More of This Prosecutors can do the right thing, and help incarcerated people come home
Hillary Blout is a former prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and founder of the nonprofit For The People, which works with prosecutors to remedy unjust sentences.
Just two days before Christmas last year, I stood at the gates of San Quentin State Prison waiting for Kennard “Isaiah” Love to emerge from a white van. Members of Love’s community, including his parents, stood next to me, eager to finally hug Isaiah for the first time in 13 years.
After being convicted of multiple robberies in 2007, Love was sentenced to 28 years in prison. During his time inside, he dove deep into his rehabilitation and earned multiple degrees. After seeing this, the elected district attorney decided that Love should be released — even though he had 15 years remaining on his sentence.
Love is one of more than 100 people to date who have been released through Prosecutor-Initiated Resentencing (PIR), an innovation born in California. PIR allows prosecutors — whose role has traditionally been to put people in prison — to get people out when the sentence is no longer in the interest of justice.
As a former prosecutor, I was shocked to learn that there was no law in the country allowing prosecutors to review old cases for possible release. As one of the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system with a duty to uphold justice and safety, I felt prosecutors should have the ability to take action if a person’s incarceration no longer advanced either value — so I conceptualized and helped pass the first PIR law in the country.
Almost one year after I stood outside the prison walls waiting for Love to return home, he is a computer programmer working at a tech companyin his hometown, San Jose, and a pillar of the community. And he is not the only one: Alwin Smith, released this year, now interns at a church where he helps provide mobile showers for people who are homeless. Dean Thomas, released last year, is a mechanic who visits and feeds the same birds whose wings he used to mend in the prison yard.
Read the story on Washington Post
Say Her Name This progressive lawyer just became the first ever Black woman sheriff in Louisiana
First-time candidate Susan Hutson toppled 17-year incumbent Marlin Gusman in the Orleans Parish sheriff’s race on Saturday, a stunning rebuke for a seasoned New Orleans politician and a sign that the local progressive movement to reform the criminal justice system is here to stay.
With 350 of 351 precincts reporting, Hutson had 53% of the vote to Gusman's 47%. WWL-TV called the race just before 10 p.m.
Hutson is the first Black woman elected as a sheriff in Louisiana history.
Along with Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, self-styled reformers of the criminal justice system now control New Orleans' two top elected law enforcement posts, a remarkable reversal in a city that was once one of the most incarcerated places on the planet.
Hutson has pledged to double down on efforts to reduce the jail's population, to stop an 89-bed jail expansion, to end charges for phone calls from jail and to bring the lockup into compliance with a federal reform agreement.
Surrounded by exuberant supporters at Clesi’s seafood restaurant in Mid-City, Hutson thanked the community organizers who powered her to victory — and asked them to keep her honest when she is sworn in as sheriff.
“You all need to stay in this fight. It's not done, not even close,” Hutson said. “This took a village to get to this point, and I thank everyone for that.”
Read the story on NOLA
Say It Louder The Supreme Court only cares about precedent when it helps conservatives
Aziz Huq teaches law at the University of Chicago, and this essay draws in part on his new book “The Collapse of Constitutional Remedies.”
The most consequential question in American constitutional law today is whether the Supreme Court will abide by its 50-year-old abortion precedents in Roe and Casey. So it’s striking to come to an abortion-related decision in which Justice Neil Gorsuch takes aim at his liberal colleagues for their “novel plan to overthrow this Court’s precedent.”
This should not instill any hope in pro-choice hearts. Along with allowing Texas’ restrictive abortion law to stay on the books, Gorsuch’s opinion Friday in Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson shows how the post-John Roberts Court quickly emerging will manage the feat of promoting the rights conservatives favor, while suppressing those that liberals stand behind.
The Texas law has gotten a great deal of attention because of its novel mechanism of enforcement. By rewarding private citizens with cash if they sue those who helped a woman secure an abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy, the law evades the federal protections of Roe that ensure a right to an abortion through to viability, at around 24 weeks.
But the issue the Supreme Court was addressing last week was different. They were asked to rule on the right of abortion providers to sue officials in federal court to block enforcement of this law — which meant they were effectively addressing the broader, and very important, national question of which courts have priority in enforcing constitutional rights, state or federal.
With only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the court found that abortion providers could bring a challenge against state licensing officials. The five most conservative justices, however, ruled that neither state judges nor judicial clerks could be sued.
On first blush, this seems like a win for abortion providers. Yet there is far less to Jackson than meets the eye. For instance, the majority opinion by Gorsuch leaves open ways in which potential defendants can shut down a case entirely. They can first expressly disclaim any intention to enforce the licensing laws, even as the threat of private suit keeps abortion clinics in Texas shuttered. Alternatively, Gorsuch emphasized that the Texas law, S.B. 8, was ambiguous about the licensing officials’ powers — implicitly inviting the licensing-official defendants to seek a declaratory judgment from a state court (with final say on state law) to end the case.
Read the story on Washington Post
Speaking Of… California just dared the Supreme Court to show it’s hypocrisy
The Supreme Court effectively held on Friday that state lawmakers can neutralize a constitutional right — so long as the state law attacking that right is enforced solely through private lawsuits.
Not long after the Court opened up this surprising door in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that he would see if the justices are really serious about creating a loophole that can be used to cancel constitutional rights.
The Jackson case involved SB 8, Texas’s (apparently successful) effort to ban all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. SB 8 flouts the Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which forbids abortion bans prior to the point when the fetus can live outside the womb.
Texas drafted SB 8 specifically to prevent it being stopped by a federal court. Ordinarily, someone who wishes to challenge a state law in federal court must sue the state official charged with enforcing that law. But the most important provisions of SB 8 can only be enforced through private lawsuits. On Friday, the Supreme Court essentially gave its blessing to this scheme, ruling that the only people who can be sued are state health officials who play an insignificant role in enforcing SB 8.
One day later, Newsom announced that he will push for an SB 8-style law in California, which targets gun rights in the same way that Texas targeted abortion rights.
Realistically, there is little chance that Newsom’s gambit will actually succeed in limiting gun rights in California.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly signaled that its 6-3 conservative majority intends to expand gun rights, while also limiting or even eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion. At an oral argument in early November, a majority of the Court appeared likely to strike down a New York state gun licensing law that’s been on the books for more than a century. A month later, in a different oral argument, a majority of the Court appeared openly hostile to Roe v. Wade, potentially to the point that they will overrule it altogether.
At oral arguments in Jackson itself, Justice Brett Kavanaugh — who is probably the median justice on the current Court — repeatedly pointed to a brief filed by the Firearms Policy Coalition, which warned that states might enact SB 8-style laws targeting guns. Although Kavanaugh effectively voted to sustain Texas’s efforts to ban abortions in Jackson, he appeared unwilling to do the same for a gun law.
The hypocrisy of a decision allowing states to neutralize a right favored by Democrats, but not a right favored by Republicans, is obvious. But, honestly, we should hope for hypocrisy. We should hope that the worst thing that comes out of Jackson is an unprincipled decision holding that Jackson is a one-off case that applies to abortion and nothing else. For, if Jackson is allowed to stand unmodified, it threatens the very notion that states are bound by the Constitution.
Read the story on Vox
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