by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
#ChangeLawyer Meet the trans lawyer fighting the transgender military ban
The warrior creed goes âleave no soldier behind.â
This is the mission of Fort Meade Army Reserves lawyer Deirdre Hendrick and Navy Petty Officer First Class Alice Ashton in their effort to save as many careers as they can of the thousands of fellow transgender military members left behind in the ban on transgender service members.
Hendrick and Ashton, both stationed at Fort Meade, knew the ban had been coming since President Donald Trump tweeted about it in July 2017, but with nationwide lawsuits it wasnât clear until March 12 that the ban would officially kick in on April 12.
Having both faced challenges as transgender women in the military , Hendrick and Ashton jumped in with peer support network SPART*A (Servicemembers Partners Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All), to try and help 18 transgender service members keep their jobs before they would be banned.
Anyone with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or a contract to join and diagnosis prior to April 12 was grandfathered into the military. Gender dysphoria, often referred to as transgender, is when a personâs assigned gender at birth does not match the gender they identify with. Anyone seeking to medically transition from then on will be separated, or effectively banned.
When she heard about the ban taking effect, Hendrick immediately called her unit.
âI said, âLook, these people are going to get kicked out if they donât get this fixed by this date. I feel morally obligated to help them,ââ Hendrick said.
Helping service members get a diagnosis and verify transition paperwork with all necessary offices â which required constant phone calls, emails and even in-person visits to military bases â were partially part of Hendrickâs job as a Reserves lawyer. But she and Ashton want to be clear that theyâre only speaking for themselves, not on behalf of the military.
âNormally this process, if it goes by in three months itâs considered fast,â Ashton said. âWe had 30 days.â
For a transgender person to get grandfathered into the military, they needed to see multiple doctors and develop a transitioning plan that then needed to be signed by multiple military leaders across different offices â some of which only work on weekends.
To get their diagnoses on time, Ashton had active duty members go to nearby bases every day to ask about cancellations for appointments.
âWe had to push these people and get a hold of doctors,â Hendrick said.
To add to the time crunch, there was confusion.
Hendrick and Ashton said military surgeonâs office employees and leadership didnât know when the banâs deadline was or thought the policy might not start because of court injunctions.
âDeirdre took a lot of time to call units and say âI need this personâs signature and I need it now,â and keep moving it up and up and up,â Ashton said.
Sometimes the person who needed to sign off on a memo would be on leave, and then that personâs alternate would be on leave. If forms werenât properly prepared, the surgeon would kick them back.
Even by the last week before the deadline, Hendrick and Ashton said some leaders thought if the paperwork was just started the trans members would be exempt, or they thought the ban wasnât going to kick in for sure on the 12th. Hendrick and Ashton said they still hadn't convinced some people they needed signatures by the morning of April 11.
âThe afternoon of the 11th, itâs getting later and later and this guy is saying, âIâm working on these but I can only go so fast. Why are you worrying about this?â And even questioned whether these were even my clients,â Hendrick said.
âWe were all really on edge. I was telling my clients, âLook Iâm no longer confident. I really donât know where this is going. Prepare for the worst.ââ
And still, more requests came in. One service member only got a diagnosis a week before the deadline. One contacted Hendrick on the evening of April 11 with no documentation.
It wasnât until 6 p.m. on April 11 that Hendrick and Ashton said the reserves command surgeon promised the last five packets in question would all be exempt from the policy. Hendrick and Ashton said they both broke down crying.
âEvery day since then itâs been a little bit better but itâs almost like a grieving process with survivor's guilt,â Ashton said. âI just had to come to terms that I did everything and helped everyone I could. I can live with the fact that I did my best.â
Read the story on Capital Gazette
#ChangeLawyer Part II The lawyer taking on big oilâs crimes against humanity
Polly Higgins died of cancer on April 21, 2019, shortly after the publication of this article.
Polly Higgins is a woman on the hunt. And you get the sense that, after decades of working towards holding powerful polluters to account, her prey may finally be in sight.
