Daily Inspo The Black, Queer, Non Binary lawyer who inspired RBG
I want to see America be what she says she is in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. America, be what you proclaim yourself to be!”
The words from lawyer, writer, activist, and, in a late-life twist, priest Pauli Murray open the new documentary aptly named My Name Is Pauli Murray, a rousing crash-course introduction to the life and legacy of a trailblazer history books have largely overlooked.
It’s a resonant message, as applicable when Murray first penned the patriotic plea decades ago as it is now, at a crossroads time for a country still grappling with many of the same issues that motivated Murray’s lifelong fight.
We’re long overdue for an education on Murray’s work; in addition to having influenced and inspired the careers of Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court rulings as recent as last year were decided based on the legal framework they created.
There couldn’t be a better time than now to delve into the experience and vision of a brilliant, queer, Black, gender-nonconforming scholar whose greatest, bravest accomplishments were motivated by their desire for more opportunity and dignity than the status quo provided—and to challenge institutions and leaders to confront the ills in which they’re complicit.
The documentary is, in a way, an answer to the question that watching it raises: How have we never heard of Pauli Murray before?
Read the story on The Daily Beast
Speaking Of… Two women of color took Trump to court. President Biden just put them in charge of the Justice Department.
On her last day at the justice department in 2017, Vanita Gupta considered taking a picture as she left the agency’s headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue. But she decided against it. Gupta, the outgoing head of the department’s civil rights division, once described as the “crown jewel” of the agency, didn’t really want to remember the moment, she told a reporter who was shadowing her for the day.
Jeff Sessions, then the incoming attorney general, was poised to unwind much of the painstaking progress Gupta, 46, and her colleagues had spent the previous four years building. It was no secret that Sessions opposed the kind of court agreements the justice department used to fix unconstitutional policing policies across the country (“dangerous” and an “exercise of raw power” in Sessions’ eyes). Nor were there any illusions that Sessions would try very hard to enforce the Voting Rights Act, already on its last legs after the supreme court gutted a key provision in 2013 (Sessions described the landmark civil rights law as “intrusive”).
Many of those concerns came to pass. Trump’s justice department not only did little to enforce some of the country’s most powerful civil rights protections for minority groups, but in several cases it opposed them. It filed almost no voting rights cases and defended restrictive voting laws, tried to undermine the census, challenged affirmative action policies, sought to roll back protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, and limited the use of consent decrees to curb illegal policing practices. Gupta took a job as the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of civil rights groups across the country, where she became one of the leading figures pushing back on the Trump administration.
Joining Gupta in that effort was Kristen Clarke, a 47-year-old former justice department lawyer who leads the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, founded in 1963 to help attorneys in private practice enforce civil rights. As her group filed voting rights and anti-discrimination lawsuits across the country over the last few years, Clarke spent hours nearly every election day briefing journalists on reports of incoming voting problems. Reports of long lines, voting machine malfunctions, translator issues – no problem was too small. The monitoring sent a message that civil rights groups would move swiftly against any whiff of voter suppression.
Now, after years of leading the fight for civil rights from outside the justice department, both women are poised to return to its top levels, where they can deploy the unmatchable resources of the federal government. Last month, Joe Biden tapped Gupta to serve as his associate attorney general, the No 3 official at the department, and Clarke to lead the civil rights division. If confirmed by the Senate, Gupta would be the first woman of color to be the associate attorney general; Clarke would be the first Black woman in her role.
Read the story on The Guardian
More of This The California DA Association has stood in the way of justice for years. It’s time they be held accountable.
Sydney Kamlager is a state assemblymember, representing California’s 54th district.
Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a recent audit of the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) revealed the organization misappropriated nearly $3 million in funding intended for public services programs.
Since 2007, the association had used the money—meant to help prosecutors in handling complex cases, including environmental and worker safety violations—to pad its general revenue fund, which pays for, among other things, lobbying, media, and political campaigning.
The funding for these public service programs is usually obtained through court settlements and judgments, and these restricted funds are what sustain the programs. This practice of “borrowing” funds drained the CDAA accounts that cover these special programs and left prosecutors in Madera County without support in a fight against a company mishandling hazardous waste. It also left at least 10 other counties with pending cases without the necessary resources to tackle them.
The audit, made public by the San Francisco Chronicle, suggests that the CDAA board was in no rush to correct the misappropriation. In June 2020, the group’s CEO presented the results of an internal investigation to the board, under the leadership of then-President Nancy O’Malley, the Alameda County District Attorney, showing that $2.88 million had been misappropriated. It wasn’t until August, under new leadership, that CDAA retained a financial consulting firm to perform an independent audit.
Californians can’t let this behavior stand. The attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the audit, but the office must also conduct a full investigation. Governor Gavin Newsom should request that the misappropriated funds be returned to the state so that it can serve its intended purpose of holding big corporations accountable for harming workers and the environment. The governor should also remove the CDAA as a leader of the newly announced task force fighting unemployment insurance fraud. And I am calling on my colleagues in the California legislature to ensure the integrity of our criminal legal system and hold a hearing to investigate the misconduct of these elected officials and the misappropriation of public funds.
The CDAA’s misconduct is simply more evidence that the association has no interest in promoting justice, as its mission states. Instead, it lobbies to subvert the will of the voters, attacks progressive prosecutors, keeps in place the tough-on-crime laws of the past, and, evidently, misappropriates public funds to do so. It’s past time that the state steps up and holds the group accountable for these actions.
