, labor unions, sports teams and more. The Boston Bar Association served as a member of the Coalition Leadership Committee. Thanks to grassroots organizing and volunteer involvement, the campaign was a success – and the states’ anti-discrimination laws endured to protect this vulnerable population.


BBA Launches Service Innovation Project

The Service Innovation Project engages lawyers in service with a goal of advancing solutions to address systemic injustices in our community. Through support of the BBF’s Burnes Innovation in Service Fund, the BBA began to participate in work seeking to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in Massachusetts. This pipeline encompasses the various issues within our education system that result in students being excluded from school and instead funneled into the criminal legal system, with disproportionate impacts on students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families. In 2018, the BBA’s PILP class partnered with GBLS in a public outreach program informing students, parents, and community members about school discipline rights under a settlement agreement GBLS reached with Boston Public Schools, which ended unlawful suspensions of young students.


BBA Drafts Immigration Principles

A BBA working group put together a set of principles to help guide our positions on immigration issues. This Statement of Principles Concerning Immigration and Related Issues focused on four key beliefs, and concluded, “As lawyers, and as a Bar Association, it is our special calling, privilege, and obligation to be vigilant guardians of the rule of law, and to ensure that it protects all people to whom it extends—including all immigrants—when their rights are under attack.”


BBA Releases Report on Criminal-Justice Reform

In the midst of a statewide debate on comprehensive reforms to criminal-justice laws, a BBA task force filed a report that offered a set of recommendations across six main issue areas, all of them framed as critical to address disturbing racial and ethnic disparities throughout the system – hence the title, No Time to Wait.


BBA Signs on to Amicus Briefs in Windsor and Hollingsworth

Underscoring its long-standing support for marriage equality, the BBA joined a coalition of bar associations, civil and human rights groups, and public interest and legal services organizations in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, both of which were before the Supreme Court of the United States. In Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled that the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) was unconstitutional on equal-protection grounds, and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections. In Hollingsworth, the Supreme Court ruled the petitioners, who were challenging the lower court’s ruling that the California law (enacted by ballot initiative brought by petitioners) banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, had no standing to appeal where the state itself had declined to do so.


– Restatement of BBA Opposition to the Death Penalty

The BBA released a report that extended its long-standing opposition to capital punishment in Massachusetts state cases to cover federal cases as well. In doing so, it emphasized that – in addition to the risk of executing the wrong person and the misuse of resources – our opposition springs from the disproportionate impact that capital punishment has on members of racial and ethnic minorities. The report stated, “While it may be difficult to pinpoint their cause, a system that produces such different results depending on a defendant or victim’s race or ethnicity raises serious questions.”


BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Begins Community Reentry Readiness Program

The BBA Reentry Education Program provided information to federal probationers on key civil-legal issues that they face when re-entering society. The initiative originally emerged as a project of the BBA’s Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) in collaboration with U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin and U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman. The curriculum of workshops addressed the civil legal needs of Federal probationers receiving supervision through two programs: Court Assisted Recovery Effort (CARE) for those struggling with drug addiction, and Reentry: Empowering Successful Todays and Responsible Tomorrows (RESTART), for those who present a particularly high risk of recidivism. Seven workshops topics, including debt management, CORI, public benefits, and more were presented through 2018, when changes to the CARE/RESTART program were implemented and programs were suspended. The BBA’s CORI Sealing Clinic continues today in a partnership with Greater Boston Legal Services.


BBA Signs on to Amicus Brief in Gill

Committed to ensuring that the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection effectively protect all people from invidious discrimination, whether on account of race, gender, national origin, religion, alienage, or sexual orientation, the Boston Bar Association signed onto an amicus brief arguing that classifications based on sexual orientation must be subjected to heightened scrutiny. The brief concerned two cases that involved a constitutional challenge to Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) being heard before the First Circuit. The Court held that Section 3 was unconstitutional, and the US Supreme Court ultimately agreed (albeit in a separate case, US v. Windsor: see below).


BBA Files Amicus Brief in Cote-Whiteacre

Consistent with its position in Goodridge that discrimination against same-sex couples is unacceptable, the BBA filed this amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs’ claims that the Department of Public Health’s enforcement of M.G.L. c. 207, §§ 11-12 to prevent city and town clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples residing in other states violated provisions of the United States and Massachusetts Constitutions. The SJC ruled that, in the absence of a home state’s “express prohibition” against marriage by same-sex couples – through a constitutional amendment, statute, or controlling appellate decision — Massachusetts must allow same-sex couples from that state to marry.


BBA Signs onto Amicus Brief in Green

The BBA signs onto an amicus brief — alongside the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers — in a mandamus petition before the First Circuit in US v. Green on the matter of jury selection and the importance of representative juries. The brief highlights that the exclusion of Black jurors in the selection process results in defendants being deprived of a jury representative of the community. The brief recommends creating an equal opportunity for all residents by ensuring each neighborhood receives a proportionate number of valid jury summonses. The Court ruled in line with this argument, finding that the District Court’s suggestion of multiple juries relied on a misinterpretation of the Federal Death Penalty Act, but it did not address the concerns over disparate racial impact, as expressed in the brief.


