#ChangeLawyers Civil rights lawyer becomes the first Black man to head Human Rights Campaign
The Human Rights Campaign has named Alphonso David as president, making him the first civil rights lawyer and the first person of color to lead the organization in its nearly 40-year history.
David — who will begin his tenure with HRC in August, succeeding Chad Griffin — has most recently served as counsel to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; he was the first openly gay person to hold that position. Before that, he was deputy secretary and counsel for civil rights in the state.
In these positions, he played an integral role in securing marriage equality in New York in 2011, banning the abusive practice of so-called conversion therapy on minors, establishing nondiscrimination protections for transgender New Yorkers, expanding Medicaid coverage to cover transition-related care, making it easier to amend gender markers on birth certificates, and enacting policies and regulations to support people living with HIV and drive new diagnoses to an all-time low statewide.
He has also helped lead efforts to expand access to reproductive health care, restore voting rights to New Yorkers, advance workplace protections for disadvantaged communities, and require access to free translation services in essential state services. Prior to his work for New York State, David was a staff attorney at Lambda Legal.
He is a graduate of the University of Maryland and Temple University School of Law. He has worked as an adjunct professor of law at Fordham University Law School and at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
“I believe that together, we can harness the strength that’s inherent in our differences, to stand together in the face of fear and division. And that’s exactly what the Human Rights Campaign was built for,” David said in a video released today by HRC, in which he details his story of escaping violence in Liberia, where he was born, only to be treated as “other” as a Black gay man in the U.S.
“If we want to win full equality, that’s going to require us to come together, to dig deep, to be resilient, to embrace our differences, to tenaciously defend the most vulnerable among us, to fight with every ounce of determination we have. I promise you this, I will fight for each and every one of us. All I ask is that you join me, that you join the Human Rights Campaign in our fight for true equality. In unity, we will fight back and we will win.”
Read the story on The Advocate
More of This A day in the life of the first Latina partner at a major law firm
Damaris Hernández, who became the first Latina partner at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in 2016, specializes in civil litigation and corporate and government investigations. But on Sundays, she is all about “faith, family, friends and fun.” Born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn, she has tried to replicate the Sundays of her childhood, when family would gather to eat, dance and play dominoes at her grandparents’ house. Ms. Hernández, 40, lives with her husband, Joseph Gilbert, 44, a pediatric researcher, their two children, Mariana (Mari), 7, and Joseph Oliver (Ollie), 3, and the family dog, Tina, on the Upper West Side.
CALL OF THE ROOSTER I wake up at the crack of dawn. I was raised by my Puerto Rican, rosary-carrying, sorullo-making grandmother in Brooklyn. She grew up on a farm and she woke with the roosters. So I get up at 5 a.m. I want to catch up on work emails and get stuff out the door before my kids wake up.
CLANG SOME POTS At 6:30, 7 if I’m lucky, I’m making breakfast for them and that consists of my go-to’s, which are Nutella pancakes, bacon and tater tots. Mari reads to Ollie and they fight over which cartoon to watch. The whole time, I’m trying to be as loud as possible so my husband wakes up.
MORNING MASS We then rush to get ready for 9 a.m. Mass at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus-St. Gregory the Great on West 96th Street and Amsterdam, where Joe and I had our religious wedding ceremony three years ago, on New Year’s Eve.
MULTITASKING After church, Joe and I divide and conquer: he takes Ollie to Super Soccer Stars and I head with Mari to Broadway Dance Center at 65th Street by Lincoln Center for her ballet and hip-hop classes. It’s a solid two hours for me to get work done, send emails, shop online and order FreshDirect. I take a break to go videotape her because I have to go see whatever she’s doing in hip-hop circle.
CASUAL SOCIAL TIME After dance and soccer, we are more flexible — it is where our Sundays may differ from week to week. Most times, it’s just lunch and a play date at the house. Joe, the host with the most, keeps the wine or French press going in our kitchen, depending on the parents’ guilty pleasure, while we discuss everything from hottest new television show or music album that just dropped, the latest book I won’t have time to read, kids’ school and summer plans, and that week’s political events.
Read the story on NY Times
Even More of This Judge blocks indefinite detention of refugees
A federal judge in Seattle on Tuesday blocked an order by Attorney General William P. Barr that would have kept thousands of migrants detained indefinitely while waiting for their asylum cases to be decided.
