Sunday, June 17, 2018
Senator Edward Markey and Congressman Alan Lowenthal introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act of 2018 in both the house and the senate. The legislators seek to make the human rights commitment to LGTI rights a priority nationally and internationally.
The legislation would direct the State Department to continue its efforts in defending the human rights of LGBTI individuals globally. The bill would, among other terms, would require the State Department to develop a plan to address global discrimination against members of the LGBTI community. In addition, State would be required to create a position "Special Envoy on the Human Rights of LGBTI individuals.
The bill is co-sponsored by numerous legislators and is supported by Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, Council for Global Equality, American Jewish World Service, National Center for Transgender Equality, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the American Psychological Association.
For more information about the bill, see here.
Friday, June 15, 2018
What has become frighteningly clear is that the Administration is moving quickly to deny that human rights are of any consequence. That human rights exist and human rights law has any influence is soon to be fake news.
In addition to the horrendous ripping of children and mothers at the US border, two recent actions support the administration's disregard of human rights. Earlier this week, Attorney General Sessions announced that victims of gang violence and domestic violence will no longer be eligible for asylum. In his announcement, Mr. Sessions stated that asylum was never intended to protect from these forms of violence. Yet the risk of death by those trying to escape results from the home state's refusal to protect its citizens from gang and domestic violence. This is a state, not private matter. Of course those most affected by this violence are women, LGBTQ individuals and children, who are particularly vulnerable targets of the President.
Now it appears that the US will withdraw from the UN's human rights council. The conceit used is US complaints that the council has passed too many resolutions condemning Israel for human rights violations. Whether that is accurate is irrelevant to the decision. The underlying indicators reveal that the President has wanted nothing to do with the HR Council since early in his tenure. The Administration has heard enough about human rights. Any discussion is over.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
In A Human Rights Code of Conduct: Ambitious Moral Aspiration For a Public Interest Law Office of Law Clinic, Prof. Lauren Bartlett addresses the development of lawyer ethics with a focus on the development of a human rights ethical code. The development of human rights ethics codes for our clinics is an important concept and one that opens all sorts of opportunities to engage students in developing the code, but also the professional tenor and goals, of the clinic.
The Introduction to this intriguing topic reads:
Incivility and unethical behavior in the legal profession have long been topics of concern in the United States. In recent years, many state and local bar associations, as well as the American Bar Association (“ABA”), have taken steps to address incivility, including adopting professional rules, amending lawyers’ oaths of office, and more. Yet current events continue to test limits of tolerance for incivility and unethical behavior. What is more, too many lawyers are unhappy and unhealthy in the legal profession, which has been tied to ethics and integrity. In these difficult times for the legal profession, moral aspiration, or the hope or ambition for high ethical integrity, is incredibly important.
Lawyers seek moral aspiration from a variety of sources, including other lawyers, religion, and cultural norms. They also seek the rules, standards, and guidance applicable to lawyers in the United States This Article offers an alternative source for moral aspiration for lawyering—human rights—and suggests establishing a human rights dignified, respectful, and safe space, and to hold colleagues, students, and others, to high ethical standards. The idea of a human rights code of conduct for a law office or law clinic builds on recent scholarship applying human rights principles to lawyering. In addition, this idea follows the recent proliferation of corporations choosing to adopt social justice and human rights related codes of conduct.
A human rights code of conduct provides practical, consistent, and significant ways to apply human rights principles to lawyering. Modeled loosely after professionalism codes or civility codes across the United States, a human rights code of conduct draws on human rights principles and provides ambitious moral aspiration for attorneys and law students. A human rights code of conduct provides practical guidance for navigating difficult ethical dilemmas, without necessitating additional regulation. A human rights code of conduct also promotes attorney and law student happiness and helps the reputation of the legal profession as a whole.
The full article may be accessed here.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Last week President Trump commuted the sentence of a 63 year old woman who has been imprisoned for over twenty years, having been given a life sentence for drug trafficking. Alice Johnson had been convicted in 1996 for conspiracy to possess cocaine and for attempted possession of cocaine. Her crimes were non-violent but her sentence was considered by many to be disproportional to the offenses. Ms. Johnson became involved with drug trafficking during a desperate time in her life. She had lost her job, was divorced and experienced the death of her son.
Advocates have been working hard for years to secure Ms. Johnson's release from an Alabama prison. How was Ms. Johnson able to obtain success? Kim Kardashian took up her cause after reading a tweet about the case. Ms. Kardashian began advocating for Ms. Johnson, first by contacting Ivanka Trump and then Jared Kushner. Finally, Ms. Kardashian secured a meeting with President Trump. Ms. Johnson had been denied commutation under the Obama administration. President Trump noted that Ms. Johnson was a model prisoner and executed the documents necessary to release the great-grandmother.
At the urging of Sylvester Stallone, President Trump earlier issued a full pardon for now deceased heavy weight champion John "Jack" Jackson.