âWhen you're looking at any crime, you're looking at who are your suspects,â she tells me in a soft Scottish accent that belies the hard truths she regularly delivers. âWithin a corporate context, you're looking at CEOs and directors. Within a state context, it is ministers and Heads of State.â
âThey're the ones where final responsibility rests for making the decisions that can adversely impact many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and indeed â in the case of climate crime â billions of people.â
Climate activism is surging, with the school strikers chastising older generations for failing them, and Extinction Rebellion hitting headlines with its creative direct actions in the name of âclimate justiceâ.
But Higgins has her own, more institutional approach to what she agrees is a looming climate crisis: making it illegal to deliberately destroy the environment. She is calling for the International Criminal Court in the Hague to recognise âecocideâ as a crime against humanity, alongside genocide and war crimes. She explains:
âThere's a growing recognition that a lot of campaigning is not getting us where we need to go, and just saying fossil fuel extraction should stop is not enough. It has to be criminalised.â
Thatâs why, in 2010, Higgins proposed an amendment to the Rome Statute â the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. It defined ecocide as âthe extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.â
Some countries, such as the UK, have national climate change laws that set legally-binding emissions reduction targets. And many have regulations that are meant to protect the environment from corporate activities that could destroy ecosystems.
But none currently have sufficient legislation to allow companies to be taken to court, and treated as criminals, for damaging the environment purely for profit.
As Higgins points out: âWe have laws that are protecting dangerous industrial activities, such as fracking, despite the fact that there is an abundance of evidence that it is hugely harmful in terms of carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, and the catastrophic trauma it can cause communities that are impacted by it.â
But if there was an ecocide law, it would allow lawyers and campaigners to argue that such polluting activities were âa potential crime against humanity.â
That may seem like a lofty ambition, particularly when the charge is being led by a small team from a one-room office in the quaint, pastoral and pleasant surroundings of Stroud. But renewed activism has shown there is a growing appetite to hold to account those responsible for the current and future impacts of climate change.
Read the story on DesMog Blog
Stay Vigilant Will the Supreme Court allow Trump to rig the census?
The Trump administration wants to change the U.S. Census by adding a question about citizenship status, and the Supreme Courtâs five Republican-appointed justices seemed to signal yesterday that they would approve the change.
Itâs an alarming situation, for three main reasons
1. The Trump administration has lied.
Wilbur Ross, President Trumpâs commerce secretary, who oversees the Census Bureau, told blatant falsehoods when explaining why he wanted to add the question. Ross claimed that his motivation was protecting the voting rights of African-Americans, a claim that makes no sense given the administrationâs numerous other efforts to restrict voting rights. Three federal judges on lower courts have dismissed Rossâs explanation.
The administrationâs real motivation is obvious. A citizenship question would reduce the response rate of immigrants, both legal and illegal, and thus reduce the political power of racially diverse states, which tend to lean Democratic.
2. The Roberts court would be playing politics.
There are clear legal reasons for the courtâs Republican-appointed justices to be skeptical of Rossâs moves. Conservative judges, including some on the Supreme Court, often rule against bureaucrats who try to exercise powers that Congress did not intend them to have, as Ross has done here.
Yet the questions the justices asked during yesterdayâs oral arguments suggest the five Republican appointees on the court are going to side with the Trump administration anyway. It would be a distressingly transparent example of judges acting as partisan legislators rather than as disinterested judges â and itâs the exact opposite of the legal philosophy Chief Justice John Roberts claims to hold.
The caseâs âreal test is of the Supreme Courtâs integrity and politicization,â the Georgetown law professor William Buzbee wrote in The Times this week. âIf the courtâs conservatives dodge the troubling facts and violations of law in this case, then their political stripes will be revealed.â CNNâs Joan Biskupic, author of a recent Roberts biography, said the case would affect âthe courtâs reputation as a neutral player.â
3. The census would be less accurate.
Census Bureau officials have conceded that the citizenship question could cause as many as 6.5 million people to go uncounted. That number would include both undocumented immigrants and United States citizens who are Hispanic, all of whom might be afraid of harassment by federal agents.
A census that ignored these residents would be problematic in multiple ways. It could affect the drawing of districts for both Congress and state legislatures, as well as federal spending. Corporate executives and social scientists would also suffer, because they rely on census data for research. âThe private sector, like the government, uses the wealth of information generated by the census to make critical business decisions,â David Kenny, the chief executive of the research company Nielsen, wrote this week.