Judge Marsha J. Pechman of United States District Court for the Western District of Washington described the order, which would have denied some migrants a bail hearing, as unconstitutional. Under a preliminary injunction, Judge Pechman said migrants must be granted a bond hearing within seven days of a request or be released if they have not received a hearing in that time.
“The court finds that plaintiffs have established a constitutionally protected interest in their liberty, a right to due process, which includes a hearing before a neutral decision maker to assess the necessity of their detention and a likelihood of success on the merits of that issue,” Judge Pechman wrote.
Her ruling also noted that the government was likely to appeal the decision.
The order, which was issued in April, was another attempt by the Trump administration to prevent the release of migrants into the country — and to deter asylum seekers from crossing the border altogether.
The administration in recent months has raised fees for asylum seekers and slowed the processing at ports of entry. It is also expanding a policy that has forced more than 13,000 migrants to wait in Mexico as their legal cases proceed.
For years, migrants who were determined to have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries have been allowed to request bond hearings so they could be released on bail rather than wait in detention facilities for their cases to be heard. The order from Mr. Barr, whose purview extends to immigration courts, would have denied that right to a hearing to people who are apprehended after they illegally enter the United States.
He appeared to acknowledge at the time that the order could aggravate already overcrowded facilities. Conditions at the facilities have been the subject of public backlash after lawyers, lawmakers and the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog described mistreatment and filth.
In April, Mr. Barr delayed his order for 90 days.
Michael Tan, a senior staff lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the order would have denied due process to those seeking sanctuary in the United States.
The administration, he said, was “trying to create a perception that we need to lock everybody up or chaos ensues.”
Read the story on NY Times
Less of This A judge spoke dismissively of mental illness and public defenders want him off their cases
Florida’s Miami-Dade County is home to the highest rate of serious mental illness for any urban area in the United States, by some counts.
But public defenders there say one of the county’s judges doesn’t take the issue seriously, alleging that he spoke dismissively of the challenge mental illness poses for many defendants.
“I don’t buy it,” lawyers recall Judge Michael Barket telling them over doughnuts in his chambers after one of them discussed the high rates of issues such as mental illness and substance abuse among her often-impoverished clients.
Now the Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s Office wants the judge kicked off cases. The office says his attitude compromises his ability to give clients in six of their cases fair rulings.
The judge’s comments have drawn concern in a county that has worked hard to change its approach to a large population of mentally ill defendants by finding them treatment when possible rather than sending them to jail. About 17 percent of the Miami-Dade County Jail’s inmates have serious mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, according to the county’s court. It’s a nationwide issue, too, with the mentally ill consistently overrepresented among defendants.
Barket told lawyers that he “thinks many of our clients’ problems with mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness could be fixed if they put forth the effort,” Assistant Public Defender Marissa Reichel wrote in a sworn affidavit. The judge had invited the attorneys into his chambers for breakfast on June 6, Reichel wrote.
After she noted how common these issues are among her clients, Reichel recounts in the affidavit, Barket said he didn’t “buy it” and pointed to his successful family members as examples of people who had “come to this country with nothing” and worked to improve their situation.
Reichel wrote that she told Barket, “Many public defender clients are not as fortunate and are unable to do that, and the judge’s girlfriend and father are exceptions rather than the rule.” But Barket stuck to his position, she and other public defenders present recalled.
“In this case, this court’s comments denigrating patients who suffer from mental illness more than suggests an unfavorable opinion of them,” another assistant public defender, Natahly Seoane-Soler, said in her statement.
Read the story on Washington Post
Less of This Too A Muslim lawyer was threatened with lynching by a stranger
When a Muslim lawyer in Virginia was threatened by a stranger on Twitter last year, he reported it to the social media company and to the federal authorities.
The lawyer, Qasim Rashid, had no idea who had written the tweet in March 2018, which included an image of a man who had been lynched, along with the words: “View your destiny.”
But last week Mr. Rashid, 36, now a Democratic candidate for a seat in Virginia’s State Senate, learned the identity of the man who, federal prosecutors say, was behind the threat.
