A newsletter for vigilant optimist. NEWS BRIEF is a hand-picked collection of social justice stories that are driving the local and national conversation, available every Wednesday night.
A newsletter for vigilant optimist. NEWS BRIEF is a hand-picked collection of social justice stories that are driving the local and national conversation, available every Wednesday night.
TOP NEWS California sues Trump Administration over citizenship question
The state of California sued the Trump administration Monday night, arguing that the decision to add a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census violates the U.S. Constitution. The state’s attorney general acted just after the Commerce Department announced the change in a late-night release.
The suits are just the start of what is likely to be a broader battle with enormous political stakes that pits the administration against many Democratic states, which believe that the citizenship question will reduce the response rate for the census and produce undercounts. As a result, opponents say, states with significant immigrant populations stand to lose seats in state legislatures and Congress, along with electoral college votes in presidential elections and federal funding based on census counts.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was among several Democrats who vowed to challenge the addition of the question.
“The census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade,” Becerra said in a statement. “California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump Administration to botch this important decennial obligation. What the Trump Administration is requesting is not just alarming, it is an unconstitutional attempt to discourage an accurate census count.”
Former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., who serves as chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a statement that the decision could lead to “devastating, decade-long impacts on voting rights and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding.”
“We will litigate to stop the Administration from moving forward with this irresponsible decision,” Holder wrote. “The addition of a citizenship question to the census questionnaire is a direct attack on our representative democracy.”
“Undercounting the sizeable number of Californian non-citizens and their citizen relatives will imperil the State’s fair share of congressional seats and electoral college electors and will cost the State billions in federal funding over the next decade,” the attorney general’s lawsuit says.
Story by: Washington Post >
Picture: SF Chronicle >
Watch This How a retired law professor could reshape American democracy
Bill Whitford is the named plaintiff in one of this year's biggest Supreme Court cases: a challenge to partisan gerrymandering. We explore how the case got started, and explain the novel concept behind his argument.
Watch on: NBC News >
Watch This Too When ICE comes knocking on your door
We Have Rights is a new empowerment campaign by Brooklyn Defender Services, ACLU, and Immigrant Defense Project to prepare for and safely defend our rights during encounters with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Watch on: We Have Rights >
#ChangeLawyer Meet the young, Black, progressive prosecutor who was elected in the Deep South
Several times a day, Scott Colom, a 35-year-old district attorney in northeast Mississippi, walks past a Confederate monument in front of the courthouse. He rarely glances at it, but he knows that from one side it looks startlingly like a hooded Klansman (from the front, it’s a Rebel soldier carrying a flag, which is perhaps bad enough). His twin brother pointed out the resemblance several years ago. Yes, Colom says, it’s at the least irritating to be constantly confronted with a symbol of white supremacy. But then, “Look how far we’ve come. Whoever put that statue up, back in the day, this” — he looks himself up and down, a black man dressed for court in a trim charcoal suit, a black man who’s the area’s top law-enforcement official — “this is their worst nightmare.”
Colom’s 2015 campaign against Allgood, who’d been voted into office six times over 25 years, was daring: He promised to lock fewer people up, stop treating drug addiction as a crime, and expand rehab services. This was far from standard fare in a state that has legalized firing squads when lethal injections aren’t available. But Colom remembered what one of his law professors at the University of Wisconsin had told him: To minimize the Willie Horton risk, DAs tend to be overly punitive, though there are certain circumstances where the opposite strategy might carry the day. “If the campaign is about ‘My son or daughter might get in trouble for drugs, and I hope there’s a guy who understands this isn’t the whole picture of the person,’” Colom recalls him saying, “then you might be able to run a successful campaign.”
So the young lawyer — whose interest in politics was sparked by reading the Nixon-Kennedy campaign classic, The Making of the President, right after college — bet that Allgood had gone too far. The Mississippi Supreme Court, hardly known for its leniency, had accused Allgood of “egregious” prosecutorial misconduct in 2008. Allgood was known both for the ruthlessness of the sentences he sought — 12 to 15 years for first-time crack offenses, even in plea bargains, before the state imposed tighter limits in 2014 — and for his reliance on dubious experts. At least seven of his office’s murder convictions have been overturned.
What animates him most about his job is brainstorming ways to reform the judicial system that has built up to accommodate the (largely futile) drug war. Recently, he says, some policy wonks came down from New York to help him reduce the jail population. Scouring the historical data, “They saw a spike and said, ‘I’ll bet that y’all built a new jail during this period.’ And we did! We built a new jail, and we increased our jail population.”
By the end of his first year in office, Colom had doubled, to 218, the number of defendants in the alternative sentencing program, where if you stay clean and get a job or go to school your charges will eventually be cleared.