Read the story on NY Times
Speaking ofâ¦ The Supreme Court could demolish discrimination protections for Queer and Trans people
The Supreme Court on Monday announced that it will hear three major cases involving LGBTQ+ employment discrimination when it convenes this fall. Together, their presence on the courtâs docket all but ensures that the country will finally be forced to address a glaring gap in its federal nondiscrimination protections, which currently do not explicitly include LGBTQ+ people.
For some LGBTQ+ policy analysts, the news was more worrisome than hopeful. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern warned in an article Monday that if the court were to rule against LGBTQ+ workers, it would do so by tightening the federal definition of what constitutes âsexâ and sex discrimination. For years, courts have used the inclusion of âsexâ as a protected class in federal civil rights law to not only interpret protections for LGBTQ+ people, but to protect women in ways that arenât explicitly stated in the law. âTitle VII, after all, contains no explicit bar on sexual harassment; it only outlaws discrimination âbecause of sex,ââ wrote Stern. If the court were to take a more limited view of Title VII, it would result in âan unprecedented rupture in civil rights law that threatens far more than just LGBTQ people,â Stern writes.
Two of the cases involve gay men who were fired from their jobs: Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. The third, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, was filed on behalf of Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman fired after six years on the job after she told her boss she was transitioning.
The Supreme Courtâs announcement comes one month after Congress re-introduced the Equality Act, legislation that would add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes to existing federal civil rights law. Currently, no such federal nondiscrimination protections exist for LGBTQ+ Americans. According to the LGBTQ+ policy tracking group Movement Advancement Project, you can currently be legally fired from a job because of your gender identity or sexual orientation in 26 U.S. states.
In a statement emailed to them., Masen Davis, CEO of the LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination campaign Freedom For All Americans, expressed hope that the Supreme Court justices would âcement into place our core American values of treating all people with respect and dignity and allowing everyone a fair shot no matter who they are.â
"No one who works hard and performs their job well should worry that they may face discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,â said Davis.
Even though gender identity and sexual orientation have never been explicitly included in federal civil rights law as protected classes, multiple courts over the years have ruled that discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is a form of sex discrimination â and âsexâ remains a federally protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the portion of the law that pertains to employment.
A ruling from the Supreme Court would essentially decide whether the federal definition of âsexâ does indeed include sexual orientation and gender identity.
âTitle VII obviously requires equal treatment of men and women, so it was wrong to treat Donald Zarda [or Gerald Bostock] differently because of his attraction to men, when a Donna Zarda or Geraldine Bostock would not have endured discrimination for liking men,â explained Greg Nevins, Senior Counsel and Workplace Fairness Program Strategist for Lambda Legal, in a statement Monday. âAnd when Aimee Stephensâ employer fired her after learning that she was undertaking a gender transition, her employer discriminated against her because of sex. These arguments couldnât be more straightforward, and we are hopeful that the Court will confirm that they are correct.â
With the court agreeing to hear the three cases this fall, a decision will likely land during the most heated months of the 2020 presidential campaign. Depending on the courtâs ruling, that could put the Equality Act at the top of the list of promises for Democratic presidential contenders to make to ensure the vote â and draw even more attention to the nationâs first viable openly gay candidate, Pete Buttigieg.
âTodayâs decision by the Court underscores the urgency of passing federal and state laws that expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which have overwhelming public support,â said Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in an email Monday. âIt is time to add these protections to our nationâs laws, to ensure that no person is denied employment, housing or access to public accommodations simply because of who they are.â
Read the story on Them
Read This Thread
More of This Federal financial aid should be restored for people in prison
The following editorial was written by Andrea Cantora Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Baltimore
Congress is thinking of lifting a longstanding ban on federal student aid for those serving time in prison.
The âRestoring Education And Learning Act of 2019,â or the âREAL Act of 2019,â seeks to reinstate federal Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. Pell Grants are federal grants meant to help students who need money to go to college.
If Pell Grants were reinstated for those serving time, about 463,000 people in prison would become eligible for the grants.