BBA Files an Amicus Brief in Comfort v. Lynn School Committee

The BBA filed a brief pertaining to the legality of a desegregation plan implemented by the Lynn School Committee. By signing onto an amicus brief in support of the plan, the BBA reiterated its position that segregated schools are unacceptable, and that children learn best in a diverse and inclusive environment. In June 2005, the First Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc upheld the Lynn desegregation plan. In applying the Supreme Court’s rulings in Grutter and Gratz v. Bollinger to the context of K-12, the Court found the Lynn Plan to be “narrowly tailored to meet this compelling interest.”


BBA Files Amicus Brief in Goodridge

The BBA files an amicus brief in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health in support of same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue, stating that discrimination against same-sex couples unacceptable and unconstitutional. Depriving same-sex couples the right to marry violates their equal protection under the law and denies them the rights, benefits, and privileges afforded to opposite-sex married couples.  In a landmark decision, penned by Chief Justice (and former BBA President) Margaret Marshall, the SJC agreed with the plaintiffs that the state’s civil-marriage laws violated the equal-protection provision of the Massachusetts constitution, allowing same-sex couples to legally wed in the Commonwealth and paving the way for marriage equality to become the law nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges. In a landmark decision, penned by Chief Justice (and former BBA President) Margaret Marshall, the SJC agreed with the plaintiffs that the state’s civil-marriage laws violated the equal-protection provision of the Massachusetts constitution, allowing same-sex couples to legally wed in the Commonwealth and paving the way for marriage equality to become the law nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges.


BBA and MBA Launch Lawyers Clearinghouse on Affordable Housing and Homelessness

A joint project of the two major bar associations in Massachusetts, the Lawyers Clearinghouse is created to bring the pro bono resources of the private bar to bear on fighting homelessness.  With its success, the Clearinghouse partnered with the BBA in 2001 to form the Business Law Pro Bono Project to bring more pro bono opportunities to business and transactional attorneys, and expand the nonprofit client base outside of affordable housing and homelessness organizations. Twenty-three years later, the BBA and Lawyers Clearinghouse continue to work together on a shared desire to address issues of affordable housing, homelessness, and harness the volunteer energy of transactional lawyers to provide pro bono support to local non-profits assisting the community.


Boston Bar Foundation Becomes an IOLTA Grantee

Interest on Lawyers’ Trusts Accounts (IOLTA) is a program mandated by the Supreme Judicial Court. IOLTA funds are distributed to three charitable entities, including the Boston Bar Foundation. These funds are granted out to support legal aid organizations and projects, as well as programs that improve the administration of justice.  Today, the BBF grants support legal services, administration of justice projects, and the public service and pro bono projects of the BBA. Support is made possible by IOLTA receipts, in addition to the proceeds from the John & Abigail Adams Benefit. In 2021, the BBF awarded funding to 26 organizations totaling $1,200,000. The 2021, BBF grantees provided legal assistance to over 31,000 low-income clients – nearly 60% of those receiving assistance are people of color and 53% are women.


BBA Joins Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts

The BBA participates in the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts. Recommendations from this group include permitting multi-lingual attorneys to serve in more than one county, increasing funding for translator services, preparing a directory of multi-lingual attorneys, and increasing minority representation on juries.


BBA Starts Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association

The Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) of the Boston Bar Association is established to provide legal representation in civil matters to the indigent of Boston primarily through the pro bono services of private attorneys and paralegals.  Today, the Boston Bar Foundation continues to support VLP as one of its core grantees, and the BBA collaborates on many pro bono projects and trainings each year, including the signature Lawyer for the Day in the Housing Court Program, which has assisted over 20,000 low-income tenants and landlords since its inception in 1999.


BBA Educates the Community on School Desegregation in Boston

The BBA forms a Committee on School Desegregation in response to Massachusetts Judge Arthur Garrity’s decision in Morgan v. Hennigan. The Committee publishes a report, “Desegregation: The Boston Orders and Their Origin,” to promote public understanding of the decision’s controversial busing plan.  The report explains the power of the federal court, discusses the content of the opinion and desegregation orders, and provides a list of various resources available for further explanation. Read more in the 2014 article “A Retrospective – The BBA and Busing, 40 Years Later.”


BBA Works to Expand Affordable Housing

President Haskell Cohn is the driving force behind a BBA effort to help expand affordable housing stock in Boston. The BBA receives $180,000 in grants from the Office of Economic Opportunity and other local foundations. Headed by Richard Banks, former vice-president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, a team of lawyers worked alongside neighborhood groups, banks, and government agencies to obtain financing and secure locations to produce low-income housing in the Boston metropolitan area.


The BBA and Eight Boston Law Firms Launch The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association

The Lawyers Committee – now called Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) – is formed to support and advance civil rights in our community. Amidst civil rights demonstrations and a collective interest in taking action to end discrimination and segregation, the Committee is formed. In 1973, the Lawyers Committee becomes the first pro bono project of the Boston Bar Association. Then-BBA president John G. Brooks announces that the BBA would be “breaking ground new to the organized bar in further fulfillment of the obligations of our profession to the public,” and launches the privately-supported public interest law office that LCR is known as today. Although Lawyers for Civil Rights is now separate, it maintains strong ties with the Boston Bar Association and is a grantee of the Boston Bar Foundation.