ACSBlog

  • December 1, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Ruben J. Garcia, Professor of Law, University of Nevada Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law

    Today, Dec. 1, was the day that the Obama Administration’s revision to the overtime rules would have gone into effect, were it not for a nationwide injunction issued by a federal court last week. The revised rule aimed to increase the amount under which employees would be automatically eligible for overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a week. The rule required all employees earning below $47,476 to be paid time and a half for hours worked over 40 in a work week. Now, those employees will only be eligible for overtime if they also meet the tests for exempt duties as promulgated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), a subject of frequent litigation because of the inherently subjective elements the exempt duties tests.

    On Nov. 22, a federal court in the Eastern District of Texas enjoined the DOL’s revision of the Rule which determine when an employee is “exempt” from the overtime pay requirements. Business groups complained primarily about the Rule’s index which would automatically keep the salary threshold in line with increases in cost of living—the absence of which has kept the minimum salary at a stagnant level for decades. States sued to block the rule principally on a federalism challenge, which was turned away by the federal court in short order based on Supreme Court precedents. 

    But the Court accepted the challenge of the states and the private plaintiffs under the Administrative Procedure Act, finding that the DOL went beyond its authority in setting the salary minimum at $47,476. On this theory, the DOL has a minimal role in filling out congressional intent about the extent of the overtime exemption for “bona fide executive, administrative, and professional” exemption from overtime requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. For decades, the DOL has set a presumptive salary threshold, beneath which workers are eligible for overtime regardless of their duties. Over that threshold, workers might be exempt if they perform sufficient duties. The revised rule did not affect the duties standards most recently revised in 2004 during the Bush administration. The 2016 revision, however, raised the salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476. This doubling of the threshold beneath which employees are automatically entitled to overtime pay brought loud protests from the business community about how the increase would decrease the flexibility of employers and workers. Nonetheless, many employers increased employee salaries to ensure that workers would still be over the salary limit for the overtime exemption. Although the court expressly stated it was not challenging the authority of the DOL to set any threshold, the court did not say what salary level would have been reasonable.

  • November 30, 2016

    by Caroline Fredrickson

    President-elect Trump posted one outlandish tweet after another all the way to the White House. But his latest tweet on flag-burning topped most of the others.

    On Nov. 29, Trump tweeted:

    Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!

    The tone and text of the post read like something that a ruler from a bygone era without the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution would say.  Most alarming is the sweeping and ominous part about “consequences.” Fortunately, a chorus of critics checked Trump.

    The very next day, both The New York Times and The Washington Post editorialized against Trump’s tweet.  The headline in the Post’s View summed up the problem, “In one tweet, Trump trashes two constitutional amendments.”

    In 140 characters, the next president knocked the First and 14th Amendments. The Supreme Court ruled almost three decades ago that burning a flag is protected speech under the First Amendment. Ironically, Trump’s model of the ideal Supreme Court Justice, the late Antonin Scalia, joined the majority decision in the 1989 case, Texas v. Johnson.

    Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) chimed in right after the tweet to educate the public and president-elect about the First Amendment protection. Both members of Congress felt compelled to voice their support for this protected speech. McCarthy tried to shut down the debate by stating the unlikelihood of congressional action.

  • November 29, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Larry Schwartztol, Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School

    An arrest is typically the first step in the criminal process – a process designed to determine whether punishment is warranted. Yet in local jails around the country, people convicted of no crime remain detained as that process unfolds. Very often, that pretrial incarceration comes down to a simple, disheartening fact: the person arrested lacks the wealth to pay bail.

    For many pretrial defendants, the stakes are incredibly high. Even a short period of detention is a serious infringement on liberty, a deprivation that is compounded by exposure to the overcrowding, violence, disease, lack of health care and harshness that characterizes many jails. Beyond these inherent hardships, even short jail stays can upend a person’s life by disrupting employment, housing, child custody and health care. Studies have shown that pretrial detention also impacts the outcomes of a person’s criminal case. Being held before trial, even for short periods, has been shown to increase the chance of conviction (including conviction by guilty pleas for people charged with low-level crimes and desperate to get out of jail), the severity of a sentence and the chances of being arrested again in the future. Unaffordable money bail exposes many people to these consequences by transforming their lack of wealth into jail time. 

    The system of money bail, however, is at a crossroads. It remains a dominant tool for administering the pretrial process around the country – a totally normalized and nearly ubiquitous practice. Yet the tide appears ready to turn. Media outlets from the New York Times to Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver have shined a bright spotlight on the pathologies of money bail. A wave of civil rights lawsuits has challenged the operation of money bail around the country, from small jurisdictions in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri, to larger systems like Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and the state of Massachusetts. Policymakers are also leading the charge for reform. In Maryland, the state’s attorney general has propelled forward a proposed rule that that would add safeguards to prevent people from being jailed due to inability to afford bail. Voters in New Mexico approved a ballot measure in November designed to decrease wealth-based jailing. And the U.S. Justice Department has become a forceful voice for reform, through court filings emphasizing core constitutional principles and a recent Dear Colleagues letter that went to every state chief justice and state court administrator in the country.

  • November 28, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department

    As law enforcement agencies throughout the United States begin to re-imagine and re-evaluate their role under an administration that purports to be wholly and unquestioningly supportive of the police, those of us who observe and comment on police-related issues should be concerned, very concerned. Four issues are worthy of immediate scrutiny: technology, immigration, “stop and frisk” and militarization.

    Technology

    The story broke, predictably, on a Saturday during the Thanksgiving weekend. The Boston Globe reported that the Boston Police Department planned to spend $1.4 million on software “that will scan social media and the Internet for criminal activity and threats to public safety.” So a local police department, and certainly not the first local police department of the over 18, 000 police departments that exist in the United States, will be monitoring our use of social media and flag keywords that might be indicative of criminal involvement or “threats to public safety” (whatever that means in the eyes of the police).

    Welcome to the bad new days of law enforcement, circa 2017. When last I checked, I had tweeted over 5000 times since 2009, and many of my tweets have been stridently critical of the police use of deadly force and police violence, and these tweets no doubt contained words such as “shooting,” “police,” “violence,” “deadly” and “#BlackLivesMatter.” I will no doubt be flagged as an enemy of the state and a threat to public safety by the police department where I worked for 27 years.

  • November 28, 2016

    *This piece was originally posted on Medium

    by Adam Shah, Senior Policy Analyst at Jobs With Justice

    On Nov. 22, a Texas federal blocked the U.S. Department of Labor from implementing its revised regulations governing overtime pay. The updated rules were set to go into effect on Dec. 1 and would have helped millions of people either get paid for their extra work or earn more of their time back.

    The Obama administration sought to significantly raise the maximum wage at which workers would still be eligible to receive overtime pay. The update was long overdue, as the original overtime rules had eroded due to inflation and corporations’ increasing attempts to misclassify workers to exempt them from overtime protection. The rule would have directly impacted at least 4.2 million working people, many of whom work in jobs that once would have had overtime protection but no longer do, for the reasons stated above.

    The judge’s decision also calls into question more than seven decades of Department of Labor regulations, which have consistently stated that “working people who receive a weekly salary below a certain threshold are not considered executive, administrative, or professional employees, no matter how a corporation classifies them.”

    The Obama administration does have the option of filing an emergency appeal of the decision in its short time remaining in office, but that court may not be very open to the administration’s arguments.