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.
Conditions in Alabama's prisons were an inhumane nightmare - violent, overcrowded and unsanitary. In a 1976 landmark ruling, a federal judge declared the prisons "wholly unfit for human habitation" and ordered detailed reforms.
The Relf sisters challenged the constitutionality of government regulations that allowed federal funds to be used to sterilize minors and mentally-challenged women who were not competent to consent to the procedure.
As late as 1972, there was not a single African American Alabama state trooper in a state that is one-quarter black. African Americans were refused jobs as troopers, but were easily hired as janitors. The SPLC filed suit, challenging the state's blatant racial discrimination.
In the early 1970s, several private segregated academies were allowed to use public recreational facilities in Montgomery, Ala., for football and baseball games – a practice that meant taxpayers were subsidizing these all-white schools as the public school system was being integrated. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court finding the city’s practice unconstitutional.
The SPLC rectified a 20-year injustice in 1972 when a federal court ordered the paving of 10 miles of streets in an unincorporated black neighborhood near Selma in Dallas County, Ala. The new streets had to be equal in quality to those installed free in adjacent white neighborhoods in 1954.
A married female Air Force officer sued the U.S. Department of Defense to secure the same benefits enjoyed by married male officers. The Center's historic challenge led to a landmark Supreme Court decision, the first successful sex discrimination lawsuit against the federal government.
"Dehumanizing." "Intolerable." "Grossly deficient." These were some of the words a federal judge used to describe conditions at Alabama's mental health facilities in the 1970s. Center attorneys worked with others for years to bring Alabama into compliance with the minimum standards of care ordered by the judge.
This suit forced Alabama to reapportion its state legislature and discard the voting system that diluted the voting strength of African Americans. The result was the adoption of single-member districts and the 1974 election of 15 black legislators.