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On February 28, 2024, Prof. Randolph McLaughlin, Newman Ferrara’s Civil Rights Group Co-Chair, was profiled in Harvard Law Today for his 1980 victory against the Ku Klux Klan in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

As a young attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Prof. Randolph McLaughlin -- a graduate of Harvard Law School -- took on an unprecedented lawsuit against the Chattanooga Ku Klux Klan who was responsible for shooting and severely injuring five elderly Black women. (That 1980 civil lawsuit followed the acquittal of two of the men by all-white juries, while a third assailant merely faced nine months in prison.)

The civil case is notable, in part, because McLaughlin and his team of attorneys put together a novel legal strategy that resulted in an award of significant monetary damages to the women, together with an injunction enjoining the Klan from committing further acts of violence against the city’s Black residents.

Fast forward to 2024, and the Professor's legal efforts are now featured in a new documentary which is being showcased at various venues across the country, including his alma mater, Harvard Law. The film is called, “How to Sue the Klan.” (Trailer below.)

In an exclusive interview with Harvard Law Today, Prof. McLaughlin noted that, “There was no precedent before us. We literally had to write this case on whole cloth, because there was nothing for us to base it on.”

He went on to explain that the federal statute upon which the litigation was brought was “broken up into various parts. One piece of the statute became another statute called 42 USC Section 1983. And 1983 is the statute that is used most commonly to sue police departments for violating constitutional rights — that came from the Ku Klux Klan Act. The other statute that we used, and is still on the books today, is 42 USC Section 1985. It gives the victims of Klan violence the ability to sue their terrorists. Where there is a conspiracy with two or more, say, if they go out on a highway to engage in these bad acts, I can get damages and an injunction. In this case, we wanted both an injunction to prohibit future acts of Klan violence and we wanted damages for the women.”

That same legal strategy was used in a number of other cases, bankrupting the Klan and rendering them a non-viable force. Thankfully, because of those unprecedented and valiant efforts, there has not been a single incident of Klan violence in Chattanooga since that injunction issued.

More of Prof. McLaughlin’s interview with Harvard Law Today can be found here.

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Congrats, Randy!

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Special thanks to Newman Ferrara intern Christopher Campanelli for his assistance with this post.