ACSBlog

  • January 23, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Rena Steinzor, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Carey School of Law, and President of the Center for Progressive Reform. Steinzor is also author of the new book, Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction from Cambridge University Press.

    Candice Anderson was 21 when she lost control of her Chevrolet Cobalt in a moving stall caused by a defective ignition switch, drove into a tree, and killed her fiancé. Two years later, in 2006, Texas police charged her with reckless homicide. Her parents liquidated their retirement account to pay for her defense. She pled guilty, spent five years on probation, paid $10,000 in fines, and had to live with the shame of the crime on top of the grief of the accident. In 2014, General Motors (GM) sent Anderson a letter explaining that her accident was the company’s fault. A judge in Texas cleared her criminal record a few weeks ago.

    The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into GM’s conduct and the next attorney general will decide whether and how to charge the company. President Obama’s nominee, Loretta Lynch, will need to make a break with the misguided policies of her predecessor, Eric Holder, when the GM case hits her desk.

    Under Holder, the Justice Department has handled white collar criminal cases involving the largest companies in the world with “deferred prosecution agreements,” a form of settlement that does not require the defendant to acknowledge any criminal culpability, no matter how heinous the crime. Instead, these special deals require the defendant to pay large sums of money in civil penalties. Given their ample financial resources, such sums end up being an affordable cost of doing business. 

    Deferred prosecution agreements undermine the straightforward application of white collar criminal laws that punish everything from racketeering and fraud to deadly violations of health, safety, and environmental laws. The Obama Justice Department has entered roughly twice the number of deferred prosecution agreements as the George W. Bush administration and has been rightly criticized for embracing the corrupt notion that some firms may be “too big to jail.” 

  • January 23, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Senator Elizabeth Warren writes in The Washington Post that the Supreme Court case concerning the Fair Housing Act could have severe financial repercussions.

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times asserts that the Supreme Court should “demonstrate a greater appreciation of stubborn and long-term effects of racial discrimination.”

    Laura Burstein argues that the Supreme Court should stop the execution of a man with a lifelong intellectual disability.

    On NPR’s On Point, Tom Ashbrook discusses the legal logic of same-sex marriage. The piece features comments from Mary Bonauto at the ACS National Convention and also includes Camilla Taylor, a member of the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter Advisory Board. 

    The National Constitution Center released a new podcast on Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, in which the Court is considering whether a state can prohibit judicial candidates from personally asking for campaign donations.

  • January 23, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Dr. Margaret Nygren Executive Director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the oldest professional society concerned with intellectual disability.

    Objectively, how many different doctors must concur on a diagnosis before it is considered definitive? For that medical diagnosis to be respected by the law, how many courts need to agree? In the case of Warren Hill, a Georgia man with lifelong, documented intellectual disability, every doctor who has evaluated him (seven doctors, including those who testified for the state) and two judges (in 2002 and 2012) have found him to be a person with intellectual disability. Yet, despite the clarity of his diagnosis, and despite the constitutional protection for persons with intellectual disability from execution, Mr. Hill faces lethal injection in just days, on Tuesday, January 27, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

    Warren Hill grew up in extreme poverty in rural Georgia, and, like too many adults in our criminal justice system today, did not receive a formal diagnosis and helpful therapies as a child.  In fact, at the schools Mr. Hill attended in the 1960s and early 1970s, special education was not available, and several of his former teachers have submitted sworn affidavits that had special education services been available, they would have recommended them for Mr. Hill, who clearly showed signs of the deficits in functioning, which mark intellectual disability in his childhood. 

    The organization I lead, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, AAIDD, was the first organization the U.S. to help produce a working clinical definition of intellectual disability, formerly called “mental retardation,” and among the first to promote the provision of special education services in public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court used AAIDD’s clinical definition when it first ruled to protect prisoners with intellectual disability from capital punishment in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.

  • January 22, 2015
    BookTalk
    Madison's Music: On Reading the First Amendment
    By: 
    Burt Neuborne

    by Burt Neuborne, Inez Milholland Professor of Civil Liberties, NYU Law, and Founding Legal Director, Brennan Center for Justice

    We honor James Madison as the driving force behind the Bill of Rights.  We recognize him as Thomas Jefferson’s indispensable political lieutenant.  We applaud him as the nation’s fourth president.  But we will never do Madison full justice until we revere him as a great poet.

    Not a literary poet like Wallace Stevens, or a prophet-poet like Abraham Lincoln, or even a peoples’ poet like Ronald Reagan.  Madison’s poetic genius was structural – a mastery of the interplay between democracy and individual liberty.  His poetic voice speaks to us in the harmony of the 462 words, 31 ideas, and 10 amendments – each in its perfectly chosen place and all interacting to form a coherent whole – that is the magnificent poem to democracy and individual freedom called the Bill of Rights.

    Today, we hear only broken fragments of Madison’s music.  Madison’s poetic vision of the interplay between democracy and individual freedom is hiding in plain sight in the brilliantly ordered text and structure of the Bill of Rights, but we have forgotten how to look for it.  Instead of seeking harmony and coherence in the Bill of Rights, the current Supreme Court majority reads the Bill of Rights as a set of self-contained commands, as if each clause – and at times, each word of each clause – existed in splendid isolation from the body of the constitutional text.  Consider the fate of the 45 words in Madison’s remarkable First Amendment:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble; and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • January 22, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Nancy Northup discusses the continued threats to women’s reproductive rights 42 years after the decision in Roe v. Wade at MSNBC.

    ACS Board of Directors Member Linda Greenhouse argues in The New York Times that the debate over same-sex marriage in the Republican party will not end with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue.

    David A. Graham at The Atlantic considers how a ruling on same-sex marriage could reintroduce outdated ideas of nullification from Republican leaders.

    Nina Totenberg reports for NPR on the protests at the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling.

    At Bloomberg News, Greg Stohr and David McLaughlin write about oral arguments for the Supreme Court case that considers the future of the Fair Housing Act.