• September 30, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jessica M. Eaglin, Associate Professor, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

    Fees and fines provide an appealing method of punishment in states facing the pressures of mass incarceration and continued budget constraints. But until courts receive meaningful guidance on how and when to impose fees and fines, and unless legislatures exercise meaningful restraint on the creation of user fees in particular, this punitive practice will continue to do more harm than good for defendants, local justice systems and society at large.

    Fees and fines are the economic sanctions imposed on defendants through the criminal justice system. Unlike punitive fines or restitution to compensate the victim of crimes, “user fees” are imposed solely to raise revenue. User fees range from nominal fees to obtain free public defender services to daily fines for use of GPS monitoring systems that supervise defendants pretrial or on probation to daily fines for incarceration in jail, and more.

    As states face severe budget constraints, the “offender-funded” model of criminal justice – where critical costs to running the justice system are pushed onto the defendants in the system – becomes more prevalent. Many state courts simply cannot function with the amount of money allocated by their legislatures, so they are resorting to creative alternatives that are often costly for defendants entering the justice system. Offensive examples spatter the news weekly: defendant fees cover toilet paper in jail; court-imposed home supervision technology; or unmet court expenses like coffee and office supplies and court support staff and other government operations

  • September 30, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The New York Times, Tatiana Schlossberg reports that the New York City Bar Association released a report Monday “urging federal and state leaders ‘to make the reduction of mass incarceration a top priority.’”

    In the Huffington Post, Steve Sanders opines that the Indiana legislature’s quick fix of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act clearly demonstrates where the mainstream now lies on LGBT issues.

    Michelle Chen at The Nation discusses systematic inequalities that hinder the social mobility of children from low-income households.

    Jon Swaine and Oliver Laughland write in The Guardian that the FBI is continuing to resist outside pressure for “the creation of a fully comprehensive count of all killings by American police officers.”

    In The American Prospect, David Dayen argues that the Volkswagen emission scandal proves why the Department of Justice should prosecute individuals for corporate crime.

  • September 29, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Matt Wood, Policy Director, Free Press

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium on the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

    Working for an organization that’s helped lead a decade-plus fight on a single set of policy issues, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    I could just start in the present. After all, intervenors and amici supporting the Federal Communications Commission’s rules filed at the DC Circuit just last week. My organization was one of almost two dozen parties joining that intervenors’ brief.

    Over the past ten years, Free Press has written extensively on these topics, focusing on issues like communications network nondiscrimination principles, common carriage fundamentals, broadband investment realities, and the proper legal treatment for broadband networks under federal communications law.

    That’s too long a history to choose from if I’m going to say anything coherent in a short post. So I’ll make it even harder and start in 1946.

    Why so far back? Because of a Supreme Court case called Marsh v. Alabama, a decision about public sidewalks owned by private companies. That case has always reminded me of common carrier communications networks (and law school – but that’s another story).

    To be sure, the questions surrounding Net Neutrality pre-date the modern “Open Internet” era at the FCC, in cases much closer to home for the agency. Beginning in the early 1960s, it started wrestling with questions about how to treat computer services offered over phone networks.

  • September 29, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Richard L. Hasen at Talking Points Memo contends that the future composition of the Supreme Court is “the most important civil rights cause of our time,” for it will determine the fate of many current civil rights struggles.

    In The Washington Post, Geoffrey R. Stone and Will Creeley urge colleges and universities to publicly reaffirm their commitment to free speech on campus.

    In Washington Monthly, Steve Sanders criticizes the Christian right for hijacking the term “religious liberty,” which once reflected a bedrock American value, and abusing it such that it “became just another synonym for bigotry.”

    G. Ben Cohen and Michael Admirand at the Harvard Law and Policy Review discuss the fallibility of finality in the legal system, especially in cases involving capital punishment.

    Eric M. Ruben and Saul Cornell in The Yale Law Journal argue that recent decisions to strike down bans on the public carrying of handguns are rooted in nineteenth century Southern opinions that reflect a regional, outdated conception of the Second Amendment.

  • September 29, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

    Senate Republicans campaigned last year on the promise that they would govern responsibly if they won the majority. Unfortunately, rather than solving problems, the current Republican leadership has instead prioritized divisive issues that play only to their political base. As a result, Senate Republicans have virtually shut down the confirmation process for judicial nominees and the Federal bench is approaching a vacancy crisis. This should be alarming to anyone who cares about our justice system.

    In the nearly nine months since Republicans have been in the majority, judicial vacancies have almost doubled. And under Republican leadership, the Senate this year has confirmed just six judicial nominees, while dozens more await a confirmation vote. This is no way to respond to a looming vacancy crisis that will negatively impact Americans’ ability to seek justice in our courts.

    The Senate’s constitutional role of advice and consent should be above partisan politics. For much of the Senate’s history, members worked across the aisle to confirm judges.  In 2007, when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had confirmed 29 judges nominated by President Bush at this same point in his presidency. And in the last two years of the Bush administration, we confirmed 68 nominees. We also moved President Bush’s pick for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, in a prompt manner that took just 53 days from announcement to confirmation. 

    By any measure, Republicans have failed to move President Obama’s nominees in a responsible manner. The nomination of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, an impressive and highly qualified lawyer, languished on the floor for 56 days— longer than the five previous Attorney General nominees, combined.  From announcement to confirmation, Loretta Lynch’s nomination languished for 166 days because of Republican obstruction. When Republicans finally did call her up for a vote, they required—for the very first time in Senate history—a procedural vote to overcome a filibuster on her nomination before finally approving her confirmation. And by confirming just six of President Obama’s judicial nominees this year, Senate Republicans are on pace to have the worst confirmation record of any Senate in more than a half century.