MCLI’s Human Rights Advocacy responds to directly address human rights violations in the United States. MCLI works as an ally with communities directly experiencing human rights violations by local, state, or federal governments. This collaborative effort uses whatever resources that are available including MCLI’s policy expertise, networks of attorneys and advocates, and educational resources.

In 2017 MCLI began the Campaign for the Human Rights of Landless People in alliance with homeless communities and grassroots organizations centering the leadership of those experiencing homelessness. The Campaign focuses on ending the criminalization of homelessness in the short term and ultimately ending homelessness in the United States. This campaign is ongoing.

In 2018 MCLI began working with sex workers fighting laws criminalizing communication of these workers with friends, family, and organizations providing supportive services. This so-called “anti-trafficking” legislation put sex workers at greater risk of abuse and slavery.

Currently, MCLI is building an alliance with sex workers, landless people, others rendered politically invisible, and the National Lawyers Guild to create a policy advocacy working group in Sacramento, California.


The Human Rights Reporting Project seeks to domestically enforce the three ratified human rights treaties as part of MCLI’s larger goal of full U.S. compliance with universal human rights standards. The three ratified treaties are:

  1. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), written to make the provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enforceable;
  2. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which bans the use of torture under any circumstances, including “a state of war or a threat of war”; (Convention Against Torture; Art. 2, Cl. 2)
  3. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which requires nations to “adopt all necessary measures for speedily eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations.”(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Para. 5)

MCLI employs three strategies to enforce the treaties:

  1. Help convince all cities, counties, and states in the United States to implement the treaties by filing reports on their successes and failures to the U.N. Committees administering the treaties. MCLI partnered with the Berkeley Peace & Justice Commission to convince the City of Berkeley to report. In 2007, Berkeley became the first city in the United States to file reports to the U.N. Committees. This demonstration project is now a model for how to convince local governments to report. We distribute a sample resolution and a detailed treaty-reporting template created with help from the Berkeley Peace & Justice Commission and student interns.
  2. File supplemental “shadow” reports to the U.N. Committees documenting treaty violations left out of the official U.S. Department of State report. The need for supplemental reporting is clear. The U.S. government has determined not to enforce ICCPR, CERD and CAT. They’ve filed the required reports late and failed to include the most flagrant of violations in their reports. For example, in the 2006 report on compliance with ICCPR, the U.S. did not mention the issues in the Gulf Coast due to the government response to Hurricane Katrina. Because the Committees that review the required reports requested non-governmental organizations to file supplemental reports when necessary, MCLI submitted a supplemental report with details of the violations in the government’s response to Katrina. We sent two members of our Board of Directors to present to the Committee the content of our supplemental report. The Committee made recommendations for remedying these violations in its Concluding Observations and called on the U.S. to act immediately. The U.S. Department of State responded by announcing that it was sending more money to the Gulf and would investigate charges of racial discrimination in police shootings on Danziger Bridge following the hurricane.
  3. Broaden the domestic civil liberties/civil rights discussion to include human rights.

Most U.S. residents, activists, lawyers, legislators, journalists, judges, government officials, professors, and students in the United States aren’t aware of these powerful tools or how to enforce them. MCLI Board Members and Staff speak on the radio and television, post on the internet, and participate in numerous community coalition meetings and events. MCLI provides advice on using the treaties and publicizes the text of the treaties and reports on implementation.

Little Orange Books

MCLI researches, writes, edits, and publishes a series of short books we call “Little Orange Books.” The series began in 2006 with “Landmark Cases Left Out of Your Textbooks”, a collection of easy-to-read summaries of important cases not commonly included in legal texts.  The cases represent victories for a broad range of movements including labor rights, immigrant rights, civil rights, and peace. This first little orange book is an excellent reference for any activist or lawyer researching tactics for victory. *For example, the book includes Dianna Lyons’ strategies that won Dolores Huerta v. City and County of San Francisco.

The Living Constitution: with Highlights from the Supreme Law of the Land is the second Little Orange Book. Published in 2007, this book is the first effort to provide the real text of the Constitution of the United States. All of the amendments now in effect are inserted into the text of the Constitution where they fit. The most basic sections of the six ratified treaties are also inserted: the United Nations Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination,  and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Another Little Orange Book, “Undoing the Bush/Cheney Legacy: A Tool Kit for Congress,” was published in October 2008. This book contains succinct summaries of “Bush/Cheney” Statutes, Regulations, Executive Orders, and Signing Statements that ignore basic U.S. law and how Congress can amend or repeal them.

The 2009 Little Orange Book was “Making the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the Supreme Law of the Land,” marking the 60th year of the Declaration. This book links the UDHR articles to the identical articles in the ratified treaties mentioned above, so that judges and lawyers and the public can cite them as easily as people cite the First Amendment.

Archival Projects

MCLI continues to collect materials on human rights and peace law that will ultimately be contributed to the University of California at Berkeley Bancroft Law Library Archival Collections. MCLI’s  The Dockets are a unique collection of the best legal “briefs,” transcripts, and motions in civil liberties cases since 1955. They were published as a serial, so a single case might be mentioned in 4 or 5 Dockets, making research cumbersome. That’s why we compiled every mention of a single case on its own page in the Notebooks. We plan to digitize and sell the Notebook collection so this valuable and unique resource will be available to the public.

