Watch This Fireside Chat with AG Loretta Lynch
If you didn’t get a chance to attend our 30th Anniversary Celebration with AG Lynch, here’s a recording of the event.
Watch This Too A young Black Lawyer working to end mass incarceration
This is the story of Maddie Flood, a ChangeLawyers Fellow and recipient of the 2020 Next Gen Award.
Finally He was sentence to life in prison for stealing hedge clippers. 24 years later, he’s free.
In the most incarcerated state in the country, Fair Wayne Bryant has known little but prison in his adult life.
Since 1997, the 63-year-old Black man has been locked up in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — the largest maximum-security facility prison in the United States, named in part after the former slave plantation it replaced — for stealing a pair of hedge clippers.
Bryant never stopped fighting his life sentence, taking to court and repeatedly submitting requests for parole after three past convictions turned that attempted theft charge into a life sentence. On Thursday, he was finally able to walk out of Angola.
The Louisiana Committee on Parole voted 3-0 last week to grant parole to Bryant, whose stunning case offered a stark illustration of the consequences of the state’s severe laws for repeat offenders and prompted an outcry from criminal justice advocates in the state and beyond.
The committee’s decision to release Bryant comes more than two months after the state Supreme Court denied his request to review his life sentence. Most of the seven justices backed that decision over the summer, but the court’s lone Black judge delivered a fiery dissent in response. Chief Justice Bernette Johnson directly connected Bryant’s situation to the “Pig Laws” that had been designed to keep Black people in poverty during Reconstruction.
Read the story on Washington Post
More Of This More and more public defenders want to become reform judges
Early in 2018, New Orleans defense attorney Nandi Campbell had an “aha” moment. She had come to court to defend one of her clients for what she considered a bogus charge: The alleged offense was “using an unauthorized vehicle,” but boiled down to borrowing his girlfriend’s grandmother’s rental car without her permission. The grandmother had reported the car stolen, but dropped that claim as soon as she learned its whereabouts.
Campbell understood that the district attorney’s office was much more interested in her client’s potential as an informant in an unrelated gang case, and believed they had arrested him for leverage.
“No judge in their right mind would have signed that warrant,” she said, and yet “one did.”
At this hearing, the prosecutor asked that the young man’s bond be increased—again, Campbell saw this as a move to pressure him into becoming an informant. Contrary to the judge who had signed the initial warrant, this one refused to impose a higher bond or to hear any more arguments on the issue, thereby taking the teeth out of the prosecutor’s threats of keeping him in jail. The prosecutor immediately dropped the case, and the defendant went home.
“It dawned on me that if the first judge hadn’t signed the warrant, we wouldn’t need the second one,” Campbell said. In other words, a judge could have thwarted the prosecutor’s attempt to strong-arm a witness. “That sealed the deal for me, that judges are powerful players in the system.”
Read the story on Slate
More of This Too Senator Booker calls out Amy Coney Barrett’s bluff on racism
Sen. Cory Booker was concerned and relentless. It was Wednesday, the third day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. And Booker had just asked her about a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission discussing the profound racism exercised against Black Americans who enter the criminal justice system.
“You said you were not familiar with that particular study, as you just reaffirmed, or the facts that they cite in this study showing that interracial bias is present in our system,” Booker said. He noted that he believes Barrett understands that racism does, in fact, exist and that judges have played a crucial role in correcting for racial inequalities.
“I understand that you weren’t aware of specific studies I cited, which are central to the important work of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which advises federal judges or provides recommendations to federal judges,” he continued. “So I just want to give you an opportunity today to share what studies, articles, books, law review articles, or commentary you have read regarding racial disparities present in our criminal justice system.”
Barrett replied by explaining that she knows the commission issues guidelines and studies, but Booker homed in on his original point.
“Forgive me for interrupting … but I was actually asking specifically any books you can name that you’ve read on this subject, or law review articles, anything that you specifically read outside of the sentencing guidelines?”
This was all following up on Booker’s questioning of Barrett from Tuesday, which had followed up in turn on a meeting between the senator and the nominee before the hearing, at which he said he’d brought up the U.S. Sentencing Commission study. On Tuesday, Barrett said she wasn’t acquainted with the study particularly, but that she was aware of many studies that expound upon implicit bias in the criminal justice system. Now, after she’d had another 24 hours to prepare, he was asking her for more detail about those studies.
“Well, Sen. Booker, I will say what I have learned about it has mostly been in conversations with people, and at Notre Dame as at many other universities,” Barrett said. “It’s a topic of conversation in classrooms, but it’s not something that I can say, yes, I’ve done research on this and read X, Y, and Z.”
“I respect that,” he said. “You’ve answered the question.”
It wasn’t unusual for Barrett not to have an answer in the hearings, but it was striking for her to admit she didn’t have one.
Read to the Story on Slate