Finally Public defenders are becoming judges. That’s good for all of us.
Last weekend, the Senate confirmed Eunice Lee to a judgeship on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
When asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee for “your typical clients and the areas at each period of your legal career, if any, in which you have specialized,” Lee’s response was as rote as it was remarkable.
“For the entirety of my legal career, my clients in both state and federal court have been poor and working-class people convicted of felony offenses. In state court, my cases included many theft, drug-related, and violent offenses,” she responded. “My federal practice likewise has included many theft and gun-related offenses.”
Lee’s confirmation is remarkable for one due the fact that the judicial landscape is completely unrepresentative of the legal profession — and has been for a very long time. Her confirmation is a single, but important, effort to confront this imbalance.
If that sounds dramatic, just look at the number of judges with backgrounds as prosecutors. As things stand, they overwhelmingly outnumber those with backgrounds as public defenders. That imbalance is even more dramatic if you’re looking more broadly at whether the judge’s experience before taking the bench was in representing the government in any role or opposing it.
That experience imbalance, in turn, leads to those judges all too often interpreting the law in a way that ultimately makes it a stranger to many of the people whose lives it controls. No, experience isn’t everything, and there are exceptions, but the exceptions — and the law the prosecutor-heavy judiciary has advanced — prove the dangers of this imbalance. That’s not good in a system where respect for “the rule of law” is essential to keeping everything in society moving forward — and is one of the reasons why attention to demographic diversity in the judiciary is so important. That same attention has not been given to professional, or experiential, diversity.
Read the story on MSNBC
Say It Louder Black officer sues his own police department for “Jim Crow culture”
Not even two minutes go by after walking through the front door of a busy hotel before someone Brandon Hanks previously pulled over comes by for a handshake.
A sleepy Tuesday morning in central New York has a bit of buzz thanks to the 28-year-old Black man who has become arguably the most well-known police officer in Syracuse. A hotel employee tells Hanks that he remembers the officer pulling him over for “an active warrant for something stupid” and that he’s doing better now, before directing his attention to Hanks’s white Maserati. “I’ve never seen a police officer with a car like that!” the man exclaims.
Hanks found viral fame in 2019 when his one-on-one basketball games with young people made him a rising star in the community and earned him an honor from the city. The exchange with the hotel employee summed up what the Syracuse native has aimed to do as one of the few Black officers in his nearly five years with the police department: Be yourself and show young Black people what success can look and sound like.
“That’s why I act the way I act and talk the way I talk, because people from my community that do not have anything can relate to that,” Hanks said. “It motivates other people behind me to want to be successful the right way.”
But when Hanks was up for a coveted job this year with the department’s gang violence task force, he allegedly was denied the position after some of his White colleagues accused him of being a “gang member” and “narcotics trafficker” who has “known associations with gang members and convicted criminals,” according to a new federal lawsuit.
Hanks’s colleagues also did not like that he listened to rap music, using the profanity in the songs and a tattoo of a 2Pac track he has on his left arm, “Only God Can Judge Me,” as a mark against him.
Hanks filed a federal lawsuit on Monday accusing his White colleagues, the city and the police department, his own employer, of “blatant and extreme racism” because of what he and his attorney describe as a “Jim Crow culture” against Black officers. Hanks, who remains on active duty, is seeking $33 million in damages from the discrimination complaint filed in the Northern District of New York, as well as reforms so that Black officers in Syracuse have increased employment and training opportunities.
Read the story on Washington Post
More of This Federal judges are not holding back
A "disgrace to our country." "The tyranny we rejected." "An embarrassment to every American.”
In presiding over the cases of hundreds of people accused of breaching the US Capitol on January 6 in support of then-President Donald Trump, federal judges have not held back when describing the unprecedented nature of the events of that day.
"You called yourself and everyone else patriots, but that's not patriotism," Judge Amy Berman Jackson told defendant Karl Dresch earlier this month. "Patriotism is loyalty to country, loyalty to the Constitution -- not loyalty to a head of state. That is the tyranny we rejected on July Fourth."
As the congressional investigations grow more partisan -- and Democratic and Republican viewpoints on the significance of the Capitol attack grow farther apart -- it's notable that judges appointed by presidents of both parties have described the riot as an existential danger to American democracy.
"It means that it will be harder today than it was seven months ago for the United States and our diplomats to convince other nations to pursue democracy," Judge Randolph Moss said at a July 19 sentencing hearing. "It means that it will be harder for all of us to convince our children and our grandchildren that democracy stands as the immutable foundation of this nation. It means that we are now all fearful about the next attack in a way that we never were."
Read the story on CNN
Less of This The Supreme Court was just asked to dismantle tribal sovereignty
“At the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote two years ago in McGirt v. Oklahoma. His majority ruling recognized that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation still existed because Congress, implicitly keeping that promise, had not explicitly disestablished it when Oklahoma became a state in 1907. The 5–4 decision effectively turned half of the state back into Indian country.
Just over a year later, the state of Oklahoma is trying to break that promise again. State officials filed a petition last week in Bosse v. Oklahoma that asked the Supreme Court to take an extraordinary step: reverse its decision in McGirt and declare that the tribes’ reservations no longer exist. The high court’s ruling had created widespread issues in the state’s criminal justice system, Oklahoma officials argued, because only the federal government can try certain crimes committed on tribal lands.
“At the same time, the foregoing issues are merely symptoms of a deeper problem,” the state said in its petition. “In truth, the problem is McGirt itself, and the reconsideration of that decision is the only realistic avenue for ending the ongoing chaos affecting every corner of daily life in Oklahoma. The State of Oklahoma respectfully requests that the Court overrule its decision in McGirt, which was profoundly flawed and is causing unprecedented disruption.”
Oklahoma’s depiction of the McGirt fallout should be unpersuasive for the justices. The court issued the ruling with a full understanding of the potential consequences of the decision. While the justices often consider the practical effects of their decisions, they also have higher priorities. Oklahoma is hoping that they will bend the usual rules on its behalf. But for the Supreme Court to reverse itself now would be a profound insult to Native Americans, to tribal sovereignty, to itself, and to the rule of law.
Read the story on The New Republic
LEAP Fellowship for diverse students
For anyone who identifies as a diverse student who lives in California, and want to apply to law school in the fall of 2022.
Application opens September 1. Register >
2021 Judicial Diversity Summit
Held every five years since 2006 to assess the efforts to increase judicial diversity in California, and to make recommendations for future activities and initiatives to diversify the judiciary.
Multiple dates in August + September. Register >
October 14 at 12PM PST. Register here >