• August 27, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer Taylor, staff attorney, Equal Justice Initiative

    Racial discrimination in jury selection is a feature of American criminal justice with a deep-rooted history and persistent life span. Last week, The New York Times explored the practice’s contemporary legacies and the law’s apparent inability to eradicate it once and for all.

    Before ratification of the Reconstruction Amendments that followed the end of the Civil War in 1865, black Americans were not legally considered American citizens and were routinely barred from serving on juries or testifying in court in many communities throughout the country – including in the South where the vast majority of them had been enslaved. After the grant of emancipation, citizenship, and legal rights, outright prohibitions on jury service evolved into thinly veiled qualification requirements that left selection up to the discretion of white officials or so-called random selection processes that enabled race-based exclusion. In practice, the result was the same: no black jurors allowed.

    More than a century later, after legal victories and social movements, the problem remains most prominent today where it was most prominent then: the American South. Adam Liptak’s article highlights a recent report finding that in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, prosecutors are three times as likely to strike a black person from jury service as a white juror. The Equal Justice Initiative reported similarly disturbing results in its own study of prosecutors’ strikes in Houston County, Alabama, in 2011 and filed suit on behalf of those jurors. The problem is not getting better.

    Importantly, discriminatory jury selection implicates not just the rights of the defendant facing trial, but also those of the excluded juror – black Americans who have the constitutional right to participate in the trial process but little recourse when that right is infringed upon. Recalling the experience of walking past a towering Confederate memorial to enter the Caddo Parish courthouse, 63-year-old Carl Stokes, a black man excluded from service on a death penalty case there in 2009, expressed dismay. “It dashes your hopes,” he told The New York Times. “It has its roots in the ideology of white supremacy.”

  • August 27, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Nelson Castaño at the Brennan Center for Justice Blog celebrates Women’s Equality Day and explains how strict voter ID laws can be particularly hard on women voters.

    In Vox, Timothy B. Lee reports that Gap Inc. will phase out on-call scheduling for its employees. Despite the negative effects of erratic work schedules, few labor laws protect against them, he notes.

    Russ Choma at Mother Jones discusses dark money behind the expected flood of online campaign ads for the 2016 presidential election and the implications of expanded, unregulated online outreach.

    At Slate, Mark Joseph Stern writes that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has upheld a lower court’s order requiring an anti-LGBT county clerk in Kentucky to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

  • August 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Theodore M. Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights, University of North Carolina School of Law

    Julian Bond’s passing left me with a great sense of sadness. In my mind’s eye, Julian Bond always had a dual identity. I always saw the young Julian Bond ― barely twenty, incredibly handsome, eloquent, and fearless ― who was a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and one of the young Turks of the Civil Rights Movement. He was a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Bob Moses, Andy Young, Ralph Abernathy, Whitney Young, Stokely Carmichael, and the other Movement leaders. Yet, with John Lewis and others, he bridged generations. He was courageous. Bond was in his twenties when he ran for a seat in the Georgia legislature. His fellow legislators despised him for his civil rights activism and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Their attempt to deny him his seat failed only because he took his legal battle to the U.S. Supreme Court, vindicating constitutional principle.

    I remember when I became aware of Julian Bond. I was a boy, and I saw him in Jet and Ebony magazines, which seemingly were read in every black household. We were collectively proud of Julian as a young leader in the struggle for our collective liberation from racial oppression and subordination. He was the complete package. The first time I saw Julian Bond in person was at Wesleyan University as a college student when he came to speak to an intimate gathering at the black cultural center, known as the Malcolm X House. He was dynamic, charismatic, and powerful. Over the years Bond spent a good deal of time speaking to college students, with whom he would always remain connected. That evening stayed with me over the many years that followed. He talked about the role of young people in the Civil Rights Movement and reminded us that he and the other members of SNCC, the sit-in demonstrators, the freedom riders, and many of the marchers in Birmingham and Selma to Montgomery, were the ages we were as college students, or younger. He spoke of the importance of activism and the power of protest. Looking back to that evening, I am struck by the fact that he was still in his thirties. His life was not yet half over, and he had been a national figure for more than a dozen years. He had been nominated for vice president of the United States at the age of 26, even before he was constitutionally eligible. Julian Bond was a meteor.

  • August 26, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Stephen Susman, executive director of the Civil Jury Project at NYU School of Law, member of the ACS Board of Advisors, and former member of the ACS Board of Directors, was honored by Texas Lawyer with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the Texas legal community.

    In The Huffington Post, Geoffrey Stone, former ACS Board chair, current co-chair of the Chicago Lawyer Chapter Advisory Board, and a co-faculty advisor for the University of Chicago Law School Student Chapter, discusses the importance of academic freedom.   

    Sarah N. Lynch at Reuters reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed a Republican challenge to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “pay-to-play” rule, arguing that they missed a key 60-day deadline to challenge the law when it first went into effect in 2010.

    In The Washington Post, Terrence McCoy explains how unregulated structured settlement agreements allow companies to profit off of the poor and disabled. The practice is commonly aimed at poor, black Baltimoreans who have suffered from lead poisoning and are cognitively disabled, he reports.

  • August 25, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Ira Ellman, Professor at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

    Proponents of criminal justice reform never talk about sex offenders. They’re political untouchables subject to debilitating legal restrictions that typically continue for decades after they have served their sentence.  The Supreme Court upheld two such restrictions in a pair of cases decided in 2002 and 2003.  Those decisions were grounded on the factual assumption that sex offenders have a re-offense rate of about 80 percent , a rate so “frightening and high” that it justified their harsh post-release treatment. The Court’s colorful language about the re-offense rate has since been quoted in nearly 100 judicial opinions, and is often relied upon to justify America’s harsh and distinctive laws on sex offenders. It turns out, however, that the “study” the Court cites for this 80 percent re-offense rate does not exist. More importantly, the scientific studies that do exist show that the great majority of people required to register as “sex offenders” under current laws are in fact very unlikely to commit a sex offense. That’s partly because the sex offender label is applied so broadly that it includes many people who never posed a high risk, and partly because in so many states, living offense-free for fifteen or twenty years after release doesn’t get one off the public sex offender registry, even though studies show those who do not re-offend for fifteen years are very unlikely to do so thereafter.

    A few state supreme courts have now reevaluated the constitutional status of such laws. Read a summary of my forthcoming article reviewing these developments, with a link to the fuller version.