Other pardons were less well received publicly, but involved the famous or notorious. Dinesh D'Souza and Lewis "Scooter" Libby are among those who received Trump presidential pardons. So be a celeb or find yourself one should you seek a presidential pardon during this administration.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Freedom of speech is the disguise behind which racism, misogyny and other forms of hate flourish. Without regard for professional and educational standards, businesses and universities refuse to intervene when speech is used to oppress. What may be permitted to say in public discourse has its limitations in workplace and educational institutions. But leadership in both arenas often refuse to confront hate speech and are supported in the workplace by employment cases that historically have tolerated high levels of hate before declaring an environment a hostile one. Flawed law does not justify racism and other hate in the workplace.
Now the NFL is flipping freedom of speech to block peaceful protest. Players who wish to engage in silent protest during the national anthem must do so off the field or risk being fined. While technically it is the teams that will be fined, owners are permitted to pass the penalties through to protesting players.
Freedom of speech gives every appearance of shapeshifting to accommodate the bullies. There is little in the way of institutional leadership protecting vulnerable populations locally or nationally. Those players who are forced to endure shocking levels of racism before a hostile work environment is declared, cannot themselves make peaceful, silent declarations against that racism without risking penalty. This hypocrisy goes beyond Jim Crow and emits the scent of slavery.
It would be self-defeating economically, but powerful demonstratively, if every black football player stayed in the locker rooms and refused to emerge until the rule is overturned. But that would once again place the burden of response on the victimized. It is the white players and fans who need to take a stand against racism and for freedom of speech.
Permitting through silence the manipulation of freedom of speech to accommodate the haters places our democracy in greater jeopardy and our silence makes us complicit.
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
The separation of families at our borders is horrific and inflicts multiple traumas on already traumatized people. Even more distressing is the abuse of unaccompanied minors. Many find the topic too distressing to discuss. But the abuse of unaccompanied minors has been examined by the University of Chicago's International Human Rights Clinic along with the ACLU's Border Litigation Project. The partners have issued a report entitled Neglect and Abuse by Unaccompanied Minors by US Customs and Border Protection.
Documenting both abuse of children, ages 5 to 17, and the failure of authorities to investigate complaints, a partial findings are: 25% of the children reported physical and sexual abuse; physical abuse included the use of stress positions, as well as beatings by Border Patrol Agents. Have reported verbal abuse including death threats. Eighty percent reported inadequate food and water.
The report documents many additional indignities including unsanitary conditions that place the minors in holding areas filled with conditions dangerous to their health, such as overflowing sewerage. While the report is disturbing to read, the provided information and the exposure of the brutal treatment of children is critical if there is to be any hope in creating change. Further information can be obtained at the ACLU website.
Kudos to Chicago's IHR clinic students.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Having just completed my first Inside Out program with our local women's jail, I witnessed first hand the transformation that occurs when those who have been deprived of adequate education begin their journey to learning. A 2013 RAND Corporation study affirmed what most suspected. Education is key to reducing recidivism. "Our meta-analytic findings provide additional support for the premise that receiving correctional education while incarcerated reduces an individual’s risk of recidivating after release." The promotion of Inside-Out programs was one topic discussed recently by Pulitzer Prize winning Prof. James Forman at the AALS Clinical Section Conference. Forman is the author of Locking Up Our Own, which looks at the roots of mass incarceration. Forman advocated for more college education classes in prisons and jails.
Receipt of books by those who are incarcerated is essential for continuation of "inside" self-education. But educational programs are not a priority, particularly for privatized prisons. Everything from phone calls to Skype visits with children are available only to prisoners who pay. Shortsighted is the most generous description I can attach to a recently announced policy that prisoners would no longer be able to receive books directly from distributors, except for one approved by the prison. And those books would come with a 30% mark up.
Family and friends of incarcerated men and women responded, as well as those inside, as well. Coleman federal prison in Sumterville, FL was one that announced the new policy and that facility was the topic of advocacy efforts through national listserves and individual inquiry. Then the policy was rescinded.
To the extent that the policy was a "test", the national grassroots response was sufficient to at least postpone its implementation.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Last week's case of Jesner v. Arab Bank raised ongoing concerns about the protected status the United States legal system accords to corporations. In Jesner, the Court found that foreign corporations are not subject to suit under the Alien Torts Statute, despite the fact that the Defendant bank in question had a New York branch that was found to have aided terrorist acts under the Anti-Terrorism Statute. Those claims were identical to those raised under the Alien Tort Act raised by the Plaintiff. Any distinction between government security interests and individual tort claims based upon the same facts and damages is insufficient to justify denying a remedy to individuals harmed by those acts.
It appears that corporations in the U.S. have secured the benefits of "personhood" while managing to avoid many of the responsibilities and liabilities of and to individual persons. Citizens United protected corporate speech finding election promotions a form of free speech. Viewing corporations as associations of individuals, and finding money as fundamental to promoting free speech, restrictions on corporate funding amounted to an impermissible restriction on free speech. "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."
