Our long record of experience advocating for constitutional and civil rights covers a broad range of topics—ranging from the Seventeenth Amendment to the Commerce Clause.
Although the United States Constitution and subsequent legislation guarantees the rights of citizens, those rights are often violated and abused by institutions, private entities, and individual bad actors. In order to rectify violations of constitutional and civil rights, the attorneys at Despres, Schwartz, & Geoghegan, Ltd., frequently represent citizens in litigation.
Our attorneys make use of novel approaches to constitutional law and creative solutions to protect the rights of our clients across a range of issues, including their rights to vote, to free speech, to equal protection under the law, to due process, and to freedom from unlawful search, seizure, and imprisonment. In doing so, our work has touched on everything from the Seventeenth Amendment to the Commerce Clause.
Constitutional & Civil Rights Experience
We represent a range of clients, including individual workers, voters, parents, and unions. One of the firm’s focuses in constitutional law and an area of great success for our attorneys has been protecting the First Amendment rights of union members. Union members are often targeted by their employers for speaking out, and such acts of retaliation and intimidation violate workers’ rights to freedom of speech. For more information about our experience in this area, please refer to our page on Labor & Employment.
Protecting Fundamental Rights
Our attorneys have experience with complex issues of constitutional law on a national stage:
- Despres, Schwartz, & Geoghegan won a landmark case concerning the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010, establishing that voters have a constitutional right to fill vacancies in the United States Senate. Following the appointment of a replacement for President Obama to the U.S. Senate surrounded by ethics questions, the state of Illinois was not intending to hold a special election to allow Illinois voters to have elected representation in the United States Senate. Our lawsuit, affirmed by the Court of Appeals, allowed Illinois voters to be appropriately represented without delay.
- Our firm has also brought litigation in defense of voting rights all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2017, when Pennsylvania implemented a gerrymandered map of their Congressional districts, the attorneys at Despres, Schwartz, & Geoghegan sought a re-drawn map of the Pennsylvania Congressional Districts that would ensure citizens of the state would be fairly represented in accordance with the Constitution.
- In 2023, we brought a suit on behalf of the National Association of Government Employees against President Joe Biden and Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen to put an end to the unconstitutional and unnecessarily risky policy of imposing a limit on the national debt. This policy, in addition to requiring the President to make fiduciary decisions not provided for in the Constitution, harms government employees who would experience a great deal of financial harm if the U.S. were to default on its debt.
Our firm is also proud of the work our attorneys have done to protect civil rights:
- Amid a series of infamous school closures in 2013, our firm sued in an effort to keep schools open that served as community cornerstones in underfunded Chicago neighborhoods. These suits provided a rallying point for the community against unjust and discriminatory public-school policies.
- In 2018, we sued the Illinois State Police on behalf of young children in Chicago suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from gun violence. Such gun violence would be mitigated by existing gun legislation if not for the Illinois State Police’s failure to fairly and equitably enforce gun regulations, allowing downstate gun vendors to profit from the violence that occurs in Chicago neighborhoods. Our ongoing litigation in this area seeks equitable enforcement of existing gun laws to prevent further traumatic disturbances in the lives of young Chicagoans.
- Our firm has also represented individuals who have had their civil rights violated by the criminal justice system. We have successfully brought litigation challenging police misconduct and have remained steadfast in standing up for incarcerated clients, representing individuals who have been wrongfully imprisoned, mistreated, and denied healthcare by the criminal justice system over the course of many years.
Freedom of Speech for Workers
Our firm has had particular success in obtaining justice for workers who have been unfairly treated for exercising their constitutional right to speech:
- In 2018, after a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) was fired from his decades-long career as a bus driver for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech in support of his union, our firm responded by filing suit against the employer. Our attorneys won an appeal in the First Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals and in doing so were able to protect this fundamental and constitutional right.
- When a school superintendent targeted a group of teachers who were active voices in their local community in 2022, the attorneys at Despres, Schwartz, & Geoghegan moved quickly to bring a lawsuit and sought a preliminary injunction protecting their right to speak out while serving as educators. In less than a year, our attorneys were able to reach a favorable settlement, safeguarding the teachers so that they could continue to be active and well-respected educators.
Let’s work together
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If you feel that you have a civil rights case on behalf of yourself, another individual, or a community or group of people, please contact us.