MacArthur Justice Center Taps Veteran Litigator As Director

Law360 (January 25, 2022, 4:38 PM EST) --
Amir H. Ali
Amir H. Ali
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has elevated a civil rights litigator with experience arguing high-stake cases to executive director, the nonprofit said Tuesday.

Amir H. Ali, who litigated several landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and served as director of the organization's Washington, D.C., office, has replaced Locke E. Bowman, a prominent Chicago civil rights lawyer who served in the post for 29 years.

"I'm deeply honored to lead this vital and storied organization, which is litigating the most cutting-edge and urgent civil rights cases across the country," Ali said in a statement. "We're in a pivotal moment: More attention than ever is being paid to civil rights issues, yet the communities we serve continue to be targeted. This team recognizes both the opportunity and the challenge."

A graduate of Harvard Law School, where he also lectures, Ali began his legal career as an appellate and Supreme Court practice attorney at Jenner & Block LLP's office in the capital. He joined the MacArthur Justice Center in February 2017.

The range of cases Ali litigated runs the gamut from law enforcement accountability to constitutional rights of defendants, to criminal sentencing and the death penalty. He also worked on cases involving wrongful convictions and the rights of incarcerated people.

Some of those cases reached the high court. In October 2021, Ali argued on behalf of a former criminal defendant who was denied the right to sue his arresting officers for an alleged Fourth Amendment violation.

During oral arguments in the case Thompson v. Clark, Ali asked the justices to reject a Second Circuit doctrine requiring former defendants to show actual innocence in their underlying cases to be able to bring malicious prosecution suits in federal court. Justices are expected to rule on the case in the next few weeks and the ruling has the potential to broaden — or drastically limit — the ability of defendants to make law enforcement officers accountable for constitutional violations.

Ali has scored a series of victories in other highly consequential cases before the Supreme Court. His 2016 win in Welch v. United States led to the reversal of mandatory minimum sentences in hundreds of criminal cases. He also persuaded the court to expand the constitutional right to counsel to include an absolute right of appeal, irrespective of the terms of a plea agreement, in the 2018 case Garza v. Idaho.

Speaking to Law360 Tuesday afternoon, Ali said the most meaningful cases of his career are, actually, the ones he kept out of the Supreme Court.

Perhaps the best example is the case involving Cory Williams, an intellectually disabled Louisiana teenager who was convicted and sentenced to death at age 16 for a crime he didn't commit. In May 2018, three months after Ali filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to reverse his conviction, the prosecutorial office that had pursued the case against Williams for over 20 years decided to drop the case and agreed to his immediate release.

"Corey walked out as a free man," Ali said.

Looking ahead to his leadership role, Ali said he aims to make the MacArthur Justice Center one of the most agile and responsive civil rights firms in the country.

"We are going to focus on not just litigating when we counter injustice, but on amplifying our clients' voices, despite the societal pressure to silence them," Ali said. "We're mindful of the challenges ahead, given the present judiciary, but also very much aware of the power to persuade and make change."

During a legal career dedicated to litigating civil rights and racial justice issues in federal courts, Ali challenged controversial executive policies that critics said undermined civil rights, particularly  of minorities, people of color and immigrants.

His brief challenging former President Donald Trump's travel restrictions on people from majority-Muslim countries, what became known as the Muslim Ban, was cited in Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissenting opinion in a case over the executive order.

As naturalized citizen and a Muslim, Ali brings his lived experience into the center's work, the organization said in a statement.

In addition to his work for the MacArthur Justice Center, Ali serves on the board of The Appellate Project, a nonprofit seeking to empower law students of color. He is also a fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

Launched as a public interest law firm focusing on death penalty cases, the MacArthur Justice Center evolved into a civil rights litigation powerhouse with offices in several U.S. cities in the South, Midwest and on the East Coast. The organization expanded its reach to litigate prosecutorial misconduct, police violence, prison conditions and matters involving the criminalization of poverty.

"Amir is exactly the right person to lead [the MacArthur Justice Center] into its next phase at a moment when the country and the communities we serve face challenge and uncertainty," Bowman, the former executive director, said in a statement.

David J. Bradford, a Jenner & Block partner and co-founder of the MacArthur Justice Center, thanked Bowman for his successful tenure in a statement. He also said the organization is "very fortunate" to have Ali as its next leader.

"Amir personifies the values and success of this very special organization," Bradford said.

--Editing by Lakshna Mehta.

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