The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, it is noted for its successful legal cases against white supremacist groups, its classification of hate groups and other extremist organizations, and its educational programs that promote tolerance. The SPLC’s classification and listing of hate groups – organizations that in its assessment “attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics” – and its labeling of certain people as extremists, have been the source of some controversy.
SPLC was founded by Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr. in 1971 as a civil rights law firm in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil rights leader Julian Bond joined Dees and Levin and served as president of the board between 1971 and 1979.
In 1979, the SPLC began a litigation strategy of filing civil suits for monetary damages on behalf of the victims of violence from the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. The SPLC has also become involved in other civil rights causes, including cases to challenge what it sees as institutional racial segregation and discrimination, inhumane and unconstitutional conditions in prisons and detention centers, discrimination based on sexual orientation, the mistreatment of illegal immigrants, and the unconstitutional mixing of church and state. The SPLC has provided information about hate groups to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement agencies.