Eva Paterson

President, Equal Justice Society 

Eva Jefferson Paterson is the President and a co-founder of the Equal Justice Society, a legal organization transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts.

Paterson previously served as Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. She led the organization’s work providing free legal services to low-income individuals, litigating class action civil rights cases, and advocating for social justice. At the Lawyers’ Committee, she was part of a broad coalition that won a groundbreaking lawsuit that successfully desegregated the San Francisco Fire Department.

Paterson co-founded and co-chaired the California Civil Rights Coalition in 1985. She was a leading spokesperson in the campaigns against Proposition 187 (anti-immigrant) and Proposition 209 (anti-affirmative action) and numerous other statewide campaigns against the death penalty, juvenile incarceration, and discrimination against lesbians and gay men. She also served as Vice President of the ACLU National Board and chaired the boards of Equal Rights Advocates and the San Francisco Bar Association Foundation.

Paterson has been co-counsel on several landmark lawsuits in support of affirmative action: the federal lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 209, litigation against UC Berkeley’s admissions policy limiting access to students of color. Paterson has served as co-counsel on numerous amicus briefs in significant cases such as Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin; Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Garden Citizens in Action, Inc.; Texas Department of Housing v. The Inclusive Communities Project; Farrakhan v. Gregoire; and Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School.

As a 20-year-old student leader during the war in Indochina, Paterson was catapulted into the national spotlight when she debated then Vice President Spiro Agnew on live television. She received her B.A. in political science from Northwestern, where she was elected the university’s first African American student body president, and her law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law.