• July 30, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    Many people assume that an inevitable consequence of suing someone – or being sued – is a day in court.  After all, a trial by jury in most civil cases is a constitutional right under the Seventh Amendment.  However, fewer and fewer civil suits are resulting in jury trials—less than one percent of federal civil cases since 2005, down from 5.5 percent in 1962.  The trend continues at the state level, where courts have seen a 50 percent drop in jury and bench trials between 1992 and 2005.

    In order to study why the civil jury trial is disappearing, plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Susman, a member of the ACS Board of Advisors and former member of the ACS Board of Directors, has partnered with the New York University School of Law to found the Civil Jury Project.  Susman, who provided the initial funding for the project and will serve as its executive director, says, “The Project will examine why jury trials in civil cases are rapidly vanishing, whether trial by jury still serves a useful purpose in our complex society, and if so what – if anything – can be done to reverse the trend.”

    The first of its kind in the nation, the project was conceived because of Susman’s longstanding commitment to the jury trial right.  In light of the proliferation of binding arbitration clauses and other barriers to the courthouse, Susman has repeatedly expressed concerns about the “privatization of the justice system.”  While serving as executive director of the Civil Jury Project, Susman will continue practicing law full time and teaching law students how to try cases inexpensively—a vital skill for trial lawyers, considering todays’ skyrocketing litigation costs.

    The Project’s inaugural conference will take place on Friday, September 11 in New York. For more information, visit here.

  • July 30, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Richard Pérez-Peña writes in The New York Times about the indictment of a white University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed Sam DuBose, an unarmed black man. 

    In The Nation, Ari Berman examines Florida’s botched voter purge leading up to the 2000 presidential election and the wave of voter disenfranchisement that followed.    

    Mitchell Brown writes at The Brennan Center about continued issues of donor transparency despite recent legal victories in the fight for campaign finance reform.

    At Salon, Sophia Tesfaye reports on Rep. Louie Gohmert’s (R-Texas) asinine suggestion for a Survivor-style research study that would place heterosexual and same-sex couples on deserted islands “to prove that homosexual marriage is unnatural.”

  • July 29, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Michael Waterstone, J. Howard Ziemann Fellow and Professor of Law, Loyola Law School Los Angeles 

    This week is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, government programs and services, and privately owned places of accommodation.  It was and remains an ambitious law, requiring employers and business owners to make reasonable accommodations, at their own expense, to be more accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities.  And although there is still a long way to go, the ADA should be celebrated for its role in moving people with disabilities into the mainstream of society.

    Both the ADA and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (passed in 2008) passed with remarkable bipartisan support.  Disability has never entered the culture wars, and in many ways disability rights have transcended traditional political commitments.  But while legislative political elites in both parties have been very comfortable taking pro-disability rights positions, the public at large is less aware of and sometimes hostile to the ideals and goals of the disability rights movements.  Everyone likes and identifies with a feel good story about athletes who “overcome” disability.  But how many business owners have welcomed the idea of making physical or programmatic changes to accommodate difference?

    Although the ADA has a constitutional basis, it is primarily celebrated as a legislative success.  Lawyers and advocates who bring disability law cases are reluctant to engage constitutional law as a source of relief for people with disabilities.  And they have good reasons to be wary.  The ADA offers ample protections, moving deep into the private sphere in a way constitutional law could not.  And the doctrinal resting place of disability constitutional law is a bad one – under Cleburne, government classifications on the basis of disability are only entitled to rational basis scrutiny. Lawyers in the disability rights movement know how to count to five and have reasoned that the Supreme Court is an inhospitable place for equality claims generally.

    At this important milestone in the disability rights movement, I want to suggest that the next 25 years should include more of an engagement with disability constitutional law.  I take this position for several reasons.  First, there is a lot that is unclear, and potentially up for grabs, about equality law.  Cases like Windsor and Obergefell do not fit neatly into conventional tiered Equal Protection Clause analysis, instead looking at some mix of the nature of the interest protected and the legislative classification.  Simply accepting that Cleburne closed the constitutional canon on all disability claims does not sufficiently engage these evolving notions of equality.

  • July 28, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Jennifer Steinhauer at The New York Times writes about bipartisan congressional efforts to reform the outdated mandatory sentencing laws that have left our federal prisons overcrowded.

    In The National Law Journal, Karen Sloan reports on a new “low bono” program in Baltimore, quoting Dean Robert Weich of the University of Baltimore School of Law who argues that this program will benefit students, schools and the profession alike.

    Christian Parenti argues in Jacobin that the public sector is to blame for the buildup of a modern police state that has tones of an oppressive, white supremacist past. 

  • July 27, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Frank Bruni at The New York Times discusses the failures of the Electoral College system, quoting John Koza, the well-known advocate for a national popular vote, and citing a FairVote study that confirmed candidates focus their campaigns on certain electorally-valuable states while ignoring the rest.

    Nancy Cook writes in The Atlantic about the need for greater social safety nets and expanded labor protections for the growing population of freelance workers.

    In The Atlantic, J. Douglas Smith examines potential setbacks to the “one person, one vote” principle of American democracy. A forthcoming Supreme Court case, Evenwel vs. Abbott, threatens to reverse decades of democratic gains.

    At The Guardian, Ed Pilkington reports on transgender inmates, quoting Ilona Turner of the Transgender Law Center who argues that denial of medical services for transgender prisoners constitutes an Eighth Amendment violation.