David Carliner

  • February 6, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Peter Wagner, Executive Director, Prison Policy Initiative; winner of the 2014 David Carliner Award

    Receiving the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Award last year was a huge honor and a wonderful celebration of the connection between criminal justice reform and other progressive movements. For too long, progressive movements have all worked in isolation from each other, but ACS and this award have, like its namesake, celebrated our common struggle for justice and human rights.

    I went to law school a decade ago when prison populations were going up and up, and up seemed like the only future. Both the powers that be and the established progressive movement were ignoring criminal justice advocates. The award, named for human rights champion David Carliner, represents an important milestone because it recognizes criminal justice issues – and the victories we have won together over the last decade – as essential victories for the broader progressive movement.

    I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to challenge policies that were doing more to exacerbate existing racial and economic disparities in our country than they were doing to respond to crime.  I wanted to collaborate with other criminal justice experts – such as incarcerated people, their families and lawyers – to force our country to confront the fact that our criminal justice system has grown so large that it punishes everyone, including people who are not directly involved in the criminal justice system.

    Take the U.S. Census. The U.S. Census counts incarcerated people as if they were willing residents of the prison location. This would be nothing more than a good item of statistical trivia if there weren't so many people in prison and if we didn't use this flawed data to draw legislative districts. Taking more than 2 million incarcerated people, who are mostly people of color, and deliberately counting them in the wrong communities systematically changes the legislative districts and therefore every political decision our legislatures make. "Prison gerrymandering" is a very subtle but ever-present thumb on the scale of our democracy. That's a large part of why state legislatures prioritize the demands of excessive punishment over more sensible alternatives.

  • January 22, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Jacob Remes, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and History, State University of New York, Empire State College. Prossor Remes is also David Carliner’s grandson.

    The problem I see for younger activists is that today it’s harder to get a good job. It’s harder to make the money you need. I mean, we lived so simply. I watch my students and the tuition is so much higher and they’re working two or three jobs trying to support themselves. I think it is harder for people to have the time to be able to do the kinds of work we did, just because we didn’t have as many other demands on us as people who are of college age and a little bit older do. – Sarah Weddington to Time magazine, January, 2013

    In June 1969, when Norma McCorvey needed a lawyer to demand her constitutional right to an abortion, she eventually found her way to two very young lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Weddington had graduated from law school in 1967; Coffee received her law degree in February 1968. When the Supreme Court handed them their victory in Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973, Weddington and Coffee were only six and five years out of law school.

    As progressive lawyers, reproductive rights activists, and others celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe, it’s worth listening to Weddington’s concern about whether the work she did in her early 20s would be possible today. Both undergraduate and law school tuition have skyrocketed since the 1960s, and progressive lawyers faced increased pressure to enter higher-paying jobs instead of work for the movement.

    Progressive lawyering is difficult and poorly rewarded. ACS’s David Carliner Public Interest Award seeks to make it somewhat better rewarded. Each year, the Carliner Award’s all-star panel of judges gives a $10,000 prize to a rising star in civil rights, civil liberties, international human rights, or immigration law. Winners are between seven and twelve years out of law school (this year, that means having graduated between May 2001 and May 2006) -- long enough that they have racked up some victories and other accomplishments, but young enough that they are beginning to worry about buying a house and affording their children’s tuition all while still paying off their own student loans. The $10,000 prize isn’t enough to solve all their financial problems, but it can provide a much-needed help, and it gives recognition to lawyers who receive all too little of it.

  • January 17, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Jacob A.C. Remes, an Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and History at SUNY Empire State College. Mr. Remes is also David Carliner’s grandson.

    One should never mind being called an agitator, David Carliner liked to say. In a washing machine, it’s the agitator that gets the dirt out.  By the time Carliner – the namesake of ACS’s $10,000 public interest law prize – was 25, he had agitated himself into jail (for protesting in front of the German embassy when he was 16), onto police watch lists (for attending a party with interracial dancing), out of college (for organizing a high school protest), out of an apartment (for talking politics with the African-American maid), out of law school (after he was arrested again for passing out handbills), and onto a secret list of American citizens to be detained in camps “in case of emergency” (for the total of all these political activities).

    For all his bravery as a student activist – he traveled to every county in Virginia organizing against militarism and white supremacy, which put him at considerable risk of physical danger – it was later, as a lawyer, when Carliner really started getting the dirt out. In the 1950s, he became one of the country’s first immigration lawyers, quickly realizing that he could use his practice not only to represent immigrant workers and dissidents, but also in his battles to liberalize American society.

    Perhaps his most famous case began in 1952, when a Chinese seaman Ham Say Naim married a white woman named Ruby and applied for U.S. citizenship. Two years later, while his naturalization was still pending, Ruby sought an annulment, arguing that Virginia’s antimiscegenation law meant their marriage was invalid.  Carliner took the case to the Supreme Court, daring the justices – in the year after Brown v. Board of Educationto recognize state antimiscegenation statutes as unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the court ducked the issue and allowed the case to be decided by the Virginia Supreme Court, which found that the state had the power to “regulate marriage … so that it shall not have a mongrel breed of citizens.”