Access to Justice

  • April 4, 2014

    Many believe that the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission will further enable corruption through the use of “dark money.” Writing for The Washington Post, Heather K. Gerken, Wade Gibson and Webb Lyons discuss how the virtues of “disclosure and disclaimer provisions” could “direct campaign finance reform toward greater transparency.” In a related op-ed, Zephyr Teachout promotes “public-funding systems” and argues why “our candidates don’t have to be beggars at the feet of oligarchs.”
     
    Yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify a report examining the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation programs during the Bush administration. Burgess Everett and Josh Gerstein at Politico break down the report expected to reveal that “CIA interrogators went well beyond the highly permissive guidelines the Justice Department issued permitting tactics many view as torture.”
     
    Today marks the forty-sixth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At The Root, Peniel E. Joseph comments on Dr. King’s “last crusade against the poverty, racism and militarism that he saw as the triple threat to humanity.”
     
    Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke with Der Spiegel about her legal career, women’s role within the court and her personal motto. You can see Justice Sotomayor and civil rights leader Theodore Shaw in conversation at the 2014 ACS National Convention.
     
    At The Life of the Law, Elizabeth Joh shares “what artists are showing us about surveillance and the law.”
  • March 24, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Law School Fund Research Scholar, Boston College Law School; Faculty Advisor, Boston College Law School ACS Student Chapter
     
    I bet you’ve never thought of those three things together. Now, thanks to a couple of ACS board members, you have reason to.
     
    One of the dirty secrets about chocolate is that much of the world’s cocoa production, particularly in west Africa, depends on forced child labor. Chocolate makers around the world have long faced allegations that they know of and benefit from widespread human rights violations. Hershey, for example, controls 42 percent of the U.S. chocolate market, admits that its “major sourcing countries” include The Ivory Coast and Ghana, and acknowledges that abusive child labor practices that violate international law are rampant in those countries. (By some accounts, as much as 89 percent of children in the Ivory Coast are involved in cocoa production.) But there is no mechanism to learn whether Hershey and other like companies are complicit in such abuses, nor is there a meaningful way to hold them accountable if so.
     
    But that may be changing, thanks to ACS board member Reuben Guttman and his colleagues at Grant and Eisenhofer. Last week, Grant and Eisenhofer won an important ruling against Hershey in Delaware Chancery Court, when Hershey lost its summary judgment motion in a "books and records" suit brought on behalf of Hershey shareholders who want to learn more about its role in taking advantage of forced child labor.
     
    An early procedural victory in Delaware business court might not look like much at first glance, but it could turn out to be a significant advance in holding corporations accountable for international malfeasance. And if it does, ACS will have played an important role. Indeed, this story showcases the unique capacity of ACS to bring together the ideas of academics with innovative and visionary litigators who can bring those ideas to bear.
     
  • March 21, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Kamal Essaheb, Immigration Policy Attorney, National Immigration Law Center
     
    * Mr. Essaheb will be a panelist at the March 24 event, “From ‘Papers Please’ To DREAM and TRUST,” hosted by ACS and the Center for American Progress. See here to register for the event at SEIU in Washington, D.C.
     
    While high-profile discussions about immigration policy sputtered in 2013, states across the country have proposed—and enacted—inclusive legislation that improves community policing, increases access to affordable education, and improves highway safety. Therein lies the lesson from state capitals to Washington: pro-migrant measures aren’t just good policy, they’re good, bipartisan politics.
     
    It hasn’t always been this way. As recently as 2011, five states rushed to adopt Arizona’s SB 1070, an anti-immigrant law that was subsequently challenged by the National Immigration Law Center and others. Last year, North Carolina was the only state to propose legislation that would require police officers to demand “papers” of those they suspected were in the country without authorization, but this proposal was turned into a study bill. This resulting study found that enforcement measures were unnecessary and costly. Furthermore, states that had vigorously defended their anti-immigrant laws—Alabama, Indiana, and, most recently, South Carolina—have all agreed to settle civil rights challenges instead, and Colorado repealed an anti-immigrant law that had long been on its books.
     
    Last year, the pendulum shifted toward laws designed to restore trust in the community and local law enforcement. California and Connecticut passed different versions of the TRUST Act, designed to mitigate the harms caused by entanglement between state and local authorities and federal immigration law. These laws help improve the delicate relationships between immigrant communities and local law enforcement by limiting the instances in which local authorities can hold an immigrant at the behest of immigration officials. Other states, including Maryland, seem poised to join their ranks this year.
     
  • March 14, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Kanya Bennett, Director of Policy Development and Programming at the American Constitution Society, Angelyn Frazer, State Legislative Affairs Director at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Nkechi Taifa, Senior Policy Analyst at the Open Society Foundations
     
    In 1989, five African American and Latino boys were wrongly convicted of a heinous crime committed in New York City’s Central Park. Filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon document their story in The Central Park Five. As PBS describes, The Central Park Five documentary “raises important questions about race and class, the failings of our criminal justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles, and basic human rights.”
     
    And these “important questions” were certainly raised at the February 26th screening of the film hosted by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Open Society Foundations (OSF), and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS). How could our criminal justice system fail on so many different levels, with law enforcement, prosecutors, and defense attorneys falling short? Decades later, why do young men of color remain vulnerable to the same fate as the Central Park Five? Can we point to criminal justice reform that will prevent another case like the Central Park Five?
     
    The Central Park Five featured our criminal justice system at its very worst. The police, with great help from the media, made vulnerable juveniles of color the poster children for violent criminal activities or what they coined a “wilding,” a narrative they held on to even when the evidence suggested another story. Prosecutors played detectives and advanced their case against the boys using this flimsy support. And a lawyer whose job it was to poke holes in the district attorney’s assertions allegedly fell asleep, almost every day, during trial.
     
  • February 14, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Brooke D. Coleman, Associate Professor, Seattle University School of Law

    Litigation reform is bandied about in an inevitable way. The narrative supporting such reform says that corporations are coerced into settling frivolous claims because the cost of litigating in federal court is so high. Further, the story goes, corporations do not want to be in the United States because the litigation risks are too much. This narrative of excessive cost and abuse is used to justify various litigation reforms, ranging from tort reform to attorney sanctions. The most recent entrant into the reform fray comes from the Committee on Rules of Practice & Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States. This rulemaking body has proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These amendments would make it easier for parties to resist producing documents, provide greater protection to parties who fail to preserve key information, and limit the number of ways parties can request information from one another. By limiting access to information in this way, these proposed amendments to the discovery rules promise to lower litigation costs. 

    The problem with this narrative and the attendant reforms is that they are inaccurate. First, discovery costs are generally not too high in comparison to the stakes parties have in litigation.  Second, the argument that the proposed restrictions on discovery are justified undervalues the benefit of civil litigation.