ACSBlog

  • April 17, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Justice Wilhelmina Marie Wright to fill an upcoming vacancy on the U.S.  District Court for the District of Minnesota. Since 2012, Justice Wright has served as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    Months after its opening session, the U.S. Senate made its first judicial confirmation of the year on Monday. In a unanimous vote, the Senate confirmed Alfred Bennett to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. As the Houston Chronicle reports, however, there are still at least two other pending confirmation votes for Texas federal judges.

    The blog for People for the American Way provides commentary on the first judicial confirmation vote. While the confirmation should be celebrated, the post argues, the delay in reaching this point shows how dysfunctional the confirmation process has become.

    There are currently 54 vacancies, and 23 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 18 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • April 17, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At Slate, Cristian Farias argues that the Supreme Court ruling in Heien v. North Carolina has set the stage for more incidents like the Walter Scott shooting.

    At the Text & History Blog of the Constitutional Accountability Center, David H. Gans rebuts the argument that conservatives have been bullied in the same-sex marriage cases.

    Stacy Seicshnaydre in the Huffington Post urges the Supreme Court to uphold the disparate impact cause of action available under the Fair Housing Act.

    In The New York Times, ACS Board of Directors member Linda Greenhouse considers Justice John Paul Stevens life at the Supreme Court in light of his upcoming ninety-fifth birthday.

    Cameron Miculka writes in the Guam Pacific Daily News about the community reaction to the Guam attorney general’s decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses in the territory.

    Dan Morse and Robert Barnes report in The Washington Post on Chief Justice John Roberts’ appearance for jury duty in a Maryland court this week.

  • April 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Kanya Bennett and Nkechi Taifa. Bennett is the Legislative Counsel at American Civil Liberties Union, and Taifa is the Senior Policy Analyst at Open Society Foundations.

    “The FOP does not disagree that there is a need for civil asset forfeiture revision.” That is what the Fraternal Order of Police said at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing on civil asset forfeiture. And when Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked if FOP stood by those words, the response was “absolutely” – even though FOP’s testimony suggested otherwise.

    Grassley even offered him some advice, saying that, now is “not the time to oppose needed reforms,” in light of national headlines on police violence

    This should make it clear to everyone that the time is ripe for federal reform. Though work remains to convince some that community policing instead of “slush funds” must be law enforcement’s number one priority, we should be optimistic.

    Grassley said “legislation is necessary” and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) believes that “we can come together on a bipartisan basis to fix what is broken.”  

    For months there has been national discourse around civil asset forfeiture and all that is uncivil about it. Members on both sides of the aisle – and organizations across the spectrum – are demanding reform. And rightfully so. 

    Civil asset forfeiture gives law enforcement the power to take property away from someone who has not been convicted of a crime. And this property can be cash, cars, homes, and anything else – like a “simple gold cross” – that law enforcement believes is connected to a crime. Yes, a woman had her gold cross necklace seized when she was pulled over for a minor traffic violation!

    And just how does one go about getting a necklace … or money, or car, or house back? Well, often they don’t. Due process requirements don’t require judicial hearings. More than 60 percent of federal forfeitures were uncontested over the past few years.  

    When property owners do get notice and muster the courage to go up against the government, they find the deck is stacked against them. Property owners bear the cost of going to court and the burden of proving their property’s “innocence.” And in almost all instances, property owners are not entitled to counsel.

    So, what is driving this practice that sounds unfair, unjust, and un-American? How is it that we still have this “thorn in the side of civil liberties?” Civil asset forfeiture is big business for law enforcement at all levels – federal, state, and local. The practice generates billions of dollars annually and law enforcement is permitted to keep the assets it seizes. 

  • April 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jed S. Rakoff, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York; Adjunct Professor, Columbia Law School

    *The following is a speech given by the author at the Harvard Law School Conference on Lawyers as Professionals and Citizens on April 10, 2015.

    I have read with great interest the brilliant essay on Lawyers as Professionals and Citizens by Ben Heineman, Bill Lee, and David Wilkins that is the subject of the conference, and I want to build my little talk around the fourth ethical responsibility they enunciate in that essay, namely, the responsibility of lawyers to help create a safe, fair, and just society even when legal issues, in the narrow sense, are not directly at stake.  I want to discuss that responsibility – which I will refer to here simply as the “Fourth Principle” – as it applies to lawyers and as it applies to judges; and while I recognize that the essay that is the subject of this conference focuses particularly on corporate and economic issues, I want to address this Fourth Principle in terms of other issues, such as war and such as imprisonment.

    I was introduced to this Fourth Principle, in effect, as a very junior associate at the New York City firm now known as Debevoise & Plimpton.  When I arrived at the firm in 1970, the leader of the firm, Francis T.P. Plimpton, was just completing his two year stint as President of the New York City Bar Association, then known as the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.  Although that organization was founded in 1870 for the specific purpose of seeking the removal of corrupt judges beholden to the man called “Boss” Tweed, by the middle of the twentieth century the Association had become a somewhat stuffy “Establishment” enclave, widely perceived (though perhaps unfairly) as subservient to the narrow interests of big-firm corporate lawyers.  On paper, Plimpton was more of the same.  Educated at Exeter, Amherst, and Harvard Law School, Plimpton could literally trace his Massachusetts forebears back to 1630.  And his chief fame as a lawyer consisted of being a highly skilled draftsman of corporate debentures – whatever the heck that is.

    But once Plimpton became President of the New York City Bar Association, the real Francis Plimpton emerged: a man of principle and courage, who, more than any other single person, opened that Bar Association to racial and gender diversity, to concern with pro bono representation and public service, and to a focus on broad societal issues.  As Sheldon Oliensis, another prominent lawyer of that time, stated, “He [Plimpton] thought that there was no issue on which the Association could not be heard.”  In a period when much of the legal establishment was reacting negatively to what it perceived as the lawless excesses of the ‘60s, Plimpton not only embraced a very broad view of the role of the lawyer in society, but also saw that role as one of promoting change and progress.

  • April 16, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Justice Antonin Scalia pays tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Time’s annual list of the 100 most influential people. The magazine includes Justice Ginsburg in its group of icons.

    Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times on the beginning of a multiyear legal battle over the president’s efforts to curb greenhouse gases.

    Elias Isquith argues at Salon that the recent sentencing of Atlanta public school teachers for standardized test cheating illustrates America’s problem of over-criminalization.  

    At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick explains how new abortion bans throughout the country are not even disguised as efforts to protect women’s health.

    In response to ongoing police reform efforts, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic writes that the true problem in the United States is the mistaken belief that “all our social problems can be solved with force.”

    At NPR, Audie Cornish discusses the challenges of police body cameras and how police departments are deciding how to use them.

    The Department of Public Health and Social Services in Guam has refused to lift its ban on same-sex marriage despite an order from the Guam attorney general, reports Cameron Miculka in the Guam Pacific Daily News