In an indictment filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina on June 20, Joseph Cecil Vandevere of Black Mountain, N.C., was charged with issuing a threat via interstate commerce, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.
A warrant has been issued for Mr. Vandevere, 52, who had not been arrested as of Monday night, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the district. He could not be reached on Monday evening, and it was unclear whether he had a lawyer.
The account from which the threat was posted has been suspended. A Twitter spokesman said the company would not comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.
Mr. Rashid, who moved to the United States from Pakistan with his family in 1987, had seen threatening language like that before. “I don’t know if my experience is necessarily unique,” he said. “As a person of color, as an immigrant and as a Muslim, to speak publicly about your faith and to receive death threats is not uncommon.”
According to a screenshot of the tweet, which Mr. Rashid shared on his own account, the threat included the words “Muslim scum” and showed a black-and-white picture of a man hanging by a rope. (That man appeared to be Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who was lynched by a mob in Georgia in 1915. According to the Library of Congress, his case is “widely regarded as a flash point of anti-Semitism” in the United States.)
Last month, Mr. Rashid won the Democratic primary for the District 28 seat in the State Senate. In November, he will challenge Richard Stuart, the Republican incumbent, who was first elected in 2007. Mr. Rashid is campaigning on a range of issues including passing the Equal Rights Amendment, expanding health care access, reforming criminal justice and increasing education funding.
Read the story on NY Times
Reform Prosecutors DAs keep finding ways to keep people in prison, despite new reform laws
After the jury deadlocked in Victor Hugo Sanchez’s murder trial in February, San Diego prosecutors offered him a deal: plead guilty to manslaughter and spend just 11 years in state prison.
But there was an unusual catch. As part of the agreement, Sanchez had to sign away his right to benefit from any future legal changes, including legislation or court decisions that might reduce his sentence. He agreed.
The district attorney’s office in San Diego has proposed two more such deals, both in murder cases, but the offers were not accepted.
While the number of these pleas is small, they come at a time of tension between some “law-and-order” prosecutors and lawmakers who have been changing the state’s criminal code to try to cut the number of people in prison. Some district attorneys, including San Diego’s, have publicly pushed back on sentencing reductions.
Some lawmakers recently introduced a bill explicitly aimed at blocking the new plea deals, which they fear might become a common way to try to thwart their work. The bill’s sponsor, state Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from South Los Angeles, is pushing for a public hearing in early July.
San Diego prosecutors say they created these plea bargains to give crime victims a sense of finality. The deals will be used in “very narrow and rare circumstances that serve the interests of justice and allow victims of violent crime to have peace of mind that a court’s sentence will be carried out,” according to a statement by district attorney’s spokesman, Steve Walker. He added that if Jones-Sawyer’s proposal becomes law, “we would certainly respect and follow it.”
Robert Weisberg, a criminal law professor at Stanford, said that the deals could raise constitutional questions.
Pleas must be knowing and voluntary, he said, and it’s not clear if a person can give up rights to something that doesn’t exist yet.
“This one is pushing the envelope as far as it can go,” Weisberg said. “It’s a pretty slick and aggressive prosecutorial move.”
Read the story on The Marshall Project
Speaking of… Don’t forget about the other “tough on crime” law
The following editorial was written by Lynn S. Adelman, a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Some of the Democratic presidential candidates have criticized the tough-on-crime legislation enacted during the 1980s and 1990s, arguing that it contributed to the mass incarceration that shames the country today. The candidates and other critics have focused on the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives for states to build more prisons and impose longer sentences, and the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established harsh sentences for drug offenses, particularly those involving crack cocaine.
The criticism of these provisions is entirely justified. But not enough attention has been paid to another 1980s-era tough-on-crime law that is still very much with us, causing substantial unnecessary incarceration, particularly of African Americans and Hispanics: the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act.
Among its “reforms,” the law eliminated parole for federal offenders and created the U.S. Sentencing Commission that then promulgated the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The act, the commission and the guidelines have been a disaster, and a debate by lawmakers about their status is long overdue. As a result of the sentencing guidelines, as well as sentencing practices in state courts, the United States is now an outlier not just among democracies but among all nations — including such highly punitive states as Russia and South Africa. Roughly 20 percent of all people imprisoned in the world are imprisoned in the United States (which has 4.27 percent of the world population). Though the rate dropped by 10 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to the Justice Department, it remains unconscionably high. The Sentencing Reform Act, and the commission and its guidelines, contributed substantially to this inexcusable state of affairs. Only one of the seven members of the original commission had any sentencing experience, and all of the commissioners in the 1990s seemed to regard the Justice Department and the most law-and-order members of Congress as their principal constituencies.