More immediately, Colom is strategizing with Tucker Carrington, a law professor who runs the University of Mississippi’s innocence project, to establish a conviction-review unit, as DAs in Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, and other metropolises have done. If Colom and Carrington manage to pull it off, it will be the first conviction-review unit in the Deep South or any rural part of the country. “We’re just trying to figure out how the mechanics would work,” Colom says.
Unlike major metropolitan DAs who can devote themselves almost entirely to big-picture policy because they’ve got dozens of attorneys beneath them to try cases, Colom has a staff of only five lawyers and goes to court himself all the time.
This is what reform looks like up close: Prosecutors have to balance their ambitions to alter fundamentally the terms of crime and punishment with the realistic constraints of the office. If Colom were a purist, he might be a successful law professor, but Forrest Allgood would still occupy the DA’s office in Columbus. “I know where I’m trying to go,” Colom says, “but I also know what’s the best way to get there.”
Story by: NY Magazine >
More of This Lawyers file suit against White nationalist for Charlottesville violence
Last August, a far-right rally called “Unite the Right” took over the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, for two days.
Now a group of Charlottesville residents are fighting back against the white nationalists who took over their city. And they’re going to court with money from a new nonprofit group and with the lawyer who argued — and won — a landmark marriage equality case before the Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in Sines v. Kessler are arguing that the Unite the Right rally wasn’t an expression of free speech that got out of hand, but instead, as lead attorney Roberta Kaplan told me, “a direct conspiracy to commit violence.”
Kaplan’s team collected thousands of hours of chats and videos created by the defendants and leaked online — including white nationalist pundit Richard Spencer, rally organizer Jason Kessler, and Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website — that urged participants to prepare for and commit violence in Charlottesville.
Kaplan is most famous for arguing the case US v. Windsor before the Supreme Court in 2013 on behalf of her client Edie Windsor — a case that resulted in a landmark decision invalidating a section of the Defense of Marriage Act, eventually leading to the invalidation of all state and federal laws against same-sex marriage. When I spoke to Kaplan, she said her reasoning for taking on Sines was deeply personal.
“As someone growing up as a Jewish kid in Cleveland, Ohio in the ’70s and ’80s, my entire religious education was imbued with imagery of facts about the Holocaust. That was something I very much grew up with and had a huge impact on me as a kid,” she told me. “I think if you had told me back then that something like [Charlottesville] would ever happen on the streets of an American city, I would have told you you were nuts. And when it happened, I think I, like many, many people, was kind of in a state of shock.”
But Kaplan told me that if her clients win in court, “it is very unlikely that the monetary judgments that we will receive, ultimately, can be satisfied by these defendants.”
“They want a judgment, a verdict, that what these people did is illegal and wrong,” she said. “They want, like many cases in the justice system, to send a message of deterrence to other people who might be thinking about this. That if you do this, if you even try to do something like this ever again, the same thing’s gonna happen to you.”
Story by: Vox
Less of This Why are jails placing children in solitary confinement?
When the police approached Imani and her friends outside a Syracuse, N.Y., dollar store in 2016, she wasn’t worried — she didn’t believe they had done anything wrong. But a clerk at the store had accused the group of stealing, and Imani, then 16 years old, was arrested and charged with robbery. Unable to afford bail, she waited for her day in court in a maximum-security adult jail.
Imani, petite and wiry, is small for her age. After arguing with a guard over a grievance she had filed, she was promptly moved to the solitary confinement wing of the jail, she said. Her meals were fed to her through a slot in the door and her recreation time was spent outside in what seemed like “a cage for a dog,” Imani said.
Solitary confinement is not allowed for inmates younger than 18 at federal and state-run facilities in New York, but for teens like Imani — held in a county jail, waiting for their cases to be heard — it’s a common practice.
“It made me feel like nothing, like an animal,” Imani said of her 32 days spent in solitary. “Can’t call nobody, can’t talk to nobody. You just feel worthless.”
Perhaps most well-known is the case of Kalief Browder, a Bronx 16-year-old charged with stealing a backpack who spent three years at New York City’s infamous Rikers Island jail complex. He passed more than two years of it in solitary confinement, steadfastly maintaining his innocence. Eventually, the charges were dismissed and Browder was released, but his time in solitary had caused significant mental health issues. He committed suicide at 22 years old in 2015, just two years after his release.
In recent years, studies have revealed the damaging effects of solitary on all prisoners, including anxiety and an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. “Social deprivation is not a good practice for anybody,” said Dr. Carly Baetz, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine.
The risks are worse for teenagers, who are still developing intellectually and emotionally.
“You’re just surrounded by four walls with a dim light — no cellmate, no commissary, no pictures of your family,” said Jordan, who was 16 when he was arrested for burglary and detained at the Onondaga County Justice Center in 2015. “All you can think about is death, because you feel like you’re gone already.”
