Justice for All

Spring 2021
Headshot of Clare Pastore
Photo: Chris Flynn/USC Gould School of Law

Over the past year, the pandemic as well as social justice protests have opened the eyes of many Americans to the racial and economic inequalities in our society. Attorney and law professor Clare Pastore ’82 has been laser focused on these issues for three decades as a civil rights and poverty law advocate. Today, she sees a valuable opportunity for change and progress. 

“It’s an incredible moment of long-overdue attention to racial injustice and the connection of historic and systemic racism to poverty and justice today,” Pastore says.

Her passion for advocacy started at Colgate in two ways. First, she found a mentor in Professor Ted Herman, who founded the peace studies (now peace and conflict studies) program. “He supported students in exploring what we could do to help bring justice and peace to the world,” she says.

Also, in the late ’70s, Colgate was still adjusting to its status as a coeducational institution. As an athlete (cocaptain of the field hockey team and a member of the ice hockey club) and a feminist, Pastore recognized the inequities for women; these experiences provided opportunities for gender equality advocacy.

After graduation, she spent two years in Paris (the first on a Fulbright teaching grant), worked in the Washington policy advocacy world, and then attended Yale Law School.

As a newly minted lawyer in 1989, Pastore joined the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a nonprofit, impact litigation agency dedicated to securing housing, health care, and a safety net for low-income Californians. She fought a number of her proudest legal battles during her 15 years with the center. 

“Some of the most meaningful cases I worked on were for people who were like my mom,” she explains. Pastore grew up in a poor, single-parent family in Connecticut. Her mom went back to school and completed her degree at 35, but with four children and little money, it was a struggle. At the center, Pastore won several cases that established child care eligibility for low-income mothers pursuing education and opened up job training for them. 

She also prevailed in several foster care cases that helped families caring for younger relatives. Little did she know that years later, she and her husband would themselves become foster parents to a niece and nephew, along with raising their own two daughters. “It was interesting to be on the ‘client’ side of the system, even sometimes receiving in the mail notices that I had written to help foster parents,” she says. 

Pastore’s career, which also included a stint with the ACLU of Southern California, came full circle in 2019 when Western Center honored her with the Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award, which recognizes leaders who have dedicated their careers to providing Californians with access to justice. 

Over the decades, she has racked up many such honors, not only for her advocacy work, but also in her role as a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. In 2020, she was awarded the school’s William A. Rutter Distinguished Teaching Award. She is also the recipient of the $25,000 Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award, given to 10 educators nationwide every year “who have inspired their former students to make a significant contribution to society.”

The year 2021 brought Pastore a new chance to make a significant contribution: She joined the California State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to think about how we can spotlight civil rights issues in California and help both reflect and prompt national dialogue about needed change,” she says. 

Pastore still relishes teaching such courses as civil rights, poverty law, and a practicum where she litigates cases with students. (She cowrote the leading poverty law textbook.) “I don’t see my role as speaking only to the 12% of students who will have a career in nonprofit or government law,” she says. “It’s important that lawyers entering the private sector, too, understand that what they do matters. Even though their day job might be representing business clients, they have a responsibility as members of the profession to help the needy and uphold justice.”