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!
Essay of the Week Higher Ed is rigged against students of color. Nevertheless, we persevere.
The following essay was written by Christopher Punongbayan, a lawyer and Executive Director at California ChangeLawyers, and Neri Lozano, a paralegal at Inner City Law Center and soon-to-be law student.
The college cheating scandal this month has shown what many of us have known for a long time: our higher education system favors the rich and powerful.
At the same time that federal prosecutors indicted over 30 wealthy people in the largest higher education scam in history, the Trump Administration released their latest budget proposal that slashes over $7 billion in funding for the Department of Education. And one of the most sinister aspects of this budget is the complete gutting of the (very popular) Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007. The program allows non-profit and government employees to have their Federal student loans forgiven after ten years. The people most affected will be communities of color.
Black and Latinx students graduate from college in debt more often than their white classmates. According to Student Loan Hero, a student loan tool website, an estimated 86.8% of Black and 65% of Latinx students borrow money to go to a 4-year university, while white students borrow money at about 60% of the time. Even more troubling, statistics indicate that students of color have more trouble paying back their student loans. According to According to Demos, a public policy organization, Black and Latinx students default on those student loans at 50% and 36% respectively, compared to 20% of their white counterparts. One of the main reasons is because of lower average incomes for graduates of color, which makes repayment more challenging. Education is the best path towards upwards mobility in our society, and yet Black and Latinx students are being financially strapped for years to come
Nevertheless, we persevere. More often than not, people of color who made it to college had to figure out applications, financial aid forms, housing, and tuition all on our own. Much higher percentages of Black and Latinx students grow up in poverty; without the extra support wealthy or even middle class parents can provide. Yet, we continue to overcome those challenges to pay for college.
The system won’t make itself more just or racially equitable. Together, we must once more bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. That’s why we need to preserve hard-fought wins like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. We also need to go inside institutions to transform them so that they are beacons of equal opportunity. As more of us -- children of immigrant, children of the incarcerated, raised in single parent households -- enter positions of power and influence, we can transform higher education, transform the government, and break the cycle of inequity for ourselves and our communities.
Read the story on ChangeLawyers Blog
#ChangeLawyer Meet the lawyer who just became the first LGBTQ Black woman mayor of Chicago
Chicago just became the largest United States city to elect a black woman and openly gay person as mayor in a history-making vote.
Lori Lightfoot, a lawyer and the former president of the Chicago police board, defeated Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday to become the next mayor of the Windy City. She will succeed Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s two-term mayor and former chief of staff to President Barack Obama.
Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were the top two vote-getters in a February primary election of more than a dozen mayoral candidates, forcing Tuesday’s runoff. Polls showed Lightfoot, who has never held elected office, with a significant lead over Preckwinkle in the days leading up to voting. Both women claimed the progressive mantle.
“I feel very humbled and honored. I’m gonna do everything I can to earn it,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. She said with her victory “people have hope for a new beginning.”
Lightfoot, 56, has held appointed positions related to police oversight and accountability in Chicago under Mayor Emanuel and former Mayor Richard Daley. She also previously served as assistant US attorney and, most recently, as a senior equity partner at Mayer Brown LLP. She announced her candidacy in May 2018, months before Preckwinkle, who waited until Emanuel said he would not seek another term.
Read the story on Vox
More of This California Justices say the death penalty system doesn’t work
Two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions, two justices on the state’s highest court called California’s death penalty “an expensive and dysfunctional system” that delivers neither justice nor timely closure.
The California Supreme Court justices decried the state’s administration of the death penalty in a concurrence to a unanimous decision upholding the death sentence of Thomas Potts, who robbed and killed Fred and Shirley Jenks in their Hanford home in 1997.
The case was the first death penalty decision issued by the court since Newsom announced the moratorium. Though California judges have leveled similar criticism for years, Thursday’s denunciation was unusual in that it came in a published court decision.
Justice Goodwin Liu, joined by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, both appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, reiterated the evidence Newsom cited when he announced the moratorium.
The capital sentence the court upheld Thursday “does not alter a fundamental reality,” Liu wrote.
“A death sentence in California has only a remote possibility of ever being carried out,” he said. “As leaders of the judiciary have long observed, the death penalty presents serious challenges for the fair and efficient administration of justice. For decades, those challenges have not been meaningfully addressed.”
The two justices also said that Proposition 66, passed by voters in 2016 to speed up executions, will not resolve the problem because it did not provide additional funding.
“In the meantime, the judiciary will continue to do its duty under the law, leaving it to the voters and our elected representatives to decide whether California should double down on the current system or chart a new course,” Liu and Cuéllar said.
They described Thursday’s decision on Potts’ appeal of his death sentence as “instructive.”