The commission established harsh sentencing guidelines and barred judges from putting defendants on probation except in rare instances. Over the next 20 years, the commission regularly amended the guidelines, making them even more severe.
The average federal sentence increased from 28 to 50 months afterward and, with the abolition of parole, the average time that a defendant served increased from 13 to 43 months, according to figures compiled by Kate Stith and Jose A. Cabranes in their 1998 book on federal sentencing guidelines, “Fear of Judging.” Between 1987 and 2019, the federal prison population increased from about 50,000 to 219,000 before dropping to about 180,000. In 2005, with the landmark decision in United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory feature of the guidelines, giving judges the opportunity to establish a less punitive sentencing regime. In subsequent decisions, the court made clear that judges had no obligation to follow the guidelines.
Unfortunately, district court judges have largely failed to take advantage of Booker to ameliorate the harshness of the federal sentencing system. After Booker, judges slightly reduced the length of sentences, from 47.9 months in fiscal 2003, to 44 months in 2018. Shockingly, the number of offenders receiving prison-only sentences actually increased, from 83.3 percent in fiscal 2003 to 87.8 percent in fiscal 2018. The sentencing commission could lead the way in pressing judges to take Booker to heart, given the commission’s considerable authority regarding federal sentencing policies, but it has provided little leadership. For too long, the commission has focused instead on trying to minimize inter-judge disparities in sentencing.
Read the story on Washington Post
Perspective I’m in the 1 percent. Please raise my taxes.
The following editorial was written by Eli Broad, a philanthropist and former entrepreneur who started two Fortune 500 companies, KB Homes and SunAmerica.
There’s a story we like to tell about American capitalism. Ours is a country that prizes merit, rewards risk and stands apart in its commitment to the collective success of open markets and the free flow of capital. We are a nation of strivers who can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps with the right combination of grit and determination.
That’s the tale we love to tell and hear. But take it from a person who has found himself on the fortunate side of that narrative: This story is incomplete. For most people, our system isn’t working.
I say this as the child of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who came here with little more than an oversize belief in what America could offer. Their faith was well placed: My parents watched me build two Fortune 500 companies and become one of the wealthiest people in the country.
Two decades ago I turned full-time to philanthropy and threw myself into supporting public education, scientific and medical research, and visual and performing arts, believing it was my responsibility to give back some of what had so generously been given to me. But I’ve come to realize that no amount of philanthropic commitment will compensate for the deep inequities preventing most Americans — the factory workers and farmers, entrepreneurs and electricians, teachers, nurses and small-business owners — from the basic prosperity we call the American dream.
Some of us have supported closing the gulf between rich and poor by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, reforming our education system, expanding access to medical care, building more affordable housing.
But even in cities like my adopted hometown, Los Angeles, where many of these policies have been enacted, they have not adequately addressed the crisis. Our country must do something bigger and more radical, starting with the most unfair area of federal policy: our tax code.
It’s time to start talking seriously about a wealth tax.
Some will say I’m calling for the populist masses to take out the pitchforks and take down the titans of Wall Street. Some will say it’s just too difficult to execute. Others will call it a flight of fancy.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating an end to the capitalist system that’s yielded some of the greatest gains in prosperity and innovation in human history. I simply believe it’s time for those of us with great wealth to commit to reducing income inequality, starting with the demand to be taxed at a higher rate than everyone else.
This does not mean I support paying higher taxes without requiring government to be transparent, accountable and equitable about how it spends the revenue, particularly for health care, public education and other programs critical to social and economic mobility. But let’s end this tired argument that we must delay fixing structural inequities until our government is running as efficiently as the most profitable companies. That’s a convenient tactic employed to distract us from the real problems.
The enormous challenges we face as a nation — the climate crisis, the shrinking middle class, skyrocketing housing and health care costs, and many more — are a stark call to action. The old ways aren’t working, and we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges.
Read the story on NY Times
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