Josh Cotter, an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York, has led several lawsuits across the state challenging the use of isolation for teenagers in jails, especially those who have not been convicted of any crime. “Kids just aren’t little adults — they’re kids,” he said. “They have different needs.”
In 2016, Cotter sued the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and the Syracuse City School District. The Justice Center, Cotter claimed, routinely used isolation as discipline for minor misbehavior. One teen was placed in solitary for banging on his cell door to get the deputy’s attention so he could tell him he felt suicidal. Others were put in solitary for singing, talking loudly, and wearing shower shoes outside of the shower. Once in isolation, the teens no longer had phone privileges, couldn’t go to school, and received only one hour outside of their barren cell each day.
The county settled the case in 2017, agreeing to significantly limit the use of solitary confinement, develop a system that rewards good behavior, and improve education services. “Young people don’t respond well to punitive threats,” said Alex Frank of the Vera Institute’s Center on Youth Justice. “They respond to being recognized when they’re doing something well.”
Story by: Marshall Project
Speaking Of… Young people of color are disproportionately disciplined, and the justice system doesn’t care
The following editorial was written Deepa Iyer, a lawyer, writer, activist, and podcaster. She is currently a senior fellow at Race Forward, a nonprofit organization that advances racial justice, and the author of "We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape a Multiracial Future."
Just consider the story of the Muslim boy who brought a homemade clock to school and was arrested over it. Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas high school student with a keen interest in robotics, made national headlines in September 2015 for this innocuous act.
After charges against Ahmed were dropped, his family filed a lawsuit against the Irving Independent School District, the city of Irving and individual defendants, alleging that he was the target of discrimination because of his race and religion. The lawsuit also pointed to the broader context of anti-Muslim bias in Texas and to the higher suspension rates black students face in the Irving School District as important factors in understanding why Ahmed was mistreated.
But a federal judge in Texas recently dismissed the lawsuit.
Ahmed deserved better from the legal system. If the case had proceeded through the full discovery process of sharing documents and taking depositions, we could have learned more about the details of Ahmed's treatment by school administrators and police officers as well as the broader climate facing students of color in the school district.
This isn't a loss for Ahmed alone, but for all black and brown students who are experiencing the impact of punitive treatment within their school walls and a climate of bigotry outside of them.
Discriminatory disciplinary practices targeting black students has become a national crisis as the Department of Education has found that black students are three more times more likely to be suspended than white students are.
Students from Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities also face challenges because they are viewed as suspicious and dangerous in the post-9/11 environment. And, in the wake of Ahmed's encounter, other Muslim students reported being targeted by anti-violent extremism initiatives at their schools, dragged out by school security personnel and suspended for minor infractions.
In short, immigrant students and students of color are experiencing bias and bigotry in their classrooms, playgrounds and neighborhoods.
And the legal system must take seriously the complaints of young people of color who face police brutality, stop and frisk, deportations and the school-to-prison pipeline.
The legal system may ignore the culture of anti-black and anti-Muslim bias that pervades our school systems and country. But we knew better then, and we must do our part now to fight for justice for Ahmed and children like him in America.
Story by: CNN >
Graph of the Week New research shows the punishing reach of racism for Black boys
Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.
White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.
“You would have thought at some point you escape the poverty trap,” said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and an author of the study.
While black women also face negative effects of racism, black men often experience racial discrimination differently. As early as preschool, they are more likely to be disciplined in school. They are pulled over or detained and searched by police officers more often.
“It’s not just being black but being male that has been hyper-stereotyped in this negative way, in which we’ve made black men scary, intimidating, with a propensity toward violence,” said Noelle Hurd, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.
Story by: NY Times >
Event From the War on Poverty to the War on the Poor
Join us for 4th annual legal services funders network Signature Event. Featuring Civil rights attorney Eva Jefferson Paterson, co-founder and President of the Equal Justice Society.
March 29, 2018 in San Francisco
Job Opportunity California Bar Foundation hiring Executive Director
We’re looking for a bold visionary, big thinker, and fearless changemaker.
Interviews begin in April.
Fellowship Opportunity W. Haywood Burns Institute looking for Youth Justice Systems Change Fellow
The purpose of this fellowship is to create a meaningful intergenerational exchange between Mr. Bell, Founder & President of W. Haywood Burns Institute who has been recognized for his lifetime commitment to creating systems change for youth of color, and an emerging leader who is passionate about the movement for racial equity and driven to one day lead an institution dedicated to this cause.
Job Opportunity East Bay Community Law Center hiring Youth Defender Clinic Director
YDC provides legal representation and advocacy to young people in school discipline and delinquency proceedings, including assisting young people in overcoming barriers to education and employment created by juvenile court records and court-ordered debt.
Sonia Gonzales is Executive Director at California Bar Foundation.