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  • October 9, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Paul Bland, Executive Director of Public Justice. 

    *This post originally appeared on the Public Justice blog. 

    The Alliance for Justice has just released an extremely powerful documentary, “Lost in the Fine Print,” which you can view here. Narrated by former Labor Secretary and genuine American hero Robert Reich, it provides both a big picture overview of what’s unfair with forced arbitration, and three examples of the human impact of its unfairness. Unfortunately, as incredibly unfair as each of the three examples is, they are not at all uncommon stories. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the people who speaks in the film, which I consider a great honor.)

    As the film explores, forced arbitration is slipped by the vast majority of Americans – whether as consumers, workers, or small-business people – in ways that almost none of them will notice or recognize. The system is designed by the stronger parties to disputes – generally huge corporations – to favor them in disputes. Forced arbitration’s rapid spread has been aided by a series of 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that would never have been anticipated by the framers of our Constitution. 

    The film describes an employment case in which a U.S. Army Reservist was illegally fired from her job because her employer didn’t like her taking two weeks away from work to fulfill her military obligation. But an arbitrator selected by a corporation selected by her employer rejected her case out of hand, ignoring the clear legal rules applicable to the case. This is a fairly familiar situation in America.

  • October 9, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Lyle Denniston reports for SCOTUSblog on the Supreme Court’s decision to allow North Carolina voting limits.

    Nina Totenberg of NPR writes about oral arguments for Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, a case that questions whether workers should be paid for time spent in mandatory security screenings.

    In The New Republic, Danny Vinik also looks at Integrity Staffing Solutions and considers why the White House seems to have sided against workers in the case.

    Tony Mauro explains in USA Today why the Supreme Court declined to hear any same-sex marriage cases.

    In the Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Steven D. Schwinn writes about the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the preliminary injunction in the North Carolina voting rights case.  

  • October 8, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Alex J. Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    The Supreme Court this week heard arguments in Holt v. Hobbs, a challenge to a prison’s refusal to let an inmate grow a half-inch beard to comply with his Islamic religious beliefs. Most church-state cases that reach the Court are deeply divisive. In Holt, on the other hand, there appears to be a broad consensus among religious-freedom advocacy groups, as well as the justices themselves, that the prisoner should prevail.

    Groups that are typically at odds in church-state cases, such as my organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, supported the prisoner’s claims. And from the questions posed by the justices, it appears that the prisoner will win unanimously or nearly so.

    The prisoner, Gregory Holt (who now goes by the name Abdul Maalik Muhammad), brought his claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which is known by the difficult-to-pronounce acronym RLUIPA. RLUIPA prohibits a prison from substantially burdening an inmate’s religious exercise unless the prison is furthering a compelling governmental interest through the least restrictive means of doing so.       

    More than forty states, as well as the federal prison system, allow beards of the length that inmate Holt requested. Yet the defendant Arkansas prison system advanced two justifications for its denial of the beard: First, Arkansas argued, prisoners could hide contraband even in short beards.  Second, according to Arkansas, allowing prisoners to have facial hair could make it difficult to identify inmates within the prison.

    Justices who often hold diametrically opposing views on church-state and other hot-button issues were united in being deeply skeptical of these assertions.

    Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito noted that it would be much easier to hide objects in a head of hair, pointing out that Arkansas prisons allow inmates to have voluminous locks. Justice Alito also pointed out that even if it were possible to hide contraband in a half-inch beard, prison guards could easily expose such contraband by simply making the inmates comb their beards so that anything hidden falls out.

  • October 8, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Ned Resnikoff reports for MSNBC on Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, a labor case that is being heard before the Supreme Court this morning. The case questions whether workers should be paid overtime for the time spent waiting on mandatory security checks.

    In The Nation, Zoë Carpenter reports that the debate over abortion access is headed to the Supreme Court.

    Mugambi Jouet writes for the New Republic on what Attorney General Eric Holder does not understand about the death penalty.

    In the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Victoria Bassetti argues that the recent spate of political scandals reveals the dangers of money in politics.

    Lyle Denniston offers for SCOTUSblog the latest updates on the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to clear the way for same-sex marriages in Idaho and Nevada and the Supreme Court’s order to postpone the ruling.

    In Bloomberg View, Noah Felman takes a look at Tuesday’s oral arguments in Holt v. Hobbs, a case concerning whether a Muslim inmate could be forced to shave his beard. 

  • October 7, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Though the United States celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act this year, the criminal justice system remains a significant stumbling block on the path to racial equality. Nicole Austin-Hillery, the Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C. office, explained that “we are still a country that has a lot of hidden fears based on race.” And it’s these fears that have contributed to the quadrupling of the prison population since the 1970s, policies that make reentry more difficult for prisoners, and police practices that disproportionately target people of color.

    In an interview conducted earlier this year, Austin-Hillery offered her views on the path towards eliminating racial profiling and bias in the U.S. criminal justice system. Her work with the Brennan Center often focuses on voting rights as well as racial and criminal justice reform, and experience makes her well-aware of the challenges on the road to reform.  As she discussed in the interview, changing demographics are creating a greater need to educate Americans about racial justice issues and reevaluate programs put in place after the September 11 attacks.