Lenora Lapidus had one message she wanted her audience to take away with them Monday night.
“We want to take the rights we have fought hard to establish and bring it to the women who need them, namely women of low-income groups and women of color,” she said.
As part of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, Lapidus, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, addressed a mostly female audience of about 30 at the Yale Law School. The Yale Law Women and the Collective on Women of Color in the Law co-sponsored the talk, entitled “The Prospect for Women’s Rights.”
The ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project was established in 1971 by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a Columbia University law professor. Lapidus said that while the project is interested in legislative work and public policy advocacy, its main focus is working through the courts to ensure gender equality.
Lapidus said the project’s current cases involve a wide variety of women’s issues, including the eviction of women subject to domestic violence and police mistreatment of females.
She told the audience about a Women’s Project investigation conducted in conjunction with New York University that found gender disparities in facilities provided in the New York justice system. While male juvenile offenders go through a central processing system that assesses their needs and places them accordingly, female juveniles receive no assessment. Lapidus also said the state provides fewer services to these girls, despite the fact that the number of girls entering the system is growing rapidly.
Lapidus said that another problem the project is tackling is the strip-searching of minority women by the U.S. Customs Service. She said that these women are the least likely to be carrying drugs but are searched the most.
Lapidus stressed that the ACLU’s national presence is a helpful asset.
“One of the unique things about ACLU is that we have our head offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City,” she said. “But we also have affiliate offices in every state. We are able to work on the ground in every state throughout the country. One of my main goals is to work with all our affiliates and to set an agenda where I can begin litigation in one state, and then I can begin to spread that litigation throughout the country.”
Lapidus ended the talk by encouraging the audience to help her organization.
“We have plenty of ways for you to get involved,” she said. “You can intern, do research and we also have bar associations.”
The lecture was generally well-received by the audience. Jane Pek ’05 said she was there because the talk addressed an important topic and because of the Law School’s reputation. Deborah Dinner LAW ’04 said she admired the ACLU’s work.
“I’m here because I’m very interested in women’s rights in general,” she said. “I believe that the ACLU is a leader in this field in terms of litigation.”
Organizers of the event were also enthusiastic.
“Here at the Law School, we have been [in] an ongoing conversation on what role law can play in taking a stand on these issues,” law professor Judith Resnik said. “ACLU has been centrally involved on how law treats women.”