Civil rights

  • June 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Suzanne B. Goldberg, Director of Columbia Law School's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, and Executive Vice President for University Life at Columbia University.

    By striking down state laws that shut same-sex couples out of marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court has put an end to a long and painful chapter in our country’s history and, at the same time, created an opening for a new wave of civil rights, safety, and justice advocacy.

    For so many years, with heightened intensity in the past two decades, states have denied same-sex couples access to marriage and the rights, recognition, and responsibilities that go along with it.  The terrible consequences are familiar: longtime partners kept from each other at hospitals, children and parents torn apart, humiliation and cost to people like the man at the heart of today’s decision, James Obergefell, whose marriage Ohio treated as nonexistent after Obergefell’s spouse, John Arthur, died in 2013.

    Familiar now, too, is the dramatic shift in the marriage equality landscape.  With increasing momentum, voters, legislatures, and courts around the country have reversed course on “defense of marriage” acts and rejected second-class citizenship for gay and lesbian couples.

    Without Supreme Court action, the nation was destined to maintain a discriminatory patchwork of marriage laws for years to come. The Court’s decision, in other words, reinforced the American tradition that courts, legislatures, and the general public each have a role in securing justice.

  • June 23, 2015
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    As Stephen Bright provided closing remarks at the 2015 ACS National Convention, he extoled the virtue of representing unpopular clients ‒ particularly criminal defendants, who are usually poor and often people of color.  He listed the names of inmates who have been wrongfully convicted and recently released from prison, all unwitting members of a far-too-large society of American exonerees:  Willie Manning in Mississippi, Anthony Ray Hinton in Alabama, Alfred Brown in Texas, and Glenn Ford in Louisiana.  But Bright also delighted the crowd by introducing a special guest: exoneree and recent law school graduate Jarrett Adams.

    Adams served almost 10 years of a 28-year prison sentence for a crime that he did not commit.  After being exonerated with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, he obtained a degree in criminal justice and then attended law school at Loyola University Chicago.  He has worked at the Federal Defender’s Office in Chicago and at the public interest law firm Loevy & Loevy, and soon he will begin a dual fellowship with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ‒ the very court that overturned his conviction and set him free.

    At the convention, Adams sat down with ACS to explain why it’s so important for law students to develop professional networks.  He said, “There are only so many big firms, and if you don’t . . . get a 4.0 or know someone . . . you don’t have the opportunity to summer with them and to get into the door.  ACS offers you the opportunity to network with the big law firms at events like this.”  He added, “You never know when you’re going to be in a networking event and meet someone that’s going to help you become someone.”

    Arguably, Adams – who hopes to practice civil rights law and continue leading the nonprofit organization he co-founded, Life After Justice – is already “someone.”  But, as he would probably agree, there is always room for growth and advancement.

    Adams’ entire interview can be viewed below.

  • June 19, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    For those who attended, the 2015 ACS National Convention was not only an opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new connections, and obtain CLE credits; it was also a time to reflect upon the important work that attorneys do every day and gain inspiration for the road ahead.  Speakers from across the country and from diverse professional backgrounds delved into the issues of the day, including voting rights, women’s access to reproductive health care, LGBT rights and marriage equality, access to counsel, and more.  Here are some highlights with links to high-quality video for those who missed the live event.

    Stephen Bright, president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, received a stirring round of applause when he encouraged students and young lawyers to represent unpopular clients, saying “we need to see the kinds of injustices that got . . . people where they are.” In attendance with Mr. Bright were Theo Shaw, one of the exonerated “Jena 6” who is now on his way to law school on a full scholarship, and Jarrett Adams, an exoneree who graduated from law school and will soon begin clerking for the court that exonerated him.

    Wendy Davis, women’s rights crusader and a former state Senator from Texas, discussed how rampant voter suppression has led to bad policies in her state, particularly concerning access to reproductive health care. “Women who lack the means to manage their fertility lack the means to manage their lives,” she declared. “It is just that simple.”

    Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for automatic registration of all eligible voters in the U.S., stating that “the ability to vote is a right, it is not a privilege.” He decried efforts to make voting less accessible, explaining that in-person voting fraud is very rare and no such widespread schemes have been detected.

