The Southern Poverty Law Center is an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, it is known for its legal cases against white supremacist groups, its classification of hate groups and other extremist organizations, and for promoting tolerance education programs.:1500 The SPLC was founded by Morris Dees, Joseph J. Levin Jr., and Julian Bond in 1971 as a civil rights law firm in Montgomery, Alabama. Bond served as president of the board between 1971 and 1979.
In 1980, 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. The SPLC also became 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, 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 and other law enforcement agencies.
Since the 2000s, the SPLC's classification and listings of hate groups and extremists have often been described as authoritative and are widely accepted and cited in academic and media coverage of such groups and related issues. The SPLC's listings have also been the subject of criticism from those who argue that some of the SPLC's listings are overbroad, politically motivated, or unwarranted. There have also been accusations of misuse or unnecessarily extravagant use of funds by the organization, leading some employees to call the headquarters "Poverty Palace".
In 2019, founder Morris Dees was fired, which was followed by the resignation of president Richard Cohen. An outside consultant, Tina Tchen, was brought in to review workplace practices, particularly relating to accusations of racial and sexual harassment. Margaret Huang, who was formerly the Chief Executive at Amnesty International USA, was named as president and CEO of the SPLC in early February 2020.