In the mid-1980s, a North Carolina Klan group was one of the most militant and violent, engaging in paramilitary-style training, using U.S. military personnel to prepare recruits for combat. After a series of terrorizing incidents, the Center sued the Klan and won court orders shutting down their illegal training camps.
For years, unmined coal in Kentucky was virtually exempt from taxation, leaving Kentucky's public schools and other services grossly underfunded. Fair tax advocates worked with the Center to file suit challenging Kentucky's unfair tax system, resulting in improved regulations.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sought a permanent injunction in 1982 to stop operators of the church-run Bethesda Home for Girls from physically and emotionally abusing the "wayward" girls sent to them for care and instruction.
Armed men in Klan robes spewed hate-filled threats, burned crosses and destroyed shrimp boats. White fishermen, fearful of competition from Vietnamese immigrants, invited the Klan to Galveston Bay, Texas. The Center sued and brought an end to their illegal activities, including paramilitary training camps.
In 1979, over 100 Klan members attacked Decatur, Alabama marchers protesting the conviction of Tommy Lee Hines, a retarded black man accused of rape. After a ten-year fight, the Center secured criminal convictions and financial compensation for the victims.
In 1977, Marie Von Hoffburg, a female service member of the United States Army, was discharged due to her alleged sexual orientation. The Southern Poverty Law Center appealed the decision on her behalf alongside the American Civil Liberties Union.
Cotton mill workers contracted brown lung, or byssinosis, by inhaling tiny dust particles on a daily basis as they went about their work. The Center sued, achieving a breakthrough financial settlement and regulations to protect the health and safety of cotton mill workers.
The United States Supreme Court struck down Alabama's "kill 'em or let 'em go" death penalty statute in a landmark decision that reversed the Alabama State Supreme Court and vacated the death sentences of plaintiff Gilbert Beck and 10 other men on death row.
In this landmark sex discrimination case, two Alabama women applied for jobs traditionally reserved for men. One sought to become a state trooper, the other a correctional officer; both were rejected. The Supreme Court's landmark decision in favor of the women opened doors nationwide for women to be hired in law enforcement careers.
Although this constitutional challenge to horrific conditions at a juvenile center was filed by other lawyers in 1975, the Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice took over in 2003 to enforce a judgment that had been ignored for more than 25 years.