Caroline Fredrickson

  • April 30, 2014

    by David Lyle

    A week after the Oklahoma Supreme Court buckled under political pressure, state officials pushed ahead with a controversial execution method to be used on two death row inmates; one of those inmates suffered a grisly death by heart attack after the lethal injection failed to work effectively. After the botched execution of Clayton D. Lockett, detailed in this piece by The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, state officials temporarily halted the second planned execution.

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson blasted Oklahoma state lawmakers for interfering with the judicial process. Fredrickson said:

    One of the fundamental tenets of our democracy, an independent court system that provides checks and balances on the other branches of government, was the victim of a politically motivated execution leading directly to this tragedy tonight. Had the Oklahoma Supreme Court been allowed to render an impartial ruling absent the governor's coercion and political pressure, the state would not have botched today's execution because it never would have taken place. This is sad commentary on the state of fair courts in Oklahoma.

    A week ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed the execution of two convicts so that the justices could evaluate the legality of the state's injection secrecy law. Just two days later, after Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin claimed she would not recognize an issue ordered by the state Supreme Court and members of the legislature threatened to recall the justices supporting a stay of execution, the Oklahoma high court bowed to pressure and said the executions could proceed.

    Cohen, also a Brennan Center fellow, stated in The Week, "It was a bad week in Oklahoma - at least for anyone who values a strong and fearless judiciary."

    The nationwide trend of politicizing state courts has accelerated in recent months, as large-spending outside groups have poured huge sums into previously apolitical state Supreme Court races. Now that politicization has cost a life. 

    Fair court reform advocates have warned of the consequences of politically controlled state courts for years, as seen in the “Justice Isn’t Blind – The Influence of Special Interests on State Court” memo published by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics

  • December 13, 2013

    by Caroline Fredrickson, ACS President

    Robert F. Kennedy’s tragic presidential run – he was assassinated June 5, 1968 – was also extraordinary in that a major political figure was trying to focus the nation’s attention on the most vulnerable among us, those living in dire poverty. One of his top aides, Peter Edelman was instrumental in RFK’s efforts to arouse the national conscience about poverty. Edelman is now a Georgetown law school professor and a nationally recognized figure, devoted to improving our society by helping the large numbers of Americans who have for far too long been overlooked.

    And, until recently, Peter was also ACS’s Board Chair. His term ended this month, but he remains on the Board. His leadership and guidance as Board Chair were deeply appreciated and we will look forward to his continued partnership with ACS for years to come.

    Peter’s illustrious career has included not only his work for RFK, but also as Issues Director for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s presidential campaign and service in the U.S. Department of Justice as Special Assistant to Attorney General John Douglas.

    But Peter above all, has devoted great amounts of energy and time to fighting poverty. If you’ve not done so, you should read Edelman’s 2012 book, So Rich, So Poor for a compelling, albeit disheartening, examination of why ending poverty in this nation has been a constant uphill battle. Bill Moyers called the book a must-read “for anyone who wants to understand why, in one of the richest nations in the world, millions of people, even those with jobs, are teetering just a medical bill or missed paycheck from disaster.”

    We’re grateful Peter has given some of his remarkable energies and talent to support and advance the work of ACS.

  • December 13, 2013

    by Caroline Fredrickson, ACS President

    Since its founding in 2001, ACS has enjoyed the great fortune of a consistently strong Board of Directors, with some of the nation’s leading academics, practitioners and activists serving. At our recently scheduled Board meeting we said goodbye to a few long-serving members and selected a new Board chair, David M. Brodsky.  

    David’s legal career is a highly distinguished one. He was formerly a partner of the global law firm Latham & Watkins LLP. Some of his duties included advising foreign and domestic companies with respect to investigations of suspected criminal conduct, complex securities litigation, including class actions and other regulatory investigations and enforcement actions.   

    He is now the sole principal of a mediation and arbitration firm in New York City. Before launching Brodsky ADR LLC to help effectively solve complex disputes, David spent decades building a nationally recognized reputation as one of this nation’s greatest trial lawyers.

    There’s more to the story. David has served as a federal prosecutor, a general counsel to an investment bank and on numerous pro bono boards. His energy and dedication to the legal profession and to making justice accessible is extraordinary. Indeed his very rich, varied legal career has won him honors from numerous national legal publications, being consistently named among the top 100 “Super Lawyers” in New York and listed in the 2012 Best Lawyers in America survey.

    David, in an eloquent ACSblog post, paid tribute to some of ACS’s long-serving Board members whose terms recently ended. But ACS members, supporters and friends should get to know David. He’s an inspiring figure and a tireless advocate of ACS’s work. We’re grateful he’s taken a leadership role on the Board.  

    [image via Brodsky ADR LLC]

  • September 23, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    UNC Law School Professor Gene Nichol earlier this year at a Harvard symposium on the legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright and the state of funding for indigent defense blasted the legal system’s treatment of the poor.

    Poor litigants, criminal or civil, more often than not are treated unequally before the law. “Despite our perpetual boasts, we turn out to be the effective adversary to equality; outposts, comforter, companion, and the better to marginalization,” Nichol said.

    This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark Supreme Court case that held the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel means that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to counsel whether they can afford it or not. That case placed a mandate on the States to ensure that poor criminal defendants are provided legal representation. But as Nichol and others have noted, such as ACS’s Caroline Fredrickson, too many States have fallen woefully short of ensuring that poor criminal defendants have access to competent counsel.

    In an interview earlier this year with ACSblog, Stephen Bright, head of the Southern Center for Human Rights, provided his thoughts, in some ways similar to Nichol’s, about the state of indigent defense. Like Nichol, Bright noted the nation’s and legal profession’s callousness toward the poor.

    Bright (pictured) said, “One would think that if the court said this is what the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the right to counsel, that this is what it means – that the state has to provide a lawyer that the states would have done that. But Gideon has been treated as an unfunded mandate.”

    So why have many States given short-shrift to funding of indigent defense services? Likely, Bright said, the answer lies with a society that has remained indifferent, at best, to poverty.

    “When Robert F. Kennedy was attorney general, he said the poor person accused of a crime has no lobby,” Bright noted. “That’s exactly right. There’s no constituency.”

  • September 20, 2013
     
    During a week when many groups and individuals are celebrating the signing of the U.S. Constitution -- September 17 is Constitution Day -- it is appropriate to take note of how far we have fallen short of fulfilling certain fundamental rights promised in our governing document.
     
    As Dean Erwin Chemerinsky noted in this ACSblog post, we are not just celebrating the signing of a parchment, we are actually taking note of how the Constitution has "been interpreted and implemented over the course of American history."
     
    There are examples of where the judiciary has misinterpreted the broad language of the Constitution or where states have faltered or failed in implementation of constitutional mandates, but let's take one example that provides a stark picture of a nation failing to live up to a promise of genuine equality before the law. Let's look at the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel.
     
    Fifty years ago this year, in a landmark opinion, Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel means that people in danger of losing liberty have a right to counsel, even if they cannot afford it. In his majority opinion, Justice Hugo Black observed, "The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him."