“The death judgment was issued in 1998,” they said. “Now, 21 years later, we affirm the judgment on direct appeal, but there is more litigation to come in the form of habeas corpus petitions in state and federal courts. This timeline is typical of our capital cases.”
Read the story on LA Times >
Less of This The Supreme Court just legalized torture
On Monday, five justices of the Supreme Court authorized Missouri to torture a man to death. In the process, they appear to have overruled decades of Eighth Amendment precedents in a quest to let states impose barbaric punishments, including excruciating executions, on prisoners. The court’s conservative majority has converted a once-fringe view into the law of the land, imperiling dozens of decisions protecting the rights of death row inmates, as well as juvenile offenders. Its ruling signals the end of an Eighth Amendment jurisprudence governed by “civilized standards”—and the beginning of a new, brutal era in American capital punishment.
Russell Bucklew is a death row inmate in Missouri who suffers from a rare medical condition called cavernous hemangioma. Due to this disorder, his body is covered with tumors filled with blood vessels. Tumors in Bucklew’s neck and throat, his lips and uvula, which make it difficult for him to breathe. They are highly sensitive and frequently squirt blood. A medical expert, Dr. Joel Zivot, has testified that if Missouri administers a lethal injection to Bucklew, he will die a slow, agonizing death. His tumors will rupture and fill his mouth with blood, and he will suffocate to death in unbearable pain, choking and convulsing on the gurney as he dies.
To forestall this fate, Bucklew sought to block his execution by lethal injection, arguing that it would violate the Eighth Amendment’s bar against “cruel and unusual punishments.” Under two Supreme Court precedents, Baze v. Rees and Glossip v. Gross, an inmate challenging his method of execution must provide an “available alternative” that will cause less pain.
Bucklew asked to be killed with nitrogen gas so that he can die from “hypoxia,” a lack of oxygen, because his death from hypoxia would be faster than his death from lethal injection.
In Monday’s Bucklew v. Precythe, the court rejected his claim by a 5–4 vote. Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion for the court, however, does much more than condemn Bucklew to a harrowing demise. It also quietly overrules, or at least erodes, more than 60 years of precedents, including several written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Gorsuch embraced a vision of the Eighth Amendment supported by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia that has consistently been rejected as dangerously extreme by a majority of the court.
Here is how Gorsuch does it. Baze and Glossip, he writes, declare that if a death row inmate seeks to avoid a certain method of execution, he must identify a different one that can be feasibly administered. That is true. But why does the Eighth Amendment prescribe such a test? In Baze and Glossip, the court explained that “because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional,” there “must be” a constitutional “means of carrying it out.” “[B]ecause some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution,” the court has held, “the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain.” The court’s duty, then, is simply to ensure that states do not impose a risky method of execution when a less painful method is at their disposal.
In 2008’s Baze and 2015’s Glossip, Thomas and Scalia went further. In both cases, they argued that, as originally understood, the Eighth Amendment only prohibited states from intentionally making executions more painful than they had to be. As Thomas wrote in Baze, an execution only infringes upon the Constitution when “terror, pain, or disgrace” are “superadded.” So long as a state does not “superadd” pain to an execution, it has complied with the Eighth Amendment. Thomas’ theory would effectively shut down challenges to every method of execution unless an inmate had (impossible to obtain) evidence that the state was sadistically and gratuitously increasing the pain of his death.
A majority of the court did not adopt Thomas’ view in either case. And in Bucklew, Gorsuch writes that “revisiting that debate isn’t necessary here.” But he then does exactly that--and adopts Thomas’ interpretation of the Eighth Amendment, effectively overruling 60 years of precedent.
Read the story on Slate
Lawyering While Black Police detain a Black lawyer, accuse him of impersonating a lawyer
It’s a shame there isn’t a tag for stories on The Root called “dumbassery on your tax dollars,” because I promise you, there would be at least one cop story filed there every day.
This latest example comes to us from Harford County, Md., where the local sheriff’s office now finds itself the subject of a complaint after one of its deputies detained a black attorney, insisting that he was impersonating a lawyer.
The complaint was filed by Rashad James, a legal aid attorney, who was at Harford County District Court on March 6 to expunge a client’s record. His client wasn’t at the courthouse that day, reports WBAL TV.
After James finished successfully arguing for the expungement, one brave deputy had the courage—the gumption—to stop James in the courtroom and question whether he was really a lawyer or just a black man impersonating one.
As James told WBAL-TV, the officer initially referred to him by his client’s name. After telling the deputy that he was, in fact, the client’s lawyer, the officer then asked James for ID, which James provided.
Now, that should have been the end of the story, right? But for some reason that evades me, the deputy wasn’t convinced, asking James for further proof he was actually an attorney—despite just seeing him do his job in the courtroom.
