ACSBlog

  • April 15, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel-Washington Office, The Brennan Center for Justice

    The right to vote is at the heart of our American Democracy. Political participation by citizens is the great equalizer – it is the one thing that allows all Americans, no matter how powerful or weak, to make decisions about who will lead and who will help to advance their interests and protect their families. On April 10, Congress took an important step towards ensuring that this crucial right becomes available to even more Americans. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the bi-cameral Democracy Restoration Act (DRA). This important legislation would restore the right to vote in federal elections to the previously incarcerated immediately after their incarceration period is complete. Doing so would enable these individuals to resume the right and responsibility inherent in our role as Americans – asserting our voice through the ballot box.

    The DRA was first introduced in 2009 by former Sen. Russell Feingold. Previously, the bill received strong support, but never quite enough to become a reality. This time, however, is different. There is an enthusiastic and bi-partisan movement underway to reform those parts of our criminal justice system that do not work.  We can see this at the national as well as the state level:  Congress is considering reforming the federal sentencing structure to make sentences fairer in an effort to help eliminate mass incarceration; the Department of Justice has instituted a "Smart on Crime" initiative that would result in better decision-making by prosecutors; and several states, most notably Kentucky, are considering legislation that would restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in its state prisons. Other states have also made significant changes to their laws to open up the franchise to the formerly incarcerated, most notably in Delaware, and Virginia – a state that had previously been cited as having one of the most draconian felon disfranchisement laws on the books. So the moment to finally restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, who have paid their debts for their crimes, is now.

    Unlike other attempts to restore voting rights, the DRA is the most comprehensive effort. Under the legislation, once an individual has completed his or her incarceration period, their right to vote in federal elections will be automatically restored.  Individuals will not be limited because of any ancillary issues related to their incarceration such as outstanding fees and fines or the fact that they have been released from prison but remain on probation. This is a significant feature of the DRA.

  • April 15, 2014
    At The Daily BeastGeoffrey R. Stone—former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapterexplains why “the press isn’t free if it has fear of prosecution for leaks” and why “it’s time to give reporters the same type of privilege attorneys and doctors have.”
     
    A growing trend of private probation companies is influencing our court and prison systems. Implemented now in ten states, these companies provide an inexpensive means for courts to ensure that fines are paid. However, in what is referred to as the “debtor’s prison,” many of today’s poor are being jailed because they can’t afford to pay their fines. PBS NewsHour reports on this controversial phenomenon which is proving how “without funds to pay fines, minor incidents can mean jail time.” 
     
    Calls for an investigation into the leak of a classified Senate report on torture to McClatchy newspapers continue. The leak came after Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused the Central Intelligence Agency of illegally searching her committee’s computers. Adam Serwer at MSNBC  has the story.
     
    Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic explains why President Obama is right to speak out on voter suppression, “but he needs to preach to someone other than the converted.”
     
    At Roll Call’s Hawkings Here, David Hawking discusses Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus and whether lying in political campaigns is unconstitutional. 
  • April 15, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Nora Gay, President-elect, Vice President of Membership, ACS University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Student Chapter
     
    “But it was a proclamation, it was not a fact.”
     
    The words of President Lyndon Baines Johnson echoed at the beginning of each program of the Civil Rights Summit in the LBJ Auditorium last week in Austin, Texas. A montage of historic photographs followed onscreen to a soundtrack of songs about change or progress mixed with other recordings of LBJ’s iconic words. I had the privilege of attending the panels on Wednesday and Thursday as well as the address by former President Bill Clinton and the keynote address by President Barack Obama.
     
    I have started to realize that when commemorating the anniversary of certain laws or court decisions like the Civil Rights Act, or last year, with Gideon v. Wainwright, it becomes more than simply a celebration; it is an evaluation of how far we have come and how far we must go, and it is a call to action. As President Clinton said in his speech, saying “thank you” to the politicians and activists who made the signing of the Civil Rights Act possible is not enough.
     
    University of Texas’ President Bill Powers introduced the Summit’s panels by talking about UT’s involvement with civil rights. Powers acknowledged that UT has not always been on the right side of history, and in fact the university played a role in stalling “separate but equal” in Sweatt v. Painter in 1950. Today, the university awaits the a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Fisher v. University of Texas that was vacated and remanded by the Supreme Court last year. “We stand ready to defend diversity.”
  • April 14, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Peter M. Shane, Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University
     
    * Author's Note: I had the privilege on April 4 of delivering the following remarks as part of a panel on "Creating the Politics of Privacy," a session of the capstone conference for Ohio State's 2013-14 series of campus-wide programs on the distinction between public and private.
     
    ** This post originally appeared at The Huffington Post.
     
    America's cultural turn in recent decades toward a glorification of the private and a denigration of the public has coexisted with what quite obviously is a deterioration in privacy. As individuals, we have dramatically less capacity than in earlier decades to control information about even the most personal aspects of our lives. This is not just historical coincidence. The cultural turn to the "private" has actually hurt privacy.
     
    What I mean by a cultural turn is that, for the last 35-ish years, U.S. law and politics have moved away from the public-regarding orientation of the New Deal and its programmatic outgrowths and toward the individualist orientation of Reaganite small-government conservatism. We can see these moves in a variety of ways that implicate the private/public distinction. For example, we know that public institutions, such as schools, simultaneously create both public value and private value. They help both to benefit society through an educated citizenry and to prepare individuals for economic self-sufficiency. Yet our public policy toward schools has increasingly emphasized only their private value as providing persuasive reasons for their support.
     
    Likewise, private action simultaneously has both private and public impacts. What I do as an individual both serves my personal needs and gratifications and imposes externalities on others. Not all externalities are positive. Yet courts and politicians have increasingly resisted treating negative externalities as a sufficient justification for regulation. Supreme Court decisions limiting Congress' powers to keep guns away from schools or to provide federal remedies for domestic violence are perfect examples. The court's 2012 decision that Congress lacked power under the Commerce Clause to compel the private purchase of health insurance was based on legal arguments that earlier courts would have rejected out of hand.
     
  • April 14, 2014

     
    The Justice Department has accused the Albuquerque Police Department of “a pattern or practice of use of excessive force that routinely violated people’s constitutional rights.” Fernanda Santos at The New York Times reports on the 16-month investigation which found that “too often, the officers kicked, punched and violently restrained nonthreatening people … many of whom suffered from mental illnesses,” while other victims “were disabled, elderly or drunk.”
     
    Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit heard oral arguments in Kitchen v. Herbert, a case challenging Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. State officials filed an appeal after the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah held the ban to be unconstitutional last December. Writing for Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost comments on the legal and “unmistakably personal” implications of the case.
     
    The Federal Trade Commission won an important victory in a case that challenged its authority to “regulate data security under the FTC Act.” Daniel Solove at Concurring Opinions breaks down Federal Trade Commission v. Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, et al.
     
    In a study conducted by the Center for American Progress, Jenny DeMonte and Robert Hanna reveal that in some areas, impoverished students are “less likely to receive highly effective teaching.” In their report, DeMonte and Hanna provide ways to combat this troubling inequality.  
     
    In an excerpt from Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution highlighted in The Washington Post, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens discusses the recent shooting massacres, the influence of the National Rifle Association and “the five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment.”