ACSBlog

  • July 28, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Christine Chiu and Sascha Murillo. Chiu is staff attorney and Murillo is community organizer at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

    With more than 900,000 people enrolled in insurance plans through New York’s Health Plan Marketplace, New York is an “Obamacare” success story. A recently released New York State Department of Health (DOH) report, detailing demographic information of consumers who signed up for insurance through the Marketplace from October 1, 2013 to April 15, 2014, showed that more than 80 percent of enrollees were previously uninsured – some receiving coverage for the first time in their lives. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of enrollees received tax credits or cost-sharing reductions to make their coverage more affordable.

    While thousands of individuals now enjoy the benefits of health insurance, many New Yorkers, particularly those who are limited-English proficient (LEP), still lack coverage. According to the State’s report, only 15 percent of enrollees self-reported that they preferred to speak a language other than English. Before the launch of the Marketplace, the State estimated that 36 percent of potential enrollees would be LEP. The difference between potential and actual self-reported LEP enrollees may be indicative of the barriers that these New Yorkers encountered when accessing the Marketplace during the first open enrollment period. For example, the Marketplace website and online application were available only in English, and the homepage of the Marketplace website did not contain taglines directing consumers to materials and information in their language.

    In order for health reform to achieve its full potential, it is critical that these immigrant and LEP populations enroll in health insurance; immigrants are more likely than U.S. born citizens to be uninsured and less likely to obtain needed medical services. Additionally, providing immigrants and LEP New Yorkers access to health insurance is not only the right thing to do; it’s also fiscally responsible.  Enrolling LEP New Yorkers in health insurance will not only improve access to health care for these populations, but will also help reduce the cost of healthcare for everyone, as immigrants tend to be younger and healthier than U.S. citizens.

  • July 28, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    The New York Times is calling for the federal government to repeal laws banning marijuana, saying that as a substance it is less dangerous than alcohol, and the social costs of keeping it illegal are too vast to justify its current legal status. “The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to the FBI figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”

    Prachi Gupta in a piece for Salon explores the recent federal judge’s ruling that D.C.’s public handgun ban is unconstitutional.

    NPR’s Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza discusses Alabama’s high rate of death penalty sentences, especially in light of recent debate surrounding capital punishment. On MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry,” ACS Vice President of Network Advancement Sarah Knight discussed the recent Arizona death penalty debacle, where it took the state almost two hours to execute a condemned death row inmate. 

    Sarah Kliff at Vox reports on pro-choice legislators using the Supreme Court buffer zone ruling as a guideline for new, safer abortion clinics which can be protected as effectively as possible. On the same “Melissa Harris-Perry” show, ACS’s Sarah Knight joined a discussion about the Supreme Court’s opinion earlier this summer invalidating Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law.

  • July 25, 2014

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    On Monday, the Senate voted 94-0 to confirm Julie Carnes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

    That same day, the Brennan Center for Justice released a report on court delays and unmanageable workloads in the courts caused by persistent judicial vacancies.

    The Senate continued to act on judicial nominations the following day, voting to invoke cloture and then confirm three district court nominees:

    Robin Rosenberg, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, 58-42 for cloture, confirmed 100-0;

    John D. deGravelles, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, 57-39 for cloture, confirmed 100-0; and

    André Birotte, Jr., nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, 56-43 for cloture, confirmed 100-0.

  • July 25, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Justin Marceau and Alan K. Chen. Marceau is an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former public defender in Arizona. Chen is the William M. Beaney Memorial Research Chair and Professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former staff attorney at the ACLU’s Chicago office.

    The State of Arizona’s recently botched execution of Joseph Wood is just the latest in a series of horrific events that have introduced the American public to a criminal justice problem that practitioners and legal scholars long have known about – lethal injections are an extremely troubling method for carrying out capital punishment.  Similar to the cases of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Wood reportedly endured extensive suffering during the hour and 52 minutes it took for the drugs administered by the state’s executioners to end his life.