The University of California Bancroft Collection holds a large portion of the famous MCLI archives, including the National Lawyers Guild collection, since the summer of 1999. The Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan holds the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born papers and the case of William Heikkila.

Among the Bancroft’s holdings are the following:

 Human Rights and Peace Law Docket 1945-1993. The best legal “briefs,” transcripts, and motions in cases reported in the Civil Liberties Docket since 1955. The MCLI Docket followed in the great traditions of the Law and Freedom Bulletin of the American Civil Liberties Union (1920 – 1931), the International Juridical Association Bulletin (1931-1942), and the National Lawyers Guild Review — Recent Items (1942-1946) — all in MCLI archives.

 Human Rights Casefinder: The Warren Court Era 1953-1969. Where to find reports of federal and state cases (1969)

 Angela Davis Case Collection. Annotated procedural guide and index to all that creative pretrial and jury selection material in California v. Davis (with Oceana Pubs)(1974)

 Pentagon Papers Trail. Index-Catalog to defense attacks on FBI practices in United States v. Ellsberg and Russo (1975)

 Attorneys – Correspondence, briefs, files, oral history snippets, notes of: Osmond K. Fraenkel, Carol Weiss King, Joseph Forer, Samuel Neuburger, David Freedman, Justine Wise Polier, Jeremiah Gutman, Martin Popper, Abraham Isserman, Dennis Roberts, Robert J. Silberstein, Justice Raymond Peters, George W. Crockett, Jr..

 Cases – Briefs, pleadings, clippings, unreported opinions, indices to testimony in:

  • Bakke/DeFunis (on affirmative action in graduate schools)
  • Harry Bridges (deportation)
  • Caryl Chessman (capital punishment)
  • Chicago 8 (trial/appeal)
  • Dennis (Smith Act) — George W. Crockett, Jr. files
  • Free Speech Movement (California v. Savio)
  • William Heikkila (deportation)
  • House UnAmerican Activities Committee (contempt cases)
  • Pentagon Papers (Ellsberg, Russo)
  • Rosenberg/Sobell
  • Cases reported in Civil Liberties Docket (1955-1969), Human Rights Docket (1979), Human Rights and Peace Law Docket (1983-1995)

 First Amendment – Papers of Alexander Meiklejohn, Bernhard Stern.

 Labor and Related Materials – Eugene V. Debs: notes of Ray Ginger, ILWU Civil Liberties Collection (1953-1965), ILWU Collection on HUAC, Labor Surveillance Collection (labor spies 1930’s: unique), Radical Elders Oral History Project, Ray Thompson papers.

 Movements – Cases and Extensive Materials: Academic Freedom (1940, 1955-1979), International Law (Betty Elder Coll.), Civil Rights Movement (1955-1969), Nuclear Free Zones (1987 – ), Cold War (1947-1950), Southern Africa (1988-1989), Draft and Military Law (1955-1969), Vietnam War (John H.E. Fried Coll.)

 National Lawyers Guild Collection

  • National Office Files, 1936-1976/Since 1976
  • National Leaders Files: Henry di Suvero, Ann Fagan Ginger, Robert W. Kenny,
  • Maurice Sugar, Doris Brin Walker, Ruben Tepper
  • Grand Jury Defence Office Electronic Surveillance Project
  •  NLG Conventions: Tapes and Materials since 1976
  •  NLG Historical Photographs Collection
  •  NLG Law Reviews 1937-1979/Since 1979
  • Organizational Archives

 Organizational Archives for: American Association of Jurists (1974 – ), American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born (national/N. Calif.), Civil Rights Congress, Film Photo League (1930’s Chicago), International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Juridical Association Bulletin, Prison Law Project (Stender), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Berkeley City Commission on Peace & Justice (1987- )

To view the collection online at the Online Archive of California visit: Preliminary Inventory of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute Collections, circa 1940-1998


The MCLI Development Committee consists of members of the Board of Directors, the Executive Director, and other staff or volunteers. The Committee refines and evaluates the goals and strategies of MCLI consistent with the core values of longevity, independence, and integrity. Looking to the next 100 years of MCLI the Development Committee seeks to increase the amount of funding from private foundations, and law firms, to support the expansion of our projects and the transition to new leadership since the retirement of our long-time Executive Director, Ann Fagan-Ginger.

The Development Committee implement fundraising and grant-writing projects and to facilitate the plans for expansion and The MCLI Continuing Legal Education program seeks to help enforce universal standards of human rights domestically and resist government acts that diminish those rights, like the suspension of habeus corpus and severe cuts in government spending on training and assistance programs. Toward that end, the MCLI CLE provides lawyers with three types of new information they can use in their practice:

  1. How to win cases in U.S. courts by using the U.N. Charter and ratified U.N. human rights treaties along with provisions in the U.S. Constitution.
  2. How lawyers can help their clients and causes by convincing cities to file reports on these issues with the three U.N. committees, or themselves filing such informal reports and making informal presentations to U.N. human rights committees in Geneva and New York.
  3. How to file complaints with the appropriate Office of Inspector General which can result in a report to the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairs on the issue. Today this may have as great an effect as filing a lawsuit on a difficult case.

The materials for the CLE program are kept up-to-date by MCLI law school interns. Lawyers and legal workers who attend the CLE receive a comprehensive list of cases won in U.S. courts using the ratified treaties as well as an extensive appendix of legal texts. The appendix includes the entire text of ICCPR, CERD, and CAT, as well as the Nuremberg Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ten other texts.