As director of the University of Baltimoreâs Second Chance College Program, I can attest to how such an investment will yield benefits not only for individuals behind prison walls, but for society as a whole.
Here are four reasons to support the reinstatement of the Pell Grant for incarcerated people.
Investing in prison education programs will save states money in the long run.
Research has found that when people get education in prison, they are less likely to be incarcerated again. This means that overall, less money would be spent on their time in prison.
Although the amount varies by state, incarcerating one person costs taxpayers US$15,000 to $70,000 per year. In the federal system the cost for each prisoner is around $35,000 a year.
One study found that, over a three-year period, correctional education can save taxpayers $5 for every $1 spent. An argument could also be made that prison education makes communities safer, since people who participate in post-secondary education in prison are 43% less likely to commit another crime.
2. Improves employment opportunities
People who participate in academic or vocational programs while in prison are more likely to find work when released. They are also more likely to earn more.
Second Chance Pell programs are required to help prepare participants for the jobs for which they are eligible. For instance, there are thousands of employment barriers and licensing restrictions for people with criminal records.
Prison education programs offered through the U.S. Department of Educationâs Second Chance Pell pilot program help prepare participants for high-demand fields. These include certificates or degrees in substance abuse counseling, business administration, horticulture, carpentry, heating and air conditioning, and other fields.
Some programs offer entrepreneurship certificates or degrees to prepare students to create their own business. Others, such as the Bard Prison Initiative, offer associate and bachelor degrees in liberal arts education.
A liberal education can build skills often desired by employers such as critical thinking, ability to work in teams, ethical judgment, self-motivation and strong writing skills.
3. Strengthens families
Children of the incarcerated suffer greatly while their parents are behind bars. They experience a range of issues such as emotional and behavioral problems, do poorly in school, and are six times more likely to end up in prison themselves.
One way to less the potential for these negative effects is to increase the opportunities for their parents once they return home.
Ensuring that parents are successful and can maintain strong social bonds with their children could potentially disrupt the generational cycle of crime and incarceration.
Educating parents in prison also increases the chances that their children will attain higher levels of education. Research has found that children are more likely to enroll and complete college when their parents are college-educated.
During the first year and a half of the Second Chance Pell pilot program, 954 credentials have been awarded.
4. Wonât take away money for other students
Despite the many benefits of removing the ban on Pell Grants, there are critics who believe âcriminalsâ should not get a âfree educationâ at the expense of taxpayers.
As I argue in the book âEducation for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond Americaâs Prisons,â awarding Pell to incarcerated students does not take away funds from low-income students in the community.
Students get Pell Grants based on their income. So no one will be denied a Pell Grant simply because someone in prison got one. Restoring Pell Grants for people in prison simply means more federal money being spent on the Pell Grant program.
In 2017-18, the Pell Grant supported 7 million students with $28.2 billion.
If Pell Grants are restored to people in prison, those numbers would rise to about 7.5 million students and $30.9 billion, respectively.
This extra $2.7 billion is a worthy investment for a safer community where everyone has a chance to make a living.
Read the story on the Conversation
Even More of This This is what a First Gen Lawyer looks like
Rukayatu Tijani is a first year associate at Quinn Emanual and Founder of First Generation Purpose Project.
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The Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights fellowship for attorneys is a signature endeavor of the Lawyersâ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which lasts for a three-year term, with possible extension. The Lawyersâ Committee views the causes we champion as broadly related to positions and ethical stances taken by Justice Thurgood Marshall during his distinguished legal career. This fellowship is designed for an attorney who has practiced for a minimum of three years and has a demonstrated commitment to civil rights law. It is our hope that the fellowship will enhance the Fellowâs understanding of civil rights law and prepare the Fellow for a career of promoting social justice.
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Work for Bay Area Legal Aid
We are seeking a staff attorney to join our Youth Justice team. We are interested in candidates who are energetic, culturally competent and have a strong commitment to public interest and social justice advocacy. The attorney will focus on providing civil legal services designed to meet the individualized needs of youth who are systems-involved, trafficked, and/or homeless or at-risk of homelessness.
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Join a dynamic gender justice team working in partnership with dozens of other womenâs rights groups across the country to promote fair pay, safe workplaces, and economic security!
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