A Little Inspiration Even though my father won’t be there to see me, my vision has not changed
Aiyanna Sanders is a first year student at Harvard Law and a 2019 ChangeLawyers℠ Scholar.
Idea of the Week Bail someone out of jail today
Neil Barsky is the chairman and founder of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system.
For those who don’t wish to sit by helplessly during the coronavirus crisis, there is something you can do. You can very possibly save a life by bailing someone out of jail.
A human catastrophe is unfolding inside America’s houses of detention. As the virus continues its spread, 2.3 million prisoners and 400,000 corrections officers (not to mention their families) are living and working cheek by jowl, vulnerable to this highly contagious scourge, poorly supplied with protective gear and unable to practice social distancing. The surge in infections is most likely just beginning.
“The spread inside jails is going to be quick and massive, particularly in areas with limited access to health care facilities from Louisiana to California to New York,” said Pilar Weiss, director and founder of the National Bail Fund Network, an umbrella organization that allocates money to local bail funds around the country. “We are literally creating tinder boxes of death.”
Around the country, scores of local bail funds and community-based organizations are frantically trying to raise money to secure the release of people in jail and immigration detention centers. These people have not been convicted of a crime and are typically incarcerated while they await trial, too poor to post the bail or bond to secure their temporary release. People released after an arrest overwhelmingly come back to court, according to recent figures from the New York City Criminal Justice Agency. Eighty-six percent showed up on their scheduled court date and, when adjusted to give people a month to voluntarily clear up their missed court date, fully 93 percent appeared.
Two national bail organizations, the Bail Project and the National Bail Fund Network, direct millions of dollars annually toward paying bail. They are now positioned to move thousands of vulnerable people out of harm’s way from the coronavirus. They are nonprofit organizations, and contributions are tax deductible.
Read the story on NY Times
Say it Louder The coronavirus has shown that we put too many people behind bars
“Mass incarceration is a policy that makes no sense,” says Lauren-Brooke Eisen, the director of the justice program at the Brennan Center, a public policy institute. “This moment proves we don’t need to have jails and prisons bursting at the seams.” As the novel coronavirus has swept across the globe, infecting approximately 336,000 people in the United States and killing more than 9,600 as of Sunday night, epidemiologists and public health experts have warned that prisons and jails are the perfect incubators for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Packed in tight and often unsanitary living conditions, incarcerated people routinely have no access to soap and water and are frequently at higher risk for contracting illnesses because of underlying health conditions. These realities are at odds with the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health advocates that self-isolation and frequent hand-washing are the two best strategies for containing the spread of the disease.
The virus has illustrated just how vulnerable many people in the United States are, including low-income workers, unhoused people, and those behind bars. In response to fears of further contagion, many harsh criminal justice policies that were once seen as essential strategies for keeping the public safe are being abandoned as the virus spreads in prisons and jails across the country, where more than 2 million people are housed. All it took was a global pandemic.
“We’re seeing really important changes that we hope district attorneys and correctional departments will continue to push for once this pandemic is over,” Eisen explains. Across the country, people who have been arrested for low-level crimes, those who are getting close to their parole dates, suffering from certain illnesses, or otherwise pose no threat to public safety are being released back into the community in order to stay safe from COVID-19.
Read the story on Mother Jones
More of This Despite voter suppression, liberal judge wins a landslide victory
Jill Karofsky, a liberal judge running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, has defeated Daniel Kelly, the conservative incumbent, according to results from the April 7 election that were released Monday afternoon. Karofsky’s victory narrows the court’s conservative bloc to a 4–3 majority, putting progressives in striking distance of flipping the powerful court. It may also force Republicans to reconsider their position on absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Wisconsin Republicans sought to exploit COVID-19 to suppress Democratic votes, forcing citizens to risk their health to stand in line for hours at a handful of polling places or surrender their right to vote. Donald Trump and his allies appeared to be eyeing a similar strategy for November. But in Wisconsin, at least, that strategy seems to have backfired.
The Karofsky-Kelly race was, by far, the most important contest on the ballot in Wisconsin this spring. Kelly is an archconservative who once said slavery and affirmation action “spring from the same taproot,” stating: “Morally, and as a matter of law, they are the same.” Karofsky is a liberal state circuit court judge who criticized the state Supreme Court’s partisan overreach. The Wisconsin Supreme Court regularly hears cases of immense importance involving voting rights, gerrymandering, gun safety, and the balance of power between the Republican-dominated Legislature and the Democratic governor, Tony Evers. If any of the four remaining conservative justices steps down, Evers can name a liberal replacement, flipping the court. Otherwise, progressives will have to wait until the next state Supreme Court election in 2023 for a shot at flipping it.
Read the story on Slate
Speaking Of… The coronavirus has forced the Supreme Court to embrace transparency. We should never go back.
MELISSA MURRAY is the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at NYU School of Law and a co-host of Strict Scrutiny, a podcast about the Supreme Court.
Like so many parents who have been sheltering in place with their children, I have been conscripted into the role of homeschool teacher—or, more particularly, I am a teacher’s aide, charged with shepherding my elementary-school student through remotely assigned tasks. In this role, I have been reminded that simply arriving at an answer—even the right answer—is not enough. To get full credit, the student must “show her work,” carefully laying out the steps by which she arrived at the answer.
