Historic Detroit Right-to-Literacy Lead Counsel Rosenbaum Joins PuLSE Institute

Mark Rosenbaum, the lead attorney in the groundbreaking Detroit right-to-literacy case, and the director of the Opportunity Under Law Project at Public Counsel, one of the nation’s largest pro bono law firms, has joined The PuLSE Institute as a senior fellow at the Academy of Fellows.

At The PuLSE Institute, Rosenbaum, a nationally renowned attorney who in the past represented Hispanic civil rights leader Caesar Chavez, and provided legal assistance to the late Coretta Scott King, will focus on poverty, race and education. He’s the latest addition to Detroit’s independent anti-poverty think tank, joining recent senior fellows such as Samuel Bagenstos, former deputy principal assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice under President Barack Obama and Dorothea Williams-Arnold, a teacher at Cass Technical High School.

Rosenbaum has been principal counsel in landmark cases in the areas of K-12 public and higher education, voting rights, poverty law and homelessness, racial, gender, class and sexual orientation discrimination, health care, immigrants’ rights, foster care and criminal defendants’ rights. 

For example, he was the principal legal architect of the Detroit right-to-literacy case, which he successfully argued on behalf of Detroit’s poor students before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which led to a landmark ruling affirming that Detroit schoolchildren’s right to literacy is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit, Gary B., et al. v. Whitmer, et al., demanding that Detroit’s majority black students should be granted the right to literacy received support from education and literacy groups across the country.

In the majority opinion, written by Judge Eric L. Clay, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stated, “Our nation’s history of racial discrimination further reveals the historical and lasting importance of education, and the significance of its modern ubiquity. Education, and particularly access to literacy, has long been viewed as a key to political power. Withholding that key, slaveholders and segregationists used the deprivation of education as a weapon, preventing African Americans from obtaining the political power needed to achieve liberty and equality.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently agreed to settle the case after a public outcry.

Among his many high profile cases, Rosenbaum, was successful in securing over $1 billion for underserved schools in textbooks, qualified teachers and safe and sanitary school facilities (Williams v. California); redistricting Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor district lines to end over 118 years of discrimination against Latinos (Garza v. Board of Supervisors); invalidating Proposition 187 (Gregorio T. v. Wilson); overturning the conviction of Black Panther Geronimo Pratt and obtaining relief on behalf of severely disabled homeless veterans (Valentini v. Shinseki). 

He has argued before the United States Supreme Court, the Ninth and Sixth Circuit federal Courts of Appeal, the California Supreme Court and before the United States Court of Military Appeals. 

The PuLSE Institute has been a principal source of evidence-based advocacy to counter the ideologically driven forces of government and the private sector that seek to subordinate and disenfranchise communities bearing the brunt of economic and racial injustice,” Rosenbaum said. “What stands out about this unique institution is that it never backs down from a fight for equality of opportunity and can always be counted upon to expose the lies and deceptions relied upon by those who would oppress.”

Rosenbaum added, “It’s an honor to be associated with community and scholars that understand the root causes of poverty and racism and are helping to devise the strategies that will topple hierarchies of privilege that fear a society built on empathy and fairness.”

Rosenbaum currently teaches law at the University of California Irvine Law School and has also taught at UCLA, USC and Loyola law schools and currently teaches courses in liberty and equality and free speech to Chinese law students at Peking University of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China. Rosenbaum graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan and from Harvard Law School. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his advocacy and has twice been named California Lawyer of the Year in civil rights.

He joined Public Counsel from his roles for over four decades with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, most recently as Chief Counsel, and for over two decades as a professor of law at the University of Michigan, most recently as the Harvey Gunderson Professor from Practice, specializing in constitutional and civil rights law courses. 

Attorney Tina M. Patterson, who is The PuLSE Institute’s president and director of research said Rosenbaum coming on board is in line with the mission of the Institute.

“Mark Rosenbaum has demonstrated a commitment to fighting for legal justice for poor and underserved communities. Notably, he secured a hard fought victory in the recent right to literacy case for Detroit schoolchildren, a notable achievement in the ongoing fight for equality in education. He brings a valuable body of work to the Academy of Fellows, and we are honored to welcome him aboard,” Patterson said.

The founding of The PuLSE Institute was inspired by the writings of nationally renowned Detroit journalist and author Bankole Thompson, whose illuminating and influential work on economic and racial justice issues has elevated the discourse around poverty and inequality in the city. Thompson, a twice-a-week opinion columnist at The Detroit News, serves as the editor-in-chief of the Institute and the chair of the Academy of Fellows.

“In the modern age, nothing has been more significant than the fight against inequality and embedded structures of racism. In Mark Rosenbaum, we see a courageous lawyer with a deep commitment to social justice, and who uses the law to champion liberty and civil rights for the marginalized and disenfranchised,” Thompson said. “Rosenbaum joining the esteemed Academy of Fellows is significant because it demonstrates his lifelong dedication to anti-poverty ideas that he has pushed in the courtroom as well as a stupendous undertaking of critical issues that are fundamental to our understanding of rising inequality.”

Thompson added, “We look forward to his work here at The PuLSE Institute, an anchor of the anti-poverty movement in Detroit, the largest black city in America, which is also ground zero of the national crisis of structural inequality and pervasive poverty.”

Last year, Washington Post nationally syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda, profiled the work of The PuLSE Institute in a column describing it as a national model for cities working to tackle poverty. Lawrence Technological University in Southfield also announced last year that it will inculcate the work of the Institute in its MBA program for students to identify business solutions to poverty.

Leading members of The PuLSE Institute include the National Advisory Panel consisting of Dr. Arun Gandhi, global justice advocate and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi; Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a top aide of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign; Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK and a leading Catholic anti-poverty crusader; Robert Weiner, former White House spokesman; Herb Boyd, historian, journalist and author of consequential books on James Baldwin and Malcolm X; Luba Lukova, an internationally visual artist for social justice; Rev. Lawrence T. Foster, Harvard-trained theologian and mentee of Martin Luther King Sr.; and Janis F. Kearney, first presidential diarist under former President Bill Clinton. 

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