• August 28, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Erin Casey, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Voice

    Across the country, states are leading the way in modernizing our voting system so it reflects and is responsive to the way people live today. Yesterday, Pennsylvania joined this movement, becoming the 23rd state in the nation to offer online voter registration. Five additional states and the District of Columbia have taken steps towards allowing online voter registration but have not yet implemented it. In an era when we shop online, bank online and even file our taxes online, it makes sense that we should be able to go online to register to vote as well.

    Online registration gives citizens an easier and more convenient way to register, in addition to traditional paper forms. Instead of waiting in line at the DMV or going to the post office to get and send in a registration form, eligible voters can sign up using their computers, tablets or smart phones from anywhere at any time of day. This will ensure that all eligible voters, including veterans, seniors, working people and people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard.

    During the 2014 general election, just 35 percent of Pennsylvania’s voting age population turned out to vote. And while there are many reasons for this low turnout, the fact that one out of every five of the state’s adults was not registered certainly contributed. Online registration will strengthen our democracy by bringing more voters onto the rolls and increasing the likelihood that they participate in our elections.

  • August 28, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    At The Hill, Tim Devaney reports that the National Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that companies can be held accountable for labor violations committed by their contractors.

    In The New York Times, Noam Scheiber and Stephanie Strom note that a recent NLRB decision will make it easier for unions to negotiate on behalf of employees working at fast food chains as well as other companies that rely on contractors and franchisees.

    In The Root , Zachary Norris, winner of ACS’s 2015 David Carliner Public Interest Award, honors the memory of Emmett Till 60 years after his violent death and commends those who continue to fight for justice in “a system that failed their loved ones.”

    In The Christian Science Monitor, Jessica Mendoza writes about a group of Nebraskans fighting to restore the state’s death penalty after the state legislature voted to abolish the practice in May.

    In The Huffington Post, Constitutional Accountability Center’s Judith E. Schaeffer examines the current state of the federal judicial system and denounces the obstructionist tactics of Senate leadership. The Senate is on track to confirm the fewest federal judges in the final two years of a president’s term since the Eisenhower administration. There are 67 current vacancies, and 31 are considered judicial emergencies. 

  • 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.