Our History

“I’m incredibly proud that, every day, the team here at Public Justice embodies the call of the late civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis to cause ‘good trouble.’

Turning a blind eye to what’s happening at this very moment in our own country is not an option. The status quo is not an option. Silence, as [the late] Larry Kramer…reminded us, is not an option. Complacency is not an option. What is required now, in the heat of this battle over who we are as a people, and as a country, is courageous service to justice, and that’s what Public Justice – and the Public Justice family of members and supporters – is all about.” – Executive Director Paul Bland

Founded in January 1982, Public Justice (originally Trial Lawyers for Public Justice) is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization that takes on purveyors of corporate corruption, sexual abusers and harassers, and polluters who ravage the environment.

At its core, each of our battles is inspired by a pledge to further equity and equality, end systemic oppression, and protect and expand access to justice for all. Armed with insightful, nuanced knowledge of federal and state laws and savvy communications and organizing strategies, our team fights to protect the environment, solidify and enhance civil rights and ensure every individual can exercise their right to have their day in court.

Public Justice was founded by and continues thanks to the support of those dedicated to doing good in the public interest through impact litigation and strategically aligned advocacy campaigns.


At a 1980 convention in Montreal of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now the American Association for Justice) after Ronald Reagan’s election, speaker Ralph Nader argued that what the country needed was a national public interest law firm that litigated against government and corporations for the public good, regardless of whether the case made money — which was the standard concern for lawyers at the time.

Two hundred idealistic attorneys took this as a challenge. Public Justice’s founders each chipped in $1,000 for seed money. Initially, the organization hired a very small staff, took cases geared to their skill set, and recruited other lawyers to help build fact-intensive cases from the ground up that would change the law or make a difference beyond the specific case or individual.

The founders hired Tony Roisman, a 45-year old attorney and expert on nuclear regulation, to serve as the organization’s first executive director. He had worked as head of hazardous waste litigation in the Carter Justice Department.


In 1983, the organization filed its first amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee, involving a 28-year old chemical technician and union activist at the Kerr-McGee nuclear facility in Oklahoma who testified before the Atomic Energy Commissions about health and safety concerns.

She was then discovered to have plutonium contamination in her lungs, on her person and in her home. When she sued, the jury returned a hefty verdict for the family that was later overturned on grounds of federal pre-emption.

Ultimately, the jury verdict was reinstated by the Court in a 5-to-4 decision. Public Justice’s brief was the first in a long line of battles against federal pre-emption that continue to this day.


The organization created its now-iconic Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.


Following Roisman’s departure, staff attorney Arthur Bryant assumed the role of Executive Director. During Bryant’s tenure, the organization’s case docket expanded significantly.


Today, under the leadership of Paul Bland, who became Executive Director in 2014, Public Justice’s litigation programs have expanded even further, building on the organization’s founding principles and dedication to tackling cutting-edge legal issues that impact workers, consumers, the environment and civil rights. Though Public Justice has always focused on cases that impact women, the disabled, people of color and LGBTQ people, Bland has further evolved the organization’s outreach to more explicitly include these communities in a comprehensive vision of the nonprofit’s mission.

Access to Justice

Through Public Justice’s expertise in Access to Justice issues, the organization’s impact has been felt across the country. In 2019, Public Justice won a precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court victory on behalf of hundreds of thousands of transportation workers across the country, ensuring truck drivers and others are able to bring wage and hour claims in court, rather than be forced into pre-set rigged arbitration.

Environmental Enforcement Project

Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Project almost single-handedly impeded mountaintop removal mining in America. Today, our work to fight climate change continues, with groundbreaking advocacy to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable and enforce clean air and water laws.

Students' Civil Rights Project

Our Students’ Civil Rights Project builds on our landmark 1996 lawsuit for women on Brown University sports teams, upholding their claim that the university violated Title IX by demoting women’s gymnastics and the volleyball teams from university-funded to donor-funded varsity status. Today, we are at the forefront of Title IX litigation and advocacy aimed at protecting students from sexual harassment and discrimination, and to preserve the rights of transgender students.

Debtors' Prison Project

The Debtors’ Prison Project, launched in 2018, combats the criminalization of poverty where local governments shift the costs of the criminal justice system onto those who pass through their courts and outsource the collection of court debt to for-profit corporations. Through strategic class action litigation on behalf of criminal defendants whose constitutional and other legal rights have been violated, DPP aims to do away with the incentives municipal governments have to balance their budgets on the backs of indigent criminal defendants. DPP also aggressively targets corporate actors that profit by trapping indigent defendants – including the already unhoused – in a cycle of poverty.

The Food Project

The organization’s Food Project focuses on the intersection of food safety, the environment, animal welfare and consumer rights. During the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak, when meatpacking and other frontline workers were left vulnerable in the workplace with no help from the federal government, the Food Project filed the very first COVID-related lawsuits seeking workplace protections during the pandemic. The lawsuits garnered national attention, galvanizing a movement advocating on behalf of food chain workers.

Through this and other innovative advocacy, the Food Project has pioneered a new approach to working towards a more just world, aligning with allies across movement sectors and combining litigation with base building and communications to create lasting change.

In 1982, the founders of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice were inspired by the Consumer Movement to protect consumers and workers in a new era of disempowering deregulation. Today, the attorneys, staff, board and members of Public Justice, working with movement allies, seek a just and equitable world where government systems and society’s institutions serve the common good for the betterment of all. The organization now bolsters a diverse staff of more than 50 dedicated advocates from communities across the country while continuing to grow its case docket and maximize its impact even further.

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