Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Susan K. Goering
MSA SC 3520-16888


Susan K. Goering is a champion of civil rights in the state of Maryland. As the current Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)-Maryland Chapter, Goering’s decades of legal work, especially  in Baltimore City, has given voices to the voiceless. Focusing heavily around dismantling institutional racism, Goering fearlessly uses the law as a mechanism to ensure civil rights to all Maryland residents.

Susan Goering was born in Kansas to a Mennonite family. She was raised by pacifist parents who instilled the value of hard work and equal rights into her mind.1 Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words during the March on Washington also influenced Goering at a young age. Even though she was only twelve at the time, Goering says that she “was captured at that point. Although I hadn’t experienced discrimination first hand, I was resolved to do something.”2 Inspired to create change, Goering attended the University of Kansas for her undergraduate and law degrees. Immediately after graduating from law school, Goering started fighting discrimination when she joined the legal team behind the last Brown v. Board-style school segregation case.3  

Goering moved from the Midwest to Maryland in 1986 when she became the Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. Ten years later, Goering was selected as the new Executive Director. Her time as Legal Director allowed her to work closely with the former executive director, which gave her insight into the ongoing litigation cases the Union was pursuing. Goering was thrilled about her promotion and was excited to continue the goals of the Maryland chapter, and exerted her belief that “[o]ur first job as the ACLU is to protect the rights [of citizens], but it's also important to try to heal the wounds that the violations of those rights have caused.”4

As Legal Director and Executive Director of the Maryland ALCU branch, Goering certainly has tried to heal the wounds of those who have had their rights violated. Goering has defended a long list of rights for a plethora of Marylanders, including pregnant women discriminated against in employment; women and girls held in deplorable jails; groups that want to march on public streets; LBGTQ rights pertaining to employment, housing, and marriage; public school students that were punished for exercising their right to free speech; inmates at deteriorating Eastern Shore jails; victims of police abuse; and employees that were forced to give their social media passwords to their employers.5 The lists of rights that Goering has helped defend or secure is almost endless, but her most crucial legal victories surround discrimination towards African Americans.

In 1993, Goering helped litigate a case regarding “driving while black.” Goering and the ALCU defended Robert Wilkins, a Harvard Law School graduate and Washington, D.C. public defender who was stopped by the Maryland State Police while driving due to a suspicion of drug trafficking. According to the police officer that pulled him over, Wilkins displayed all the typical signs of someone who was transporting illegal drugs, and, despite objections from Wilkins about how the officer was violating his legal rights, the officer sent a drug sniffing dog to search Wilkins’ car.6 The drug sniffing dog found no signs of drugs, causing Wilkins to believe that he was pulled over simply for the fact that he was African American.

The original lawsuit filed against the state after the Wilkins incident accused the Maryland State Police of targeting black drivers when making stops and searches. Court ordered State Police statistics showed that 73% of drivers stopped along I-95 between January 1995-Setepmber 1996 were black, yet 20% of white drivers were stopped during this time period. This prompted the ALCU to conduct their own study, and they discovered that blacks comprised of 17% of drivers on I-95 but were pulled over at a rate much higher than white drivers, even though 75% of I-95 drivers guilty of traffic violations were white.7 The case was settled in 2003, ten years after the Wilkins incident occurred, and Maryland State Police were ordered to “videotape traffic stops, document the race of each motorist they stop and search, and distribute brochures explaining motorists' constitutional rights.”8 Goering was pleased with the final results of the litigation, saying that “I think it's been a good process and the result is right. Police have to have the confidence of the people they police or our democracy doesn't work."9 

Another massive case litigated by Goering and the ALCU was on the behalf of students of the Baltimore City Public Schools System. The ALCU filed a case against the Maryland State Board of Education in late 1994 after Baltimore City Mayor Kurt Schmoke faltered with his decision regarding whether to sue the school board on the grounds of unequal funding of the city's public schools. According to records, Montgomery County spent $7,377 per student, but Baltimore City was only able to spend $5,182 per student. This lack of equal spending, according to the ALCU, meant that the State was failing to provide a decent education to public schools students in the City.10 In 1996, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan sided with the ALCU, decreeing that the Maryland constitution does promise children enrolled in the public schools an “adequate” education and “that Baltimore City public schoolchildren were not receiving an education that is constitutionally adequate.”11 

Judge Kaplan ruled again in 2000 that Baltimore City children were still receiving an inadequate education and an additional $2,700 per student was needed. Finally, in 2002, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act. This act included an additional $1.3 billion in statewide education funding, and $258 million of this money was budgeted to go to fund Baltimore City public schools. Changes were made to funding distribution after this ruling, but the final changes made to the ruling in 2007 led to flat per pupil funding for years 2008-2012.12 Thanks to the efforts of Goering and the ACLU, children attending Baltimore City public schools were finally given access to an equal education. Even though theCity at first did not support suing the State, Goering pursued what she believed would create an equal education for all children, not just for those living in wealthy areas.