James didn’t have his state bar card or business cards on him, bringing the deputy to an important crossroads: take James at his word or escalate the situation.
You know which path the deputy chose.
According to a statement by James’ attorneys, the deputy took James to an interview room where he detained the young lawyer for about 10 minutes. Only after James had the cop call his supervisor was he allowed to leave.
Again—because this can’t be repeated enough—this was after the deputy saw a judge accepting, on the record, that James was an attorney and his client was absent, as James’ attorney Chelsea Crawford pointed out during an on-camera interview.
James called the entire incident “surreal.”
“At no time did I feel in danger. I knew, regardless, that I wasn’t in the wrong,” James said.
Read the story on the Root
Less of This Too Why do we keep calling nonviolent crimes “violent”?
If you’ve been following the efforts to reduce this country’s swollen jail and prison population, you’ve probably heard the phrase “low-level, nonviolent offenders” quite a few times.
For instance, the conservative Heritage Foundation explained in December that “our federal prisons house thousands of low-level offenders and America must do better.”
But as Dana Goldstein reported in a 2015 data analysis for The Marshall Project, freeing pot smokers and shoplifters won’t significantly reduce the incarcerated population—because more than 50 percent of state prisoners are behind bars for violent crimes, including murder, kidnapping and rape.
If you left the analysis there, the prospects of significant prison reform would seem daunting indeed, given that there’s just not a lot of public appetite for releasing murderers and sex offenders from lockup.
Yet in reality, many of the “violent offenders” in U.S. prisons are there for crimes that not everyone would classify as violent.
According to a Marshall Project survey of all 50 states’ laws, you can get charged and convicted as a violent criminal in more than a dozen states if you enter a dwelling that’s not yours. That might seem like a property crime, but it’s often deemed a violent one: burglary.
Similarly, purse snatching is considered a “violent” offense in several states. So are the manufacture of methamphetamines and theft of drugs.
Our survey of statutes yielded even more surprising examples. In Kentucky, committing “Possession of Anhydrous Ammonia in an Unapproved Container with Intent to Manufacture Methamphetamine” a second time puts you in a “violent” category under the law—and you’ll face 20 to 50 years in prison. In Minnesota, aiding an attempted suicide is listed as violent, as is marijuana possession (depending on the amount). In North Carolina, trafficking a stolen identity and selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or playground are both violent crimes, according to the state’s “habitual violent offender” statute.
And in New York, it’s deemed a violent felony to simply possess a loaded gun illegally—with “loaded” defined as simply being in possession of bullets.
These crimes differ from ones like accidental vehicular homicide or “felony murder,” in which the perpetrator never intended to hurt or kill someone but still did, or participated in doing so.
Those classifications aren’t just semantics: When a crime is described as “violent,” there are all kinds of consequences for incarcerated people. Anyone convicted of such offenses can face longer mandatory-minimum sentences, the triggering of “three-strikes-you’re-out” and “habitual violent offender” penalties and, in immigration cases, are at risk of deportation.
They can also be disenfranchised at the ballot box: Some states let certain nonviolent ex-prisoners vote, but not violent ones. And they are often placed in different housing behind bars, according to their supposed violence level.
Rethinking whether these kinds of crimes should be considered violent would change the conversation about what must be done to cut the incarcerated population, some advocates of prison reform say.
Read the story on the Marshall Project
Perspective Daring to go to college when you’re poor
The following editorial was written by Enoch Jemmott, a senior at Queens College, where he studies communications.
When I heard that federal prosecutors were charging 50 people in six states for a college admissions bribery scheme and read the accounts that followed, outlining all of the other extensive, mostly legal, help that applicants from rich families get, it underscored how different the admissions experience was for me and my high school classmates in Canarsie.
The Canarsie neighborhood of eastern Brooklyn is an hour subway ride from the gleaming skyscrapers of Manhattan and a world away from the door-opening privileges enjoyed by the children of households in “good” school districts (much less the dirty-rich families implicated in the bribery scandal.) Many of us came from low-income families, and few had parents who had attended college. We vaguely knew that college was crucial for future success, but we had little understanding of how to get there — and no idea how difficult it would be to navigate the process.
We all knew of the SAT, for instance, but had no concrete idea of how to prepare for it. We knew that you had to apply to college, and for financial aid, but didn’t know the necessary or “smart” steps. When you’re 17, and pretty much doing it all on your own, the sight of all the hurdles you have to jump can be demoralizing, even paralyzing.
Most public schools in the United States don’t have a single staff member dedicated to helping students apply to college. Instead, that duty falls on school counselors who have an enormous range of other duties, like assisting teenagers in crisis and making referrals to social welfare support services, coordinating school events, and working with students with learning disabilities. A 2017 survey by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, found school counselors spend only about 20 percent of their time on college admissions.
