During the 1950s, Victor Green wrote The Green Book, a travel guide listing restaurants and businesses that welcomed the patronage of African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. Writing for The American Prospect, Kent Greenfield—Professor of Law and Law Fund Research Scholar at Boston College Law School and Faculty Advisor for the Boston College Law School ACS Student Chapter—explains why, “after Tuesday’s arguments at the Supreme Court, we may need to dust off the Green Book and indeed initiate new editions for women, LGBT people, Muslims, and Jews.”
“The U.S. remains the only country in the world that imposes [life without parole] on children.” Steven M. Watt at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights tells the tragic story of Juwan Wichware and argues that “any punishment kids do receive should reflect their unique capacity for rehabilitation.”
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on whether “Secret Service agents can be sued for moving a group of protesters out of earshot of President George W. Bush in 2004.” NPR’s Nina Totenberg breaks down Wood v. Moss.
At TPM’s Editor’s Blog, Nan Aron calls for more diversity from the federal bench and notes “why it is so important that the people who may someday judge us represent a broad cross section of the American people.”
Frank Ackerman at the CPRBlog describes how the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute is producing a “steady stream of anti-environmental analyses.”
Katie Hamm and Erika Basurto at the Center for American Progress reveal how “the Strong Start Act would significantly improve access to early education for low-income children.”
by Kanya Bennett, Director of Policy Development and Programming at the American Constitution Society, Angelyn Frazer, State Legislative Affairs Director at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Nkechi Taifa, Senior Policy Analyst at the Open Society Foundations
In 1989, five African American and Latino boys were wrongly convicted of a heinous crime committed in New York City’s Central Park. Filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon document their story in The Central Park Five. As PBS describes, The Central Park Five documentary “raises important questions about race and class, the failings of our criminal justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles, and basic human rights.”
The Central Park Five featured our criminal justice system at its very worst. The police, with great help from the media, made vulnerable juveniles of color the poster children for violent criminal activities or what they coined a “wilding,” a narrative they held on to even when the evidence suggested another story. Prosecutors played detectives and advanced their case against the boys using this flimsy support. And a lawyer whose job it was to poke holes in the district attorney’s assertions allegedly fell asleep, almost every day, during trial.
by Alexander Wohl. Mr. Wohl is an adjunct professor at American University Washington College of Law, speech writer in the federal government and a former Supreme Court Judicial Fellow. For more information about his new book on Justice Tom Clark and his son Attorney General Ramsey Clark, visit the Father, Son, and Constitution Facebookpage.
As the only father and son to serve as attorneys general of the United States, Tom and Ramsey Clark are an historically unique pair, a distinction made even more noteworthy by Justice Tom Clark’s decision to give up his seat on the Supreme Court in 1967 so that his son could become President Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general. The tag-team tenure in government of this father and son was an unprecedented shared proximity to power and policy influence during some of the most challenging, divisive, and triumphant periods in U.S. history, from World War II to the attacks of September 11, 2001. But their impact is more far-reaching. In combined careers of more than 100 years and lives spanning three centuries, the Clarks provide a useful lens through which to examine the complex relationship between government and individual citizens that has defined and shaped U.S. legal and social policy through the present day.
At the heart of both Tom and Ramsey Clark’s work were many issues addressing this balance: the extent to which individuals should be prosecuted for “dangerous” speech or associations, when to use invasive law enforcement tools such as wiretapping, what type or duration of confinement constitutes unlawful detention, and the kind of role the federal government itself can or should play in the development of various policies and the enforcement of individual constitutional principles.
On these and other thorny questions the Clarks at once offer a set of ideological bookends and proof that views can evolve over time, a combination largely absent in an environment today in which questions about law and policy increasingly lead to ideological stratification and decision makers ever more pigeonholed in their views. While Tom and Ramsey Clark had clear differences in their outlook and approach, they often found common ground on many issues, including gun control, juvenile crime, and civil rights, along the way learning from each other.
by Allison R. Brown, a civil rights attorney and President of Allison Brown Consulting (ABC)
Two years ago, in September 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced an historic partnership within the executive branch of government – the Department of Justice and the Department of Education were joining forces to focus civil rights policy and enforcement efforts on examining and eliminating the “school-to-prison pipeline.” That partnership created a two-part national conference about the impact of student discipline on the pipeline and also created an inter-agency Supportive School Discipline Initiative. This week, federal interest in ending the “school-to-prison pipeline” officially grew as the legislative branch opened its doors to discourse about the issue.
On Dec. 12, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, convened the first-ever Senate hearing on ending the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Durbin himself provided impassioned and numbers-driven introductory remarks at the hearing, defining the pipeline as a literal and figurative “gateway” out of school and into the criminal justice system that deprives children of their “fundamental right to education.” He lamented the desperate overreach of lawmakers and educators years ago to create zero tolerance policies that, rather than make schools safer, has redefined “rather normal behavior” as criminal activity so that instead of sending children to the principal’s office for misbehavior, students are removed from the educational environment entirely. “The costs are enormous.” And those that pay the most are students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBT youth.
So the high court’s most progressive action likely came in its 5-4 opinion, Miller v. Alabama. That opinion held that mandatory life sentences without parole of juveniles violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Citing precedent set forth in the cases Roper v. Simmons and Graham v. Florida, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, reiterated that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing. Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform, we explained ‘they are less deserving of the most severe punishments.’”
Children, Kagan, continued have different maturity levels than adults, they are more vulnerable to all kinds of pressures, and finally the child’s character is just not developed yet. Kagan noted the Court’s precedents “rested not only on common sense – on what ‘any parent knows’ – but on science and social science as well.”