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SUPREME COURT
ASSISTANCE PROJECT

Read about our work helping lawyers
with cases in the Supreme Court.

 

Courting Change: The Story of the Public Citizen Litigation Group

Rising out of the idealism and activism of the 1960s was a group of young, progressive lawyers who banded together to take on the power structure at a time when public interest litigation was in its infancy. They formed the Public Citizen Litigation Group and proceeded to rack up ground-breaking court victories. They pried loose secret government records such as documents involving the FBI's COINTELPRO program, which spied on U.S. citizens. They challenged price-fixing by the legal profession. They fought for First Amendment rights. They waged war against President Reagan's attack on protective regulations. They won stronger safeguards for workers exposed to toxic chemicals. They took on corrupt union officials as well as big corporations like the airlines, automakers and pharmaceutical companies.

Courting Change tells the story of the legal team that made history by challenging power at the highest levels-who forced Congress and the president to abide by the separation of powers principle of the U.S. Constitution in cases involving the legislative veto, the Gramm-Rudman Act and President Nixon's illegal impoundment of funds appropriated by Congress.

The story of the Litigation Group is a story of legal ingenuity, shoestring budgets and remarkable achievement-forty-seven cases argued before the Supreme Court and more than three hundred Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. The Public Citizen Litigation Group, founded by Alan Morrison and Ralph Nader, continues to wage its cutting-edge legal crusades today.

This 400-page volume, the fourth book about American politics and law by former Wesleyan University government professor Barbara Hinkson Craig, encompasses the Litigation Group's first fifteen years, as its lawyers took the stage for some of the period's most momentous legal and political battles. In an afterword, Morrison writes of the Litigation Group's work in the ensuing years.

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Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

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