    The Wood Litigation Seeking Access to Information about the Drugs and Executioners

    In the days preceding Wood’s execution, his attorneys mounted an impressive campaign to overturn a lower court order denying him access to basic information about the qualifications (but not the identity) of the executioners and the source of the drugs to be used. Wood argued that he had a qualified First Amendment right of access to such information. 

    On Monday of this week, things looked promising for Wood and his legal team. An erudite panel of the Ninth Circuit concluded that it was not too much to ask of Arizona to require it to turn over the information Wood sought, or to delay the execution. Behind such litigation is the reality that without such information, of course, it would be impossible to assess whether the execution might violate the Eighth Amendment and create too great a risk of cruel and unusual punishment.  In other words, in order to know whether their client had a colorable substantive claim that the execution would be cruel and unusual, the lawyers first had to gain access to the details of the execution procedures. The procedural claim at issue in the Ninth Circuit, then, was a necessary precursor to being able to litigate the substantive legality of Arizona’s execution system.

    The Ninth Circuit panel voted 2-1 that Wood had raised a serious First Amendment claim and would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction against his execution were not granted. To be clear, all the Ninth Circuit ordered was that Arizona either turn over the information and proceed to execution as planned on Wednesday, or delay the execution until full and fair litigation regarding the right to access this information was conducted. Instead, Arizona successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, which quickly overturned the stay of execution.

    Was this Just a Gimmick to Delay Litigation?

    Some might ask why, with a thirty year track record and tacit Supreme Court approval in 2008, lawyers were inquiring about lethal injection methods.  We hear about delays in executions – we even see California’s death penalty held unconstitutional, in part, because of delay. But the reason for the litigation is clear: lethal injection is not working. 

    With drug shortages for the previous three-drug execution cocktail of choice, states have begun to experiment with the doses and types of drugs, and the qualifications of executioners are not getting any better.  In a very perverse turn on Justice Louis Brandeis’ famous quote that states may “serve as a laboratory, and try novel . . . experiments” that the rest of the country might not, states are innovating in their execution methods.  In the rush to continue with executions, Arizona and other states are using their execution chambers as laboratories for human experimentation.  What combination will create the most aesthetically pleasing execution for public consumption is the question the Departments of Correction seek to answer. 

  • July 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Franita Tolson, Betty T. Ferguson Professor of Voting Rights, Florida State University College of Law; Faculty Advisor, Florida State University College of Law ACS Student Chapter

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a landmark piece of legislation, responsible for eradicating much of the discrimination that racial minorities confronted in places of public accommodation such as hotels, restaurants and movie theatres; in seeking employment and applying for public benefits and in attending integrated public schools. Among its many accomplishments, the Act also laid the groundwork for nondiscriminatory access to the ballot. In particular, Title I of the Act provides that, “All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people in any State, Territory, district, county, city, etc. … shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude ....” Despite a promising start, this provision quickly fell into relative obscurity because the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed a little over a year after Title I, imposed more stringent restrictions on racial discrimination in voting.

    Recent cases illustrate that the time has come to revisit Title I of the Civil Rights Act.  In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act which, together with section 5, required certain jurisdictions to preclear all changes to their electoral laws with the federal government before the changes could go into effect. The preclearance regime was a type of federal receivership for jurisdictions, mostly in the south, that had pervasively discriminated against African Americans in order to ensure that any new laws would not undermine minority voting rights. In the year since Shelby County, the loss of the preclearance regime has forced advocates to be more aggressive in using creative legal arguments in voting rights litigation. For example, in Frank v. Walker, a federal district court judge invalidated Wisconsin’s voter identification law, the first successful challenge to these restrictions using section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits states from abridging the right to vote on the basis of race and applies nationwide.

    Like section 2, Title I of the Civil Rights Act stands as a possible litigation alternative to the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In addition to its general requirement of nondiscriminatory access to the ballot, section 2(A) of Title I provides that, “No person acting under color of law shall in determining whether any individual is qualified under State law or laws to vote in any election, apply any standard, practice, or procedure different from the standards, practices, or procedures applied under such law or laws to other individuals within the same county, parish, or similar political subdivision who have been found by State officials to be qualified to vote.” This provision prevents states from applying voter qualification standards differently to similarly situated individuals.