The final major lawsuit Goering litigated was Thompson v. HUD. In 1995, six African American families sued the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) due to the grossly sub par conditions in which they were living in Baltimore City. The families brought suit on behalf of 14,000 other families living in the same types of public housing complexes in Baltimore, expressing their belief that “that the city and housing authority, with HUD approval, acted in concert over many decades to create a deeply segregated system of public housing, with project siting decisions largely driven by community opposition in white neighborhoods, in the context of a central city housing authority with limited jurisdiction over housing development outside its own city limits.”13 These families experienced a quick result, and, a year after they filed suit, the court formed the “Partial Consent Decree” that would allow for the demolition and creation of new housing complexes in the same location. Litigation on behalf of the six families continued even after the Partial Consent Decree. During the litigation time period, a large amount of research and studies were conducted that eventually revealed the truth behind the public housing. Public housing in Baltimore had been segregated since the 1930s, even when segregation was illegal.14

In 2003, the Thompson v. HUD trial reached the federal court level. The ALCU attorneys for the Baltimore City residents argued that “the city and HUD not only ignored their legal obligation to dismantle the segregated system put in place in the 1930s and 1940s, but preserved it by bowing to political sentiment in continuing to locate new public housing in impoverished minority areas rather than in white, affluent communities.”15 Goering specifically said that the “case is about providing good homes for good families after seven decades of bad government policy. Where we live affects everything about how we live, from our schools to our jobs to our health.”16 The court ruled in favor of the Baltimore City residents, writing that “It is high time that HUD live up to its statutory mandate to consider the effect of its policies on the racial and socio-economic composition of the surrounding area and thus consider regional approaches to promoting fair housing opportunities for African-American public housing residents in the Baltimore Region.”17 This ruling resulted in the expansion of public housing complexes for impoverished African Americans to other neighborhoods and illegalized the institutional segregation practiced by HUD. This was a victory not just for African Americans in Baltimore City, but for African Americans living in cities throughout the United States who were subjected to the same system of institutional segregation. Susan Goering litigated relentlessly in order to achieve the best result to change the future for African Americans who were previously forced to live in segregated squalors. Her work for this case has created better futures for thousands of people, allowing them to better their health, education, and happiness by moving out of dilapidated and dangerous housing. One former resident of the segregated public housing stated, “I used to hear gun shots outside my window…now I hear birds chirping.”18

Susan Goering has, without question, shaped the lives of many Marylanders through her precedent setting legal work. By consistently defending civil rights for all groups, Goering has challenged the age-old practice of denying someone their legal rights. Her work in ridding the state of its institutional racism has constructed paths to equality for many African Americans in Maryland. Maryland is known as the “Free State,” and Maryland residents can contribute their freedom and rights to Susan Goering. Goering has courageously redefined rights for everyone, making the future brighter for all. Her induction in the Women’s Hall of Fame gives her the eternal recognition she deserves.


1. Susan Goering's Maryland Women's Hall of Fame Nomination Packet: Return to text

2. Linell Smith, “Rights minded; Even as the system of affirmative action is dismantled and the notion of resegregation gains favor, activists continue Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights,” Baltimore Sun, February 1, 1998. Return to text

3. Nomination packet. Return to text

4. John Rivera, “Md. ACLU will appoints executive director; Goering succeeds Comstock-Gay; she will ‘continue vision’,” Baltimore Sun, July 12, 1996. Return to text

5. Nomination packet. Return to text

6. Paul W. Valentine, “Lawsuit Alleges Bias in Md. Traffic Stops; Troopers ‘Profile’ Called Discriminatory,” Washington Post, February 13, 1993. Return to text

7. Kris Antonelli, “Police allegedly single out blacks; I-95 drug team violating court agreement, ACLU says,” Baltimore Sun, November 15, 1996. Return to text

8. Laura Barnhardt, “State settles bias case; Board OKs agreement in racial profiling suit; Traffic stops to be videotaped; Targeting of black drivers by troopers led to litigation,” Baltimore Sun, April 3, 2003. Return to text

9. Ibid. Return to text

10. Charles Babington and Richard Tapscott, “Md. Facing Lawsuit Over School Funds; Children in Baltimore Shortchanged, ACLU Says,” Washington Post, December 7, 1994. Return to text

11. "A Brief History: Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education," American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, accessed June 17, 2014, Return to text

12. Ibid. Return to text

13. "An Analysis of the Thompson v. HUD Decision," Poverty & Race Research Action Council, accessed June 18, 2014, Return to text

14. Antero Pietila, “Judge now must sort housing evidence; Umpiring the past is just one task in deciding city segregation lawsuit,” Baltimore Sun, December 27, 2003. Return to text

15. Eric Siegel, “Trial set on segregation claims against city housing authority; Tenants say agency, HUD limited units to poor areas,” Baltimore Sun, November 29, 2003. Return to text

16. Ibid. Return to text

17. "An Analysis of the Thompson v. HUD Decision." Return to text

18. "The Case of Thompson v. HUD: A Briefing on Segregation and Public Housing in Baltimore," American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, accessed June 14, 2014, Return to text

Return to Susan K. Goering's Introductory Page

Biography written by 2014 summer intern Sharon Miyagawa. 

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