by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the news letter for vigilant optimist. We hand-pick social justice stories and deliver them to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the news letter for vigilant optimist. We hand-pick social justice stories and deliver them to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
#ChangeLawyer Watch this lawyer go off on “Stand Your Ground” bill
Arkansas State Senator Stephanie Flowers had an explosive response to a white lawmaker trying to silence her in a debate on Arkansas' 'stand your ground' gun laws.
#ChangeLawyer Part II Lawyer introduces “testicular bill of rights” in response to anti-abortion bill
Dar’shun Kendrick is a lawyer and five-term member of the Georgia House of Representatives.
More of This California bill would eliminate employment discrimination for formerly incarcerated people
After spending more than seven years in prison for robbery and auto theft, Jay Jordan tried to get work selling insurance, real estate and used cars, but was repeatedly turned away, he said.
People with a felony record are often barred from obtaining professional licenses, and an opportunity to be a barber at a friend’s shop fell through for the same reason. A nonprofit program he started ran into trouble when a school sought to prevent him from meeting with students because of his criminal past — a history that began when he stole a car at 18, almost 15 years ago.
Under a bill now making its way through the California State Legislature, millions of people in the state who have misdemeanor or lower-level felony records could be spared those problems: their criminal records would automatically be sealed from public view once they completed prison or jail sentences. The legislation would not apply to people convicted of committing the most serious crimes, like murder or rape.
“There are so many of us who just want to be better, but are constantly turned down, turned away,” said Mr. Jordan, who is now project director for Time Done, a program that is part of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that advocates to make the criminal justice system less punitive.
In the United States, a record showing a criminal conviction or even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction can make it nearly impossible for someone to find jobs or apartments or to obtain professional licenses like those required in many states for barbers or real estate agents.
One in three Americans has a criminal record, according to the Justice Department, and a National Institute of Justice study found that having a criminal record reduced the chance of getting a job offer or a callback by 50 percent.
The legislation, introduced last week in the State Assembly, would make California — where an estimated eight million people have criminal records — the first state in the nation to automatically scrub the rap sheets of people whose records qualify. The law would apply retroactively, meaning that people arrested or convicted of various crimes dating back decades would have their records automatically sealed. The records would still be accessible to law enforcement agencies, but not to members of the general public, including potential landlords and employers.
Read the story on NY Times
Speaking Of… California’s inmate firefighters can’t pursue careers after release. This bill would change that.
California lawmakers and activists are resurrecting a legislative effort to help inmate firefighters begin a career in the field after they’re freed, hoping to ease the restrictions that have traditionally locked ex-offenders out of the profession.
The bill, introduced last month by Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-San Bernardino, would open a pathway for individuals “who have demonstrated rehabilitation and desire to work as firefighters.”
While the bill’s language so far only includes legislative intent, the state’s largest firefighter union has come out in opposition to the measure, saying lawbreakers don’t meet the high standards that the career demands.
“If a firefighter who was on the job was to do any of the things these incarcerated individuals have done, they would lose their jobs,” said Carroll Wills, communications director of California Professional Firefighters, an association of local firefighter union affiliates, representing over 30,000 members throughout the state. “These individuals are coming into people’s homes, providing medical attention... (the public has) an expectation of trust for people coming into their homes.”
The bill’s supporters say the current restrictions go too far — they shut out thousands of people with criminal records and could amount to racial discrimination. Though its details haven’t been finalized, supporters say the bill would ease barriers that prohibit people with even low-level or older felony criminal convictions from becoming an emergency medical technician and result in a more holistic assessment of each candidate.
“We’re not saying open the door to anyone getting the job,” said Katherine Katcher, executive director of the Oakland advocacy group Root & Rebound. “Instead, have an individualized assessment and don’t dehumanize, don’t further marginalize. Look at (inmates) as human beings.”
Since the 1940s, inmate firefighters have served a vital role in battling the state’s deadly wildfires. It’s tough, manual labor — digging fire lines and clearing brush alongside their full-time counterparts.
The compensation averages only about $2 a day (plus an additional $1 per hour when they’re fighting an active fire), but among those in lockup it’s a coveted position. It pays more than other inmate jobs, knocks time off sentences and provides participants with a sense of purpose important for rehabilitation, supporters say.
