Herrera releases guidebook to help local governments promote safe and just communities

‘Local Action, National Impact: A Practical Guide to Affirmative Litigation for Local Governments’ provides a roadmap for municipal law offices

SAN FRANCISCO (April 17, 2019) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today released “Local Action, National Impact: A Practical Guide to Affirmative Litigation for Local Governments,” a guidebook created in partnership with Public Rights Project, Justice Catalyst and the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project at Yale Law School.

The guide presents a bold vision: that local governments can — and should — proactively protect the legal rights of their communities. On April 23, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case in which local and state governments are doing just that. Cities, including San Francisco, are standing up for their communities as part of a coalition challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire, which bipartisan experts say would jeopardize the accuracy of the population count used to distribute federal funds and allocate congressional seats.  

The guidebook draws from the pioneering partnership between the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office and Yale Law School, as well as from successful case studies across the country on issues like fair housing, predatory lending, and LGBT rights. The guide offers a roadmap and concrete tips for local governments on how they can start and build an affirmative litigation practice.

“Local governments have always had a critical role to play in protecting civil rights, consumers and the environment,” Herrera said. “Perhaps some municipal law offices may not have realized how to unlock their potential. We’re honored to provide a roadmap so they can do just that. Legal activism is needed now more than ever. The federal government under the current administration has systematically abandoned its responsibility to ensure we have clean air, safe products and a fair marketplace. It’s time for more public law offices to utilize their authority. Get involved, find a law school to partner with, and join us in standing up for the people.”

A recent report found that the Trump administration’s Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is investigating 60 percent fewer cases than during the Obama administration and 50 percent fewer than during the administration of George W. Bush. The Trump administration has also scaled back consumer protections and sought to weaken clean air and water regulations. Now, more than ever, cities and counties are needed to step into the void left by the federal government’s inaction. Localities can enforce laws — through investigations and litigation — that protect individuals’ abilities to take out a mortgage, gain equal access to housing or a job, and breathe clean air. This guide shows them how.

The guide highlights specific examples of how local governments have successfully brought cases to improve the lives of their residents, including a suit against paint manufacturers for knowingly marketing lead paint for use inside the home — despite knowing that lead was harmful to children. The case, brought by a coalition of California cities and counties led by San Francisco and Santa Clara, has resulted in a $400+ million fund to be used to clean up toxic lead paint.

The guide recommends steps a local government can take to get started addressing harms like these in their communities, including how to set goals, identify cases, and increase capacity.

“We cannot let the rights of our most vulnerable communities rest on the outcome of one election,” said Jill Habig, the Founder of Public Rights Project. “We hope that this guidebook will contribute to our goal of rebuilding our democracy from the ground up, starting with our local governments.”

“Legal rights and rules are meaningless if nobody is enforcing them,” said Brian Shearer, Legal Director of Justice Catalyst. “With the federal government asleep at the wheel, and increasing barriers to individuals getting their own day in court, local government enforcement of civil laws is needed now more than ever.”

You can find the guidebook on the City Attorney’s website here. For more information about the City Attorney’s Office, visit us at: www.sfcityattorney.org

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