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Strategic Litigation Impacts: Global Narratives About Social Change

  • When
  • October 26, 2015
    9:00a.m.–2:30 p.m.
  • Where
  • Open Society Foundations–New York
    224 West 57th Street
    New York, NY 10019
    United States of America
  • Programs
  • Open Society Justice Initiative

The Pros and Cons of Using Strategic Litigation to Effect Social Change


From Brown v. Board of Education to landmark decisions in India on the right to food, one of the most effective—and controversial—social-change agents is strategic litigation. For its supporters, like the Open Society Foundations, strategic (impact or public-interest) litigation is an under-appreciated tool of empowerment and social change that donors, governments, and civil society advocates should exploit more—and more skillfully—to prompt and/or expedite the provision of protection and remedies and make jurisprudence ever more accommodating of human rights. For its detractors, strategic litigation is an expensive, time-consuming, risky, and often elitist enterprise that has yet to prove its worth.

For many others, the competing claims about strategic litigation shed little light and leave a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding. And for the vast majority of the world’s population, legal remedies such as strategic litigation are either unheard of or a distant dream.



  • Colin Gonsalves, founding director of India’s leading strategic litigation organization, the Human Rights Legal Network, a nationwide network of more than 200 lawyers, paralegals, and social activists spread across 26 states/union territories
  • Dmitri Holtzman, PILnet fellow and former executive director of the Equal Education Law Centre, South Africa’s pioneering litigation partner of the grassroots movement Equal Education, which is leading nation-wide campaigns for improvements to school infrastructure
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the United States’ largest and most prominent civil rights law and advocacy group
  • James A. Goldston (moderator), executive director, Open Society Justice Initiative

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