by Kali Cohn, 2014 J.D. Candidate and President of the ACS University of Texas at Austin School of Law Student Chapter
Progressive law students from across Texas recently descended upon Austin for the first ever Texas Regional Convening. Themed “Swimming Upstream in Texas,” the day focused on discussion about the particular challenges to social justice and social justice lawyering in Texas.
What an inspiration it was. As a northerner and recent Texas transplant, I’m continually struck by the intense energy and widespread dedication to social justice throughout Texas. Although it’s certainly not the vision of Texas that outsiders see, it’s really not a surprise. With so much injustice to fight against, we need an army—and we certainly have one.
The testament to this reality: watching students from Baylor Law School, SMU Dedman School of Law, Texas A&M University School of Law, and Thurgood Marshall School of Law, travel two, three, and four hours to discuss a progressive vision of what Texas can be. Joined by close to 20 practitioners and faculty members from The University of Texas School of Law, as well as UT Law students, the students were a reminder that we have both the will and the manpower to build a progressive pipeline in Texas.
Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, November 19, ACS is hosting a panel discussion on constitutional protections of privacy in a time of rapid technological innovation and increasing surveillance, featuring Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, Chris Calabrese of the ACLU, Stephen Vladeck of American University Washington College of Law and others. We hope that you will join us for this important and timely conversation. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP here.
By the end of this decade it is estimated that 30,000 drones will occupy national airspace. In 2012, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act, which ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to promulgate regulations for the integration of drones into the national airspace. Law enforcement agencies around the country have purchased drones and are testing the new technology. As of May 2013, four Department of Justice (DOJ) divisions had acquired drones: the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); and, the U.S. Marshals Service. On June 19, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress that the FBI has deployed drones for surveillance on domestic soil and is developing guidelines for their future law enforcement use.
As compared with manned airplanes and helicopters, unmanned aerial surveillance bears unique risks to society's expectation of privacy. Drones, properly called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are practically invisible at altitudes where a manned aircraft could be seen with the naked eye. Smaller UAVs operate almost silently, making them significantly harder to detect. Moreover, UAVs can be equipped with sensory enhancing technologies such as thermal imaging devices, facial recognition software, Wi-Fi sniffers, GPS systems, license plate readers and cameras that can provide high resolution images from significant altitudes. This type of aerial surveillance presents the potential for intrusion of privacy far more pervasive than the flyover of a plane or helicopter. Drone surveillance has the potential to enable users to gather unprecedented amounts of information about people and retain it well into the future.
by Valerie Schneider, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of Fair Housing Clinic, Howard University School of Law
Less than one year after the Supreme Court ended its term with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, it is clear that at least four of the members of the current Supreme Court (the number needed for a case to be heard by the highest court) are eager to limit the reach of another pillar of the Civil Rights legislation from the 1960s -- the Fair Housing Act.
In the past two years, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari in two Fair Housing Act cases, both of which would have required the Supreme Court to determine whether acts that are not intentionally discriminatory, but still have a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, may be prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Each of these cases -- first Magner v. Gallagher and then, just this week, Township of Mt. Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens In Action, Inc.– settled just weeks before oral arguments were scheduled.
Those who would have liked the case to move forward argue that, unless plaintiffs can prove that a defendant harbored racial animus or intended to discriminate, the law should not recognize that discrimination has taken place. This proposition is countered by widely accepted social science, not to mention human experiences, that indicates that intent actually has very little to do with whether discrimination occurred. Regardless, to those displaced by discriminatory redevelopment decisions or lending policies, it is little comfort that the decision-makers may have had no conscious intent to cause harm based on race. What is in the mind of those engaged in discriminatory actions is of no comfort to the victims of discrimination and should be of limited import under the Fair Housing Act.
On Wednesday, October 30, the University of Washington (UW) chapter of the American Constitution Society was proud to welcome Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez, Ron Ward of the Washington Leadership Institute (WLI) and UW Professor Maureen Howard for an exciting panel discussion on diversity in the judiciary. Joined by a large, diverse group of law students, the panel spoke about the wide-ranging benefits of enhanced diversity among judges in the judicial system.
Justice Gonzalez and Mr. Ward spoke extensively from their own experience about the impact diversity can have in attaining justice. Justice Gonzalez told students about a policy he’d helped initiate while at King County where immigration warrants would not be executed at the King County Courthouse as a way to encourage those at risk of deportation to come to court without fear of retribution. He also told students about his time in the King County Prosecutor’s office, where he teamed up with other minority prosecutors to prevent immigration issues being raised during domestic violence investigations, under the theory that raising those issues would deter both reports of crimes and cooperation with investigations. It was no surprise, he offered, that the few Latino members of the Superior court and prosecutors office started both programs, as each were specifically attune to such a problem given their personal backgrounds.
Gonzalez offered that this was the true advantage of diversity in the judicial system: offering solutions to problems others might not even perceive as problems. Mr. Ward then spoke about his own experiences at the WLI, where he found that often the most qualified candidates admitted into the institute were mired in low-level legal jobs that concealed their true legal skills. Professor Howard agreed, telling a story from her own past about being recruited to be the only woman at a very successful firm, and how that firm’s lack of diversity impacted her decision to work elsewhere. All of our panelists agreed that only by recognizing that the lack of diversity in the legal profession, especially on the bench, and addressing it as a serious issue, as ACS. was doing with this panel discussion, could we hope to bring about true change in the system.
TheWashington Post recently published a "Letter to the Editor" from ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, which touched on the pernicious influence of campaign contributions on state courts.
In response to a Post article citing efforts by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to push its agenda through various state courts (perhaps having realized federal courts have already been conquered), Fredrickson cited ACS’s 2013 report, Justice at Risk, which provides an empirical analysis of campaign contributions and their impact state judicial decisions. As Fredrickson noted, the data shows that “the more campaign contributions from business interests that justices receive, the more likely they are to side with business litigants.”
Since its release in June, Justice at Risk has been routinely cited by media outlets across the nation, including: The Atlantic, Mother Jones, The Des Moines Register, The Miami Herald and many others. As former Montana Supreme Court Justice James C. Nelson phrased it in the pages of The Missoulian, Justice at Risk is an “objective, non-partisan report . . . [that] provides critical data on the effect of campaign expenditures on judicial behavior from 2010-2012.”