Nationally, the average counselor-to-student ratio is 1 to 464. According to a report released this year by the A.C.L.U., 1.7 million students attend schools that have police officers roaming the halls but no counselors. At my high school, most of us wrote our college essays without adults or savvy older relatives to advise us what topics would make us more attractive candidates.
We were also on our own when it came time to fill out the dreaded Free Application for Federal Student Aid: the document you have to fill out if you need financial aid — which was the case for nearly everyone in my high school. And the Fafsa can be numbingly complex for families without a high level of financial literacy — which was also the case for nearly everyone in my high school.
The Fafsa is pages upon pages of details about your parents’ finances. I had never filed taxes, so I didn’t know what half of the terms meant. It was scary because there was so much at stake.
At the time, I was living with my sister, sleeping on her couch, because my mom was in a homeless shelter. I almost missed out on qualifying for aid because I couldn’t get the forms I needed from my mother, who was still my legal guardian.
There were days I had to skip school to get to I.R.S. and Social Security offices when they were open. (I learned only much later that because I was technically homeless, I might have been able to receive a waiver, and not had to submit all those forms.)
I was not alone — many of my friends and classmates also had difficulty getting the forms and the information needed to apply for financial aid.
But the stress doesn’t stop when you submit the Fafsa. Instead of celebrating when we received acceptance letters, and announcing them online to virtual cheers, we anxiously awaited financial aid award letters and wondered if we’d be able to afford to enroll. And the fortunate among us who got into state schools were then prompted to apply to “opportunity programs” that help disadvantaged students pay for college. That meant submitting separate applications with additional essays and financial aid forms that require even more financial documentation than the Fafsa.
I came to realize that, in every step along the way, we had to do more because we had less. So, the summer before my senior year, I attended a summer program in New York City, run by an organization called College Access: Research and Action, that trained me to work as a peer college counselor in my high school.
I would sit with my classmates for hours as they made their way through the applications. When the time came to review complicated loan offers, we did our best to decipher the terminology in the contracts, and to steer students away from the many predatory offers we received. The wide scale of such predation is an interlocking harm that sows even further distrust of financial institutions in working-class communities.
My experience and that of two other peer counselors is chronicled in the documentary “Personal Statement,” which will be screened on Capitol Hill next month. We hope the tangible, harsh realities depicted in the film will help those who witness it see the urgency of the issue.
Right now, the system feels like it is crafted to keep low-income students like us out of college. If it is, it’s working: Only nine percent of people from the lowest income quartile receive a bachelor’s degree by the age of 24, compared to 77 percent for the top income quartile.
That some rich families bribe their children’s way into college is the least of our problems. We’re more concerned by the college guidance gap and the maze of applying for financial aid. It shouldn’t be that difficult, fiscally or strategically, to get college advice and to fill out the Fafsa. Higher education’s admissions system should be designed to support our success, not to suppress it.
Read the story on NT Times
Work for Root & Rebound & #Cut5
The ideal candidate is a hardworking, self-motivated attorney or law school graduate with excellent legal research and writing skills to provide us with support, specifically for the creation of a new, comprehensive (approx. 400 page) national reentry resource for people leaving prison or jail as a result of the First Step Act.
Apply here >
Work for TechEquity Collaborative
In our first two years of operation, we have been primarily focused on housing as our primary policy issue area. In mid-2018 we published a Workforce & Labor policy agenda and are now ready to start executing on it. The Director of Workforce & Labor will be responsible for overseeing that area of work.
Sign up here >
Work for Pangea Legal Services
This position will mostly focus on representing non-detained asylum seekers in immigration court. It is based in our San José office, with occasional days required in our San Francisco office to attend court hearings, immigration interviews, and important team meetings (approximately 2-4x/month).
Apply here >
Work for Public Rights Project
The applicationfor Public Rights Project’s 2019 Public Rights Project Fellowshipis now live! We created this fellowship to help talented attorneys find pathways into rewarding public service careers. This year, we will place fellows in the Office of the Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Apply here >
Work for Legal Services for Children
LSC seeks an attorney to represent children in our areas of practice, with a focus on Probate Guardianships and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases, for children in San Francisco and Oakland.
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Apply for this Law School Pipeline Program
Centro Legal de La Raza's Diversity Legal Pipeline program takes a proactive approach to encourage undergraduate students of color to gain a better understanding of the law school application process, LSAT exam overview, a simulated law class, presentation on careers in Law, a law school and law firm visit, and several attorney panels. The DLP is the next phase of the Youth Law Academy to assist undergraduate students navigate the law school application process.
Apply here >