Access to Justice

  • May 7, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Joseph Thai, Watson Centennial Chair in Law and Presidential Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma College of Law
     
    If there is a silver lining to the rushed—and botched—execution of Clayton Lockett last week in Oklahoma, it is the national soul searching that it ignited over the place of the death penalty in our society. The public post-mortem has appropriately spotlighted the means by which the state attempted to kill Lockett—the injection of a secretly procured drug cocktail that failed to put him to death in the “humane” manner intended, but instead caused him to writhe in agony for over half an hour before he died of a traumatic heart attack. But hidden in plain sight was another troubling dimension to the double execution Oklahoma had planned for that night, with the second now on hold. Both condemned men were black.
     
    The mug shots of Lockett and the other condemned prisoner, Charles Warner, splashed across the front pages and screens of news outlets across the nation. They stared out at the viewer, expressionless, but not lifeless, bound to the same fate, and bound by race.
     
    It is no secret that race infects the death penalty. In the landmark case of McCleskey v. Kemp, which involved a challenge to capital punishment in Georgia as racially biased, the Supreme Court in 1987 acknowledged that capital sentencing “appears to correlate with race.” In fact, the correlations drawn by a seminal study of the death penalty in that southern state were stark: among them, a defendant was 4.3 times more likely to draw the death penalty if the crime involved a white victim rather than a black one, and the racial combination most likely to result in the death penalty was a black defendant and white victim. The Court rejected the challenge in a deeply divided 5-4 ruling, accepting that “apparent disparities in sentencing are an inevitable part of our criminal justice system,” but reasoning that “the Constitution does not place totally unrealistic conditions on its use.”
     
  • April 29, 2014

    Earlier this morning, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases which raise the question of whether or not police can search confiscated cellphones of arrestees without a warrant. In both cases, the defendants argued that the information obtained from their cell phones by police was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. NPR’s Nina Totenberg discusses Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie.
     
    Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied cert in Jackson v. Louisiana, a case that examined whether or not a non-unanimous jury verdict violates the Sixth Amendment. At CAC’s Text & History Blog, Brianne Gorod explains why the high court’s failure in taking the case “is not only tragic, it’s inexplicable.”
     
    Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard arguments concerning whether a state law can close the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. Writing for MSNBC, Irin Carmon asserts that “what’s at stake stretches far beyond Mississippi.”
     
    At Just Security, Marty Lederman explains why the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s Directive 119, which “prohibits employees of the Intelligence Community from unauthorized ‘contacts’ with the media about intelligence ‘sources’ ” isn’t a “clear-cut matter.”
     
    As the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education fast approaches, The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund commemorates the Supreme Court’s landmark decision.  
  • April 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Zachary J. Kolodin, 3L, New York University School of Law, Former President, New York University School of Law ACS Student Chapter, ACS Next Generation Leader; and Sarah Molinoff, 2L, New York University School of Law, Co-Legislation Chair, New York University School of Law ACS Student Chapter

    The New York University School of Law ACS Student Chapter broke new ground this year by launching its first annual Legislation Competition. Inspired by the work of American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE), the NYU ACS Student Chapter partnered with the NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy to create a real-life policy problem and asked law students to come up with solutions that could be translated into legislation at the state level. Participants in the competition drafted model state-level bills and wrote policy papers advocating for and explaining their proposed legislation.

    The competition aimed to leverage the immense amount of talent in the student body. The NYU ACS Student Chapter decided that it could have the greatest impact by mobilizing student ideas and energy into creating innovative policy solutions for state legislatures and then marketing those ideas. The competition also generated buzz for ACS on campus while serving as an opportunity to promote legislative and policy work to students. 

    Law students at NYU regularly propose policy ideas in student notes and in classroom policy papers. However, the NYU ACS Student Chapter realized that a lot of intellectual energy was not being used. “We wanted to create a vehicle for students to get their ideas out into world, reshaping policy at the state level,” said David Holmberg, NYU ACS Student Chapter President.

  • 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.