Civil rights

  • February 7, 2014
    The New York Times editorial board cited an amicus brief in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores authored by Frederick Mark Gedicks, Faculty Advisor for the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School ACS Student Chapter. The paper calls for the Court to recognize the Establishment Clause’s precedent in the lawsuit against the Obama administration. Gedicks also authored an ACS Issue Brief examining the challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception policy and laid out an argument against granting religious exemptions to for-profit corporations on ACSblog.
    Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, released a statement praising the Senate Judiciary Committee for its favorable report of Debo Adegbile to be the Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. In the statement, Ifill says Adegbile “has precisely the type of broad civil rights experience that is required at this pivotal moment in our country.”
    Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required federal review of voting laws in states with a history of voter discrimination. Adam Ragusea of NPR reports from Macon, Georgia on the repercussions felt by the city’s minority voters.
    Human Rights Watch explores the legal and ethical implications of a growing trend among probation companies to “act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers.”
    The Honorable Robert L. Carter is in the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s “Black History Month Spotlight.”
  • February 5, 2014
    JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay the U.S. government $614 million to settle its defective loan case. Announced Tuesday, the deal settles claims stemming from JPMorgan’s approval of unqualified home mortgage loans since 2002. NPR reports on the legal ramifications being felt by the world’s biggest banks.
    The U.S. Department of Transportation is designing new “Vehicle to Vehicle” communication technology that would help prevent traffic accidents. Reporting for the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, Jay Stanley discusses the privacy implications surrounding the new technology.
    Herbert Smulls, a convicted inmate in Missouri, was executed before his final stay was denied last week by the U.S. Supreme Court. Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic reports on what went wrong and reveals a “breach in ethics and in the law.”
    Daphne Eviatar at Just Security addresses the issues surrounding drone technology and what must be done to guarantee that its use remains within the law.
    Writing for The Root, Henry Louis Gates Jr. provides a brief history of Black History Month and its founder, Dr. Carter G. Woodson.
  • January 28, 2014
    Defining the Struggle
    National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915
    Susan D. Carle
    by Susan D. Carle, Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law
    As the nation heads towards the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the time is ripe for revisiting the origins of the social movement that gave this important legislation its birth. We commonly think of the federal civil rights legislation of the 1960s, including both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as a product of a social movement that began just a few decades before. In fact, however, both the ideas for new national civil rights legislation to enforce the U.S. Constitution’s dictates of citizenship equality, and the activism that propelled those ideas into law, have far older origins.
    Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915, uncovers the almost forgotten “prehistory” of national organizing to promote racial citizenship equality. The book traces this history’s basis in the activism of lawyers and other civil rights leaders of the late 19th and first years of the 20th century. Through organizations rarely remembered today, such as the National Afro American League, the National Afro American Council, the Niagara Movement and others, early national leaders and activists began to experiment with a panoply of law-related strategies for advancing the equality principles embedded in the nation’s constitutional texts. These activists deeply believed in these fundamental equality principles, but they just as deeply distrusted the bureaucrats charged with enforcing law. Put otherwise, they were not naive “legal liberals” who believed the courts would enforce racial equality principles simply because they were petitioned to do. Early civil rights lawyers understood that the struggle would be a political one, and they were pessimistic about the advances that could be made without gaining more political power. At the same time, they believed that the courts were one forum in which the battle for racial equality should be fought, if only by exposing the nation’s hypocrisy on racial equality to the world. Even recognizing the great odds against them, this early generation of legal activists was willing to take on the challenge of using principles of  constitutional law to challenge the unjust application of law.
  • January 13, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Kara Hartzler, Attorney, Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.; Member, Board of Directors, ACS San Diego Lawyer Chapter; Recipient of the 2013 ACS David Carliner Public Interest Award

    When I applied for the David Carliner Public Interest Award last year, I didn’t do it because I had a stunning track record of court victories, a list of successful published decisions, or a résumé chock-full of wins. I did it because I am a giant loser.

    In my work as a lawyer at a non-profit immigration rights organization in Arizona, losing was the name of the game. The vast majority of our clients had no way to fight their cases and were merely biding their time before an immigration judge would order them deported. Even the ones who did have a way to fight their cases were usually greeted by an insurmountable trifecta of bad precedent, hostile judges and an agency appellate body with a not-so-subtle agenda. I lost case after case and quickly learned to advise my clients of two things: the law as it was on the books versus the law as it would be applied to them. On any given day, the best I could hope for was a batting average that was a fraction as good as the worst major league baseball player.

    And in my current job as an appellate attorney for the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., my win/loss ratio has actually declined, if such a thing is possible. Despite practicing in front of the Ninth Circuit—a court derided by conservatives as a liberal bastion of judicial activism—I have yet to win a single criminal case. It’s a really good thing I went for a JD rather than an MBA because any CEO worth his salt would have tossed me out on the street long ago.

    But somehow that didn’t keep me from being awarded the 2013 ACS David Carliner Public Interest Award. Here’s why: the award wasn’t created for winners. By its nature, progressive social change comes very slowly and is fought like hell by those who oppose it. And those who fight like hell to oppose change are not even as effective in defeating it as those who are indifferent to it—those who refuse to consider a new interpretation of the law simply because they’ve never heard of it before.

  • December 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Jordan Wells, Legal Fellow,  New York Civil Liberties Union

    Significant reforms are not far off for the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, but you might not know that from headlines of late. Most press has focused on “l’affaire Scheindlin,” but the newspapers have buried the lead: The present and future status of the right of New Yorkers to be free from unconstitutional stops and seizures.

    In November, Bloomberg administration lawyers made a last-ditch attempt at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to undo the district court’s findings that the NYPD has engaged in widespread violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey chipped in their two cents, as the city—hoping to parlay the panel’s removal of Judge Scheindlin—made a bid for the appeals court to vacate the judge’s decisions. This was to no avail, and given the incoming mayor’s firm pledge to withdraw the appeal, the judge’s decisions are not going anywhere soon.

    The same cannot be said for the current stop-and-frisk regime. The Second Circuit’s order denying vacatur explicitly contemplates the possibility of an “application to us for a return of the cases to the District Court for the purpose of exploring a resolution,” and every indication is that the case is headed for such a resolution in the New Year. Practically, this will mean that the plaintiffs in Floyd (stop-and-frisk writ large), Ligon (concerning practices in and around “Clean Halls” buildings) and Davis (concerning practices in and around public housing) will seek to reach consensus with the City on needed reforms.