Described by his peers as humble yet brilliant, Stein — a renowned civil rights attorney based in Chapel Hill — has dedicated himself to the past and present civil rights movement.
He is currently suing the North Carolina General Assembly for a 2013 law targeted at election reform, which strips many protective measures implemented in the ‘60s and ‘70s — namely by restricting early registration and voting measures, limiting the use of the absentee ballots and eliminating out-of-precinct voting.
Stein said repealing these measures, originally adopted to bring blacks to the voting booths, disproportionately affects the black community in a move designed to collapse the electorate into primarily Republican-friendly voters.
“There has been a very, very strong effort — particularly by conservatives, not just in North Carolina but around the country — to minimize and complicate voter turnout so much so that they have come up with all kinds of schemes to make sure the vote is suppressed,” said Isaac Unah, associate professor of political science at UNC.
The struggle for voting rights is just one of many areas in which attorneys like Stein are crucial, Unah said. Other areas critical to the civil rights movement are confronting the implicit bias in law enforcement implementation, the re-segregation of N.C. public schools and recent anti-immigrant legislation, he said.
“You need dedicated individuals like Adam Stein who make sure the proper questions are asked of state legislatures, in order to ensure that citizens are being protected,” he said.
Stein’s current legal battle is one case in his extensive history of civil rights cases — including several argued before the U.S. Supreme Court — since he co-founded the first integrated law firm in the southeast, Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter.
“It’s hard to appreciate now — more than 50 years later — how unusual it was for a white lawyer to go work for a black lawyer,” said Richard Rosen, a UNC law professor and friend of Stein. “They were all over the state, suing school districts, employers, companies, trucking companies, mills — essentially winning battles on behalf of the African-American citizens in the state.”