In 2018, there were about 3,700 inmates working at fire camps, including about 2,600 who were fire-line qualified, accounting for more than 20 percent of the roughly 17,000 individuals assigned to the fires in peak season, according to prison and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection records.
The program has been estimated to save the state $100 million annually.
But for most inmate firefighters, the time they’ll serve as a firefighter is limited to the time they’ll serve as an inmate.
Read the story on SF Chronicle >
Even More of This Courts adopt new rules to protect employees from predatory judges
Leaders of the federal judiciary signed off Tuesday on new rules designed to enhance transparency and accountability in courthouses throughout the country when judges are accused of misconduct.
The changes to the disciplinary system were adopted following sexual misconduct claims against a once prominent appeals court judge in California, Alex Kozinski.
Kozinski stepped down from the bench after The Washington Post reported that 15 women had accused him of a range of misconduct.
At a press briefing Tuesday at the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the federal appeals court in Washington, announced the adoption of the new system for handling workplace harassment complaints. Under the new rules, judges and court employees are required to report likely misconduct, and retaliation against individuals who disclose bad behavior also constitutes misconduct.
Law clerks, who depend on the judges they serve to help them advance in their legal careers, have been concerned that reporting would violate strict confidentiality policies about case work in individual judges’ chambers. But Garland said the new rules make clear that such confidentiality “does not and cannot extend to misconduct.”
The new system does not apply to Supreme Court justices, who are not bound by the misconduct rules.
Ethics professors, law clerks and advocates of court transparency had pressed for more disclosure and accountability for federal judges. Former law clerks recommended the creation of a national, confidential reporting system and independent investigations so that judges are not responsible for reviewing allegations filed against their colleagues on the bench.
But Garland said Tuesday that judges would continue to take the lead in conducting investigations, including those involving other judges.
“We think we can police our own,” he said, noting the importance of maintaining the independence of the judicial branch.
Jaime Santos, an appellate attorney who helped found Law Clerks for Workplace Accountability, said she is pleased that judges who become aware of misconduct are now obligated to report it.
Santos, whose organization has worked with the judiciary to combat workplace harassment, said the judiciary should hire independent investigators to handle complaints and that any allegations made against judges should be automatically be referred to a different circuit. “These measures would better ensure actual neutrality and increase employee confidence that they will receive a fair and impartial investigation and adjudication if they are brave enough to come forward and report harassment if they experience or witness it,” she said.
Read the story on Washington Post >
Less of This Trump’s lower court judges are slowly dismantling Roe v. Wade
Progressives spend a lot of time fretting that the Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v. Wade—for good reason, since four justices are ready to abolish abortion rights immediately, and another seems to be simply waiting for the right opportunity. But the lower courts need not wait for Roe to go to dramatically limit Americans’ access to abortion. They can effectively kill Roe by a thousand cuts, manipulating doctrine to let states shutter clinics and force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.
That is precisely what the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did on Tuesday, permitting Ohio to defund Planned Parenthood by proclaiming that there is no “Fourteenth Amendment right to perform abortions.” The court’s threadbare reasoning ignores controlling Supreme Court precedent and disregards the impact of Ohio’s crusade against abortion providers on women. But that doesn’t matter to the majority, which includes all four President Donald Trump appointees who participated in the case. For these judges, what’s important is that Ohio may now strip Planned Parenthood of $1.5 million each year—money that supported STI tests, cancer screenings, and contraception, but not abortion. The majority neatly illustrates how courts can undermine Roe while pretending to uphold the Constitution.
Tuesday’s decision in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Hodges revolves around a 2016 Ohio law designed to close Planned Parenthood’s 27 clinics in the state. For years, the organization has participated in Ohio programs designed to reduce STIs, cancer, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, and sexual violence. No money that Planned Parenthood receives from Ohio pursuant to this program is used to cover abortions. But three Planned Parenthood clinics do offer abortion services, which are paid for independently. The 2016 law denies state funds to all clinics that “contract with” or become “an affiliate of any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions.” Because all 27 clinics affiliate with Planned Parenthood, and because that organization “performs or promotes” abortions, Ohio attempted to cut off their funding. Two Planned Parenthood affiliates sued.