    U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries discussed the ongoing need to address faulty police practices, including so-called “taxation by citation,” “stop and frisk,” and “broken windows” tactics that disproportionately target low-income people and communities of color.

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg drew laughs and applause during her conversation with California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu. Speaking about her groundbreaking career, she said “I don’t think the meaning of feminism has changed,” it has always meant “girls should have the same opportunity to dream, aspire, achieve . . . as boys.” It’s about “women and men working together to help make society a better place.”

  • May 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by John Paul Schnapper-Casteras, Special Counsel for Appellate and Supreme Court Advocacy at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., which filed a brief in support of marriage equality, together with the NAACP. Follow him on Twitter @jpscasteras.

    It was a familiar scene at the U.S. Supreme Court: states argued that allowing certain couples to marry would impose long-term harms upon children, families and social institutions. They contended that it is not the judiciary’s place to scrutinize restrictions upon the freedom to marry.  And they fell back upon the claim that the definition of marriage is a longstanding tradition.

    No, I’m not talking about last week’s argument on same-sex marriage; I’m referring to the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, which ultimately struck down bans on interracial marriage as unconstitutional. Switch a few names and adjectives and you could have approximated swathes of the oral argument from 48 years ago, listening to Virginia defend a central vestige of segregation.  Indeed, Virginia now acknowledges that it had supported interracial marriage bans and school segregation with “the same arguments offered by marriage equality opponents today” and powerfully concedes that it was on the “wrong side” of those issues.

    The resemblance should come as no surprise.  Civil rights groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and NAACP have long advanced briefs and analyses about the logical and legal parallels between interracial marriage and same-sex marriage.  Recently, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal released new studies comparing our nation’s ability to progress on these two issues.  Courts around the country have recognized the enduring relevance of Loving’s holding that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness” and that “all the State’s citizens” possess a fundamental right to marry.

    Likewise, last week, the justices repeatedly focused on Loving, referencing it ten times in the transcript and another half-dozen times indirectly.  Justice Kagan explored how “Loving was exactly what this case is” and Justice Breyer explained that the states’ reliance upon tradition today is “the same way we talk[ed] about racial segregation.”  The Solicitor General put it eloquently: allowing states to discriminate against same-sex couples “will approximate the nation as a house divided that we had with de jure racial segregation,” and he did not “know why we would want to repeat that history.”

  • May 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer Daskal, Assistant Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law. Follow her on Twitter @jendaskal. [Cross-posted at Just Security]

    Yesterday the Second Circuit declared the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata program unlawful.  Specifically, it ruled that it was unauthorized by section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (and thus did not reach the constitutional law questions).  At the same time, however, it declined to grant an injunction that would have halted the program and instead sent the case back to the district court to reconsider the issues. As the Second Circuit recognized, many of the issues many of which could may be mooted by congressional action (or inaction) between now and June 1, when this key statutory provision is set to expire.

    The program’s continuing operation, at least for the next few weeks, has prompted commentators such as Orin Kerr to describe the ruling as “merely symbolic.”  I disagree.  To be sure, the telephony metadata program has long been given outsized attention relative to its impact and importance. But the ruling has significant import nonetheless not just for what it means for the continued operation of the program, but for the range of interconnected areas that the opinion addresses.  Below are four key, and substantive, implications of the ruling.

    1.      Collection Matters

    The Second Circuit resoundingly rejected the government’s argument that there is no cognizable injury until data is actually analyzed and reviewed.  According to the government,  appellants had no standing because they could not establish that the metadata associated with their telephone calls (i.e. the numbers called, received, and duration of the call) had actually been analyzed, rather than merely collected; absent subsequent review, the suffered no injury in fact.  The government makes analogous arguments with respect to other forms of bulk collection: Don’t worry we have robust limitations as to who can access the data and why.

    The Second Circuit was not persuaded, and rightly so.  As the Second Circuit concluded, collection is properly analyzed as a government seizure. If the collection is unlawful, then “appellants have suffered a concrete and particularized injury,” even without a subsequent review by human actors.  In other words, collection matters, even if the subsequent use restrictions are robust and strictly followed. That’s because we have a separate privacy interest not just in how the government uses our data, but in the government’s collection of our data in the first place.