Read the story on The Appeal
More of This Too A formerly incarcerated man had an unlikely supporter: the judge who sentenced him
For nearly a decade, Chris Young was told the only way he'd ever leave federal prison is with his death certificate. Handed two life sentences without the possibility of parole after his conviction in a federal drug conspiracy case, Young's only real shot at freedom would have to be a rare presidential pardon.
That rare shot became a reality January 20, when Young, now 32, was granted executive clemency In the final hours of Donald Trump's presidency.
Getting off his flight back home to Tennessee, Young had a long embrace with an unlikely supporter and someone he hadn't seen since the day he was sentenced -- the judge who ordered him to serve life behind bars.
"This is Judge (Kevin) Sharp. This is the man that had to give me two life sentences," Young told CNN. "But I knew it was not something that he wanted to do. He wasn't choosing for me to have two life sentences. America and its judicial systems chose that. ... It's called a mandatory minimum and it means exactly that -- it is mandatory. So I knew he had no choice.”
The two men first met in 2014, when Young wore an orange jumpsuit in Sharp's courtroom. Though Sharp was in a position of authority, in reality the judge had no authority to decide Young's fate.
Young was arrested when he was 22 and was one of dozens prosecuted in a 2010 drug trafficking investigation in Clarksville, Tennessee. Unlike most of the other defendants, Young didn't take a deal; he said he requested a trial and pleaded not guilty in federal court because, in his mind, he was a "low-level" participant.
But with two minor drug convictions on his record from his teenage years, this was his third strike -- triggering federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, a result of a knee-jerk reaction by Congress to deal with the so-called crack epidemic of the 1980s.
It meant that instead of the five- or six-year sentence Sharp said he would have handed down, Young was set to spend the rest of his life in prison.
"There's no justice happening here today," Sharp recalled thinking about the sentencing. "I'm doing what they tell me to do. But in no way shape or form is this justice."
Read the story on CNN
Say It Louder President Biden must end family immigration detention
Andrea Meza is the Director of the Family Detention Services Program at RAICES .
Most Americans have heard of the horrors of Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. But they may be less familiar with the nightmare migrant families face in America’s family immigration prisons after they leave the cages at the border. Since 2014, the United States has operated three such facilities, where children and their parents may be incarcerated for weeks, months, or years. At RAICES, I lead a team that offers free legal representation to families at one of these prisons in Karnes City, Texas.
Family prisons are strange, horrid places. While visiting clients before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I saw guards yell at children for rolling toys off the designated play mat. After a child accidentally drew on a table, the prison banned crayons for everyone. We weren’t allowed to share healthy snacks with hungry kids who couldn’t stomach the processed foods they were served inside. Detained moms were “written up” for breastfeeding in communal spaces. Once, I remember picking up a crying toddler, wondering if I would get in trouble for doing so, since the rules barred us from even touching the children. She felt just like my baby cousin on my hip.
Family detention has always meant family separation, well before the “zero tolerance” era made the government’s treatment of migrant families a political flashpoint during the Trump administration. To this day, children older than 18 are incarcerated in adult immigration facilities apart from their parents and minor siblings. Fathers are often imprisoned apart from mothers and young children. Even when two-parent families are detained in the same facility, their members are separated by sex. It is impossible for the government to espouse a policy of “family unity” while immigrant detention still exists.
Experts have tracked the devastating effects of incarceration on children since the government began to imprison families in 2014. My organization works with physicians and mental health care providers who warn that the conditions inherent to detention—physical confinement, the restrictions on liberty, the rigid hierarchy in a prison environment—can impact prefrontal cortex development in ways that may permanently affect social, behavioral, and psychological development. Children who experience imprisonment may be more likely to develop behavioral disorders or mental illness. The stress of prison can also impact a child’s body at the molecular level, potentially altering their DNA and increasing their risk of cancer and other diseases.
Read the story on The Appeal
LSFN Fellowship Debrief Call
The LSFN Post-Graduate Legal Fellows Program (the LSFN Fellows program) was designed in the midst of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic to address the needs of Bay Area Legal Services Organizations to increase their capacity to serve more clients, as well as May, 2020 graduates of Bay Area law schools, who were faced with a delay in their ability to take the California Bar Exam.
February 11, 3-4PM PST. Learn more here
Class Action Conference
Each year, Impact Fund hosts this invitation-only event to bring together leading plaintiffs' class action practitioners to discuss important new developments, share knowledge and ideas, and develop strategies for the future. The Conference provides an unparalleled opportunity for attendees to connect and forge relationships with like-minded advocates across the country.
February 25, 2021 via Zoom. Register here (pw: CL@55)
Senior Director of Legal Advocacy Job Opportunity
NCYL seeks a Senior Director to lead existing cases and develop new impact litigation. This position offers the unique opportunity to contribute to and develop litigation at the intersection of immigration and other priority areas for the organization including education, child welfare, mental health and juvenile justice. Learn more here
Refugee Staff Attorney Job Opportunity
PANA is hiring a full-time attorney to develop a legal program that will triage legal services for refugees and asylum seekers; develop human rights and national security impact litigation; and develop a rapid response legal infrastructure in San Diego to respond to the growing, urgent threats to Muslim and other refugee communities. Learn more here