A federal district court blocked the law the day it was set to take effect, ruling that it imposed “unconstitutional conditions” on Planned Parenthood’s right to free speech and due process. A panel of judges for the 6th Circuit agreed. “Plaintiffs do not claim an entitlement to government funds,” Judge Helene White wrote for the court. “What they do claim is a right not to be penalized in the administration of government programs based on protected activity outside the programs.” White explained that, under the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional conditions jurisprudence, “the government may not require the surrender of constitutional rights,” including free speech and reproductive autonomy, “as a condition of participating in an unrelated government program.”
But the 6th Circuit is increasingly conservative, and by the time the panel handed down its decision, Trump had placed four new judges on the bench. A majority of the court quickly voted to re-hear the case en banc. And on Tuesday, it reversed the lower court’s decision by an 11–6 vote, with all four Trump appointees ruling against Planned Parenthood. (There are two other Trump-appointed judges on the court who were not seated in time to rule in the case—including Eric Murphy, the former Ohio solicitor general who helped defend the state’s anti-abortion law in the district and circuit courts. Murphy likely would’ve recused himself had he been seated in time.)
In his majority opinion, Judge Jeffrey Sutton (a George W. Bush appointee) boiled down the case to one simple question: Does the Constitution safeguard the right to perform abortion? Deciding that it does not, Sutton easily disposed of Planned Parenthood’s challenge. The Supreme Court has never expressly stated that medical centers “have a constitutional right to offer abortions.” Thus, Ohio has not penalized clinics for engaging in “constitutionally protected activities” and, by extension, has not imposed an unconstitutional condition on Planned Parenthood. Case closed.
To White, writing in dissent, Sutton is just plain wrong, warping precedent to shrink the contours of Roe. The Supreme Court has said that doctors have a “derivative” right to perform abortion since the right to terminate a pregnancy is “inextricably bound up with“ doctors’ ability to do so legally. So the majority’s premise is fundamentally flawed; Planned Parenthood does have a right to help women terminate their pregnancies, and the Ohio law does penalize providers for performing “constitutionally protected activities.” By punishing clinics for exercising a constitutional right with their own money, the state ran afoul of due process.
Read the story on Slate >
Perspective Democratic candidates should tell us who they’ll nominate to the Supreme Court
The following editorial was written by James Forman Jr. (@jformanjr), a professor at Yale Law School and author of “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”
The 2020 Democratic campaign is already shaping up to be a battle of big ideas. From the Green New Deal to Medicare for All to a wealth tax, the candidates and the country are discussing bold responses to some of the greatest challenges of our times.
But when it comes to reforming our criminal legal system, the conversation hasn’t been as visionary — in fact, it’s been almost exclusively backward looking. Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are fending off criticism for actions they took as prosecutors. Should former Vice President Joe Biden enter the race, he can count on having to explain his role in championing regressive crime legislation in the 1980s and ’90s.
This scrutiny is entirely appropriate. Walk into any criminal courthouse, and you will find it packed with judges and prosecutors lecturing defendants on the importance of accepting responsibility for their choices. Come election time, the officials who built that system must accept responsibility for theirs.
But we should do more than look back. In a country that locks up more of its citizens than any other, we should demand that candidates for president have a plan for how they will confront mass incarceration and repair the harms it has caused. While most of the action in our criminal system takes place at the state and local level — almost 90 percent of prisoners are incarcerated in state, county, or local prisons or jails — the federal government still has an important role to play.
As Rachel Barkow, a law professor at N.Y.U., argues in her important new book, “Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration,” judicial appointments are one of the most powerful ways that a president can influence criminal justice policy. Federal judges make rules that govern nearly every aspect of our system, from police at the beginning of the criminal process to sentencing and prison at the end.
Over the past 50 years, those rules have facilitated mass incarceration. Judges have held that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t prohibit police from racially profiling drivers during traffic stops, that the Sixth Amendment permits trials with underfunded defense lawyers who present little evidence or argument, and that the Eighth Amendment is no bar to outrageous sentences like life without parole for drug possession.
How did our legal landscape become this anti-defendant? In part because so many federal judges are former prosecutors. Ms. Barkow reports that 43 percent of federal judges have been prosecutors, while 10 percent have been public defenders.