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would show its work on a wider scale, hearing oral arguments via telephone and providing media outlets with a live-stream of the proceedings. This unprecedented move offers the prospect of greater transparency from a Court whose work has been uniquely—and stubbornly—sequestered from public view.
Normally, members of the public are allowed to attend oral arguments, but access is limited, and often requires waiting in line overnight, particularly for the most controversial cases. Because the Court refuses to televise its proceedings, the rest of the world must make do with audio recordings of oral arguments, which, along with argument transcripts, are released days later. Justices’ conferences, where they discuss their views on cases, are conducted privately (and that is not changing). Only when decisions are announced do the majority of Americans get any sense of the Court’s thinking. The move to live-streamed conferences will, for the first time, offer all Americans real-time admission to the nation’s highest court, sating the interest of longtime Court watchers while also attracting new audiences.
The Court’s shift to telephonic oral arguments shows how substantially pandemic conditions have forced institutions to make accommodations in order to function in our new reality. In-person meetings are now conducted via videoconferencing; the messaging platform Slack enables team members to communicate with one another while working remotely. Going back to the old ways will be difficult.
At least as far as the Court is concerned, we shouldn’t go back. The Court’s switch to live-streamed oral arguments is an important and welcome concession to the current climate, but it is a move that should have happened well before a global pandemic demanded it. Even before the coronavirus, congressional proceedings were aired over C-SPAN, and the president, governors, and other government officials routinely appear on various news programs. Of the three branches of government, the Court is perhaps the least transparent, remaining doggedly shrouded from public view.
Read the story on The Atlantic
Less of This The racism that progressive Black women prosecutors face
When former Empire actor Jussie Smollett entered a Chicago courtroom in late February, it may have felt like déjà vu. In 2019, Smollett made headlines after it came to light that he allegedly paid masked men to attack him and tie a noose around his neck, and then filed a false police report. Prosecutors dropped all charges against the actor after he paid a fine and did community service. But a year later, after his case was reopened, here he stood again—pleading not guilty to the same offense of staging a racist, homophobic hate crime against himself.
This time, Smollett is not the only one on trial. His case has cast a dark cloud over the reelection campaign of Kim Foxx, the first Black woman to serve as the chief prosecutor in Cook County. Foxx’s office chose last year to drop the charges against Smollett, in keeping with its overall strategy of sending fewer nonviolent offenders to prison. The move triggered a barrage of vitriol from President Trump and other critics who suggested the office unfairly let the actor off the hook because of his wealth and connections. Foxx later saw her judgment questioned—and reversed—when a local judge made the exceedingly rare move of appointing an outside “special” prosecutor to reexamine the case.
A few weeks ahead of the March 17 primary, with Smollett back in court, Foxx watched her poll numbers slip amid a wave of renewed backlash. Her challengers in the primary urged her to resign. “This race is not about one case,” Foxx pleaded during a Democratic candidates’ debate. She begged voters to consider her broader record, such as the time her office secured a conviction against a police officer who shot an unarmed Black teen 16 times. And she questioned the “James Comey-like timing” of Smollett’s new charges, a reference to the former FBI director’s decision to reopen an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails before the 2016 presidential election.
Why has Foxx faced so much vitriol for this case? It could be because a celebrity is involved. After news of the supposed attack went viral, and before police accused him of staging it, Smollett, who had previous roles in The Mighty Ducks and Alien: Covenant, saw an outpouring of support from fans and politicians. Or maybe people are angry with Foxx because she made some legitimate mistakes by not being more transparent with such a high-profile case. She admitted she did not communicate very clearly about why her office dropped the charges against Smollett, or why she allowed her deputy to manage the litigation instead of managing it herself.
But there’s another factor to consider: Black progressive women elected as chief prosecutors often encounter double standards as they handle cases like Smollett’s. And many of them say they face scrutiny for their decisions that white or male prosecutors don’t endure. “What her office did in this case is not different than what we see reform prosecutors do across this country,” says Jamila Hodge, a former federal prosecutor who now works at the Vera Institute of Justice. “We only see this happening because of who she is.”
Read the story on Mother Jones
Thursday April 16 at Noon
Do you have to say your name 2-3 times each time you introduce yourself in a new setting? Do you code switch at work because you know you can’t be your authentic self in certain environments?
This workshop will be led by Karen Fleshman, a social justice lawyer and activist, founder of Racy Conversations, and author of the upcoming book White Women, We Need to Talk: Doing Our Part to End Racism.
April 16 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
Tuesday May 5 at Noon
Learn strategies for persuasive and accessible legal writing, including writing for the busy reader, easy approaches for starting briefs, and how to write in a team. From cleaning up your grammar to avoiding legalese, learn how better writing helps your clients by helping your judge. Join us for the writing training you didn't get in law school, but wish you had.
April 5 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
With support from California ChangeLawyers℠, UnCommon Law seeks to hire a full-time, year-long legal Fellow to support the work of our New Pilot Program. The Fellow will be a part of a team of advocates, counselors and attorneys supporting Pilot program participants in navigating the discretionary parole process, including supporting those participants in developing new self-narratives to heal from past trauma.