Access to Justice

  • December 4, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Neil Kinkopf, Professor of Law, Georgia State University. He also serves on the Georgia Lawyer Chapter Board of Advisors.

    The predictable calls for impeachment went up after President Obama announced his actions on immigration last week. To the surprise of no one, the calls issued exclusively from the president’s Republican detractors. Such partisan calls for impeachment are easily dismissed. In a recent New York Times op-ed, however, Professor Peter Schuck of the Yale Law School lent credibility to the legal basis for these claims, arguing that the president’s action satisfies the constitutional predicate for impeachment (though he advocates that Congress exercise its discretion to decline impeachment).  His argument is worthy of attention, though it fails utterly. 

    The Constitution sets forth the grounds for impeachment:  “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  Nowhere in the document, however, is the phrase “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” defined. This absence of a legal definition has led some to conclude that the House of Representatives may impeach for any reason at all. Then-Congressman Gerald Ford gave this idea its most famous articulation:  “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history ….”  Professor Schuck falls squarely in this camp, declaring “it is pretty much up to Congress to define and apply ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” 

    This Nietzschean view (Law is dead, therefore all is permitted) is deeply flawed. Most significantly, it is at odds with the original understanding of the impeachment power. The framers adopted the language “high crimes and misdemeanors” precisely to avoid leaving it “pretty much up to Congress” to decide for itself what constitutes an impeachable offense. During the drafting convention, George Mason suggested that the president be impeachable for “maladministration.” James Madison objected to this formulation on the grounds that it would undermine the independence of the president: “[s]o vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.” The constitutional convention then settled on the familiar “high crimes and misdemeanors” language as a way of making sure the standard for impeachment would not be infinitely malleable. 

  • November 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Brandon L. Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law. Since the 2011 publication of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, Professor Garrett has written widely on issues of criminal procedure, scientific evidence, corporate crime, and the law. This fall, Harvard University Press published his new book, Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.

    “He’s a grown man today, he was just a boy back then,” said Ricky Jackson upon his release from prison last week.  “I don’t hate him.” Jackson spent 39 years behind bars, more than any other person exonerated in the U.S., according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Jackson was speaking of the 12 year-old who had identified him and two others as murderers, and whose testimony in 1975 sent him to Ohio’s death row. Last week, the eyewitness admitted his testimony was “all lies.” There was no other evidence in this case: no forensic evidence, physical evidence, or other witnesses.  The exoneration highlights just how malleable eyewitness testimony can be, and how important it is to get it right. 

    This Fall, the National Academy of Sciences published an important report “Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification.” I was a member of the committee that produced the report. The report evaluates decades of research on eyewitness memory and it details scientific procedures that can help to prevent error. 

  • September 10, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Ian Millhiser in ThinkProgress and Todd C. Frankel in The Washington Post explain how the Affordable Care Act has impacted major and minor health decisions in everyday life, and the potential cost of Halbig to these changes.

    Michael McGough writes for the Los Angeles Times on the details of last week’s decision from U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman on the constitutionality of Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage.

    A new plan to reduce court fees in Ferguson, Mo. could help ease tensions in the city, reports Joseph Shapiro of National Public Radio.

    Erin Fuchs explains for Business Insider why the Supreme Court is examining the issue of prison beards and what it could mean for First Amendment interpretation.

    Mark Joseph Stern of Slate examines why Supreme Court justices sometimes rely on made-up facts for their decisions.  

  • August 29, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Arit John reports for The Wire that six plaintiffs are suing the police forces in Ferguson and St. Louis County for civil rights abuses.

    In The New York Times, Julia Preston writes on a new immigration policy that permits asylum to foreign women who are victims of severe domestic violence.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on its efforts to stop the jailing of those unable to pay probation fees in Alabama.

    Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic on police harassment in light of a controversial video showing a man arrested while picking up his kids from school.

    In Politico, Maggie Severns explains how a ruling in Los Angeles on Thursday sets up a battle over teacher protections. 

  • August 22, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In a class society burdened by festering economic inequality and too many lawmakers bent on cutting funding for civil legal aid, the struggle for an accessible justice system can appear insurmountable.

    But some new research emerging from Voices for Civil Justice and the Public Welfare Foundation, indicates that a growing number in the legal profession do care about a justice system that is inclusive -- not one that caters solely to the well-off.

    The groups commissioned polling work by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group, and among the information they are making public now shows that a “strong majority of lawyers – 59 percent – indicate a previous or current involvement with civil legal aid as donors or volunteers.”

    The research, which will be released in its entirety in September, also reveals that 65 percent of lawyers “express initial support for increasing government funding for civil legal aid.”

    Beyond the debilitating effects of the Great Recession, a rapidly growing number of unaccompanied children arriving, many along the U.S.-Mexico border, are facing deportation with no legal representation – or very little. As Voices for Civil Justice and Public Welfare Foundation note there are groups within the legal community that see the injustice of the situation and are striving to do something about it.

    Reporting on the uptick of unaccompanied migrants, Rick Jervis of USA Today notes that the Obama administration is urging Congress to authorize “$3.7 billion in emergency funding, which includes $45 million for new judges plus funding for legal aid for children ….” Jervis continues, however, that conservative lawmakers “have balked at the proposal. They want to make it easier to send the youths back.”

    But Jonathan Ryan, head of the Texas-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, highlights the injustice of denying legal aid to unaccompanied children.