A judge’s career background doesn’t always predict her rulings — Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former prosecutor, often stands up for the accused. But she is the exception. Federal judicial opinions typically read as if their authors have given little thought to how an excessively punitive criminal justice system can ruin lives, decimate families and lay waste to entire communities.
To upend this dynamic, Democratic presidential candidates must commit themselves to appointing federal judges who will work to challenge mass incarceration. This will mean going beyond anything President Barack Obama attempted. When Mr. Obama wrote a 55-page law review article on what a president could do to push criminal justice reform, he made no mention of judicial appointments. Worse, his appointments displayed almost the same pro-prosecution bias as his predecessors’: About 40 percent of his judicial nominees had worked as prosecutors, while some 15 percent had been public defenders.
Democratic candidates should promise to eliminate this bias by reshaping the federal bench so that it has as many former public defenders as it does former prosecutors. The Supreme Court is a good place to start. Remember when Donald Trump courted the conservative right by announcing the names of possible nominees several months before the 2016 election? Any Democratic candidate who wants to win the votes of a Democratic electorate increasingly focused on criminal justice reform should make a similar announcement — and populate the list with lawyers who have seen the criminal system from the standpoint of the accused.
There is no shortage of quality names. High on my list would be Bryan Stevenson, a career death penalty opponent, consummate Supreme Court litigator and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. Or Michelle Alexander, former law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun, civil rights lawyer and author of the canonical “The New Jim Crow.” (Ms. Alexander is also an opinion columnist for The New York Times.) Or Sherrilyn Ifill, a voting rights expert and head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the civil rights firm founded by Thurgood Marshall in 1940.
Read the story on NY Times
Watch this One Woman Sho
When Irma Herrera gives her name its correct Spanish pronunciation, some people assume she’s a foreigner. She’s not. Irma proudly claims her Tejano roots and her Mexican and American identity as well as her native languages: Spanish and English. Irma worked three decades as a San Francisco civil rights lawyer and journalist. Her solo play Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? sheds light and throws shade on our prejudices and assumptions.
Tickets here >
Work for Community Water Cente
With support from California ChangeLawyers, CWC seeks a full-time, year-long Legal Fellow to provide legal assistance to communities without safe water and local water board members; create and update resources for community members and legal practitioners regarding drinking water governance and advocacy; and provide legal and advocacy support for other CWC programs as needed.
Apply here >
Work for Root & Rebound
OAKLAND -- DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT: Root & Rebound seeks a driven, experienced, and entrepreneurial Director of Development to join our senior management team. Apply here >
SAN BERNARDINO-- ATTORNEY:R&R is thrilled to be hiring a Reentry Attorney for the Rights, Equity and Law (R.E.A.L. Project)who will be based at the Time for Change Foundation (TFCF) in San Bernardino, to help formerly incarcerated women and their children and families navigate and overcome legal barriers stemming from past criminal justice system involvement. Apply here >
Work for CRLA
The LGBT Program Director coordinates CRLA’s statewide advocacy for LGBT people and leads the implementation of its goal to increase access to justice for low-income LGBT people in rural California, particularly LGBT farm workers. The LGBT Program Director position reports to the Deputy Director, and manages a team of four staff members, including one LGBT immigration fellow.
Sign up here >
Event Alert: 17th Cruz Reynoso Fellowship Gala
Berkeley Law La Raza Students Association is delighted to invite you to the 17th Annual Honorable Cruz Reynoso Fellowship Gala.
Each year, we award summer scholarships to promising La Raza law students pursuing social justice internships or judicial externships. These fellowships were created to support our dedicated Raza members in their efforts to provide culturally competent legal services to underserved communities and to advance their legal career. Through these scholarships, we aim to increase diversity in the legal field, and legal services to the Latinx community.
April 5 from 6 to 11:00 PM. Tickets here >
Event Alert: 37th Annual Lorenzo Patiño Banque
The Lorenzo Patiño Banquet is a public service awards ceremony and scholarship fundraiser named in memory of Judge Lorenzo Patiño. Keynote by Eden Jequinto of Transgender Law Center.
March 16 from 5 to 9:30 PM. Tickets here >