In Citizens United great emphasis was placed on the organization of individuals choosing an entity format, the implication being that those individuals should not be forced to relinquish individual freedoms due to a chosen organizational structure. But in Jesner, corporate entities are not assessed to be organizations of individuals when it comes to recognizing the liabilities that individuals would face if actions complained of were unprotected by corporate shells.
When the Court chooses to emphasize individual versus corporate "personhood" is not straightforward. This trend toward shielding corporations from liability while restricting individual rights to sue corporate "persons" is disturbing.
Keeping an eye on upcoming cases on the rights of individuals versus business entities will clarify how much corporate shielding the court is willing to do while eliminating some remedies for individual human rights violations.
[Ed.'s Note: This is the third entry in our series on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Jesner v. Arab Bank. The earlier entries, by Jena Martin and Beth Stephens, are available here and here. The fourth entry by Christopher Whytock, on post-Jesner moves, is here.]
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Bill Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault. This verdict came at the end of a second trial, the first one having ended in a mistrial last year. What happened in between? Certainly the lawyers had time to organize their better cases. Witnesses had time to prepare for the emotional strain of testifying in a highly publicized trial. But was there also a cultural shift?
Sisters organized beginning with the Women's March. #MeToo and Times Up happened. Both men and women began to believe women leading media to speculate that the verdict reflects the impact of the #MeToo movement.
What is speculative is whether this case will translate into a higher rate of convictions in sexual assault cases generally. This may be unlikely. During Cosby's second trial, several women testified as to Cosby's pattern of assaults. This is a result that is unlikely happen in other jurisdictions where establishing a pattern of behavior is not generally permitted in criminal trials.
In order to create an effective shift on the criminal law side, prosecutors must have a sincere and educated interest in trying the difficult cases. Prosecutors must find effective ways to persuade jurors to believe women and understand trauma. One ingredient in creating a possible a sea change in sexual assault prosecutions would be to have trauma experts not only testifying in sexual assault cases, but working with prosecutors as cases are planned. If history is any guide, states will be unwilling to commit the resources to support effective prosecution. Sexual assault survivors are reluctant to report, let alone prosecute, the crimes committed against them. When we begin to see improved results for women in local prosecutions, then we can credit the movement in creating a broader culture shift. Until then, we know #MeToo remains effective in exposing celebs.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
The Equality of Opportunity Project has issued results of a study that followed 20 million children and their parents to track wealth acquisition opportunities based upon race. The study showed a significant gap in income between similarly situated white and black men. A less significant gap was noted between white and black women. But black men have no advantage, and indeed are at a disadvantage, in reaching or maintaining economic stability in wealthier status levels when compared with white men with the same or similar situations. The data is disturbing.
"Black and American Indian children have substantially lower rates of upward mobility than the other racial groups. For example, black children born to parents in the bottom household income quintile have a 2.5% chance of rising to the top quintile of household income, compared with 10.6% for whites." This contrasts with Asian Americans and caucasians, who have a much higher income level.
Even black men who grow up in economically advantaged households have few assurances of retaining economic advantages. While white males are five times more likely to remain in the economically advantaged class in which they grew up, black and native men are as likely to drop to the bottom economic levels as they are to remain in the higher level in which they grew up.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Last week 10,000 Croatians marched to protest Croatia's pending ratification of the Istanbul Convention. The convention, adopted by the Council of Europe in 2011, addresses domestic and gender violence.
The marchers protested the convention, claiming that implementation would lead to same sex marriage and lead to expanded transgender rights. The protest was organized by political conservatives and the Catholic Church. Protesters targeted recognition of a "third gender".
In the United States, President Trump announced that transgender individuals who are serving in the military may be permitted to continue to serve. But, the administration warned, transgender individuals may be assigned based upon their birth gender. The New York Times reported that those who have had sex adjustment surgery or require such surgery would not be allowed to serve. While exceptions are permitted, this public policy shift portends increased discrimination and danger for transgender individuals who serve.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Sprung from the new activism that has developed since the last presidential election, Women Lawyers On Guard is a non-partisan advocacy organization that mobilizes women lawyers to challenge conditions and laws that undermine democracy. The organization does so by supporting non-profit organizations through pro-bono legal assistance. In addition, the organization encourages women to run for office and takes public positions on important legal issues. The website informs:
"Women Lawyers On Guard is a national non-partisan organization harnessing the power of lawyers and the law in coordination with other organizations to preserve, protect, and defend the democratic values of equality, justice, and opportunity for all."
"Our members want to "do something" for our country, but they may not know how to find meaningful projects. We help fulfill your (non-profit's) commitment to work on urgent, mission-driven issues."
WLG is organizing lawyers who plan on Marching for our Lives on Saturday March 24th in D.C. Those who are interested, please meet on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery on the F Street side at 10 a.m.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Joyce Radice of the University of Tennessee School of law has exposed as untrue the myth that juvenile records do not interfere with with life opportunities as juveniles become adults. Prof. Radice argues that juvenile records are much more easily accessible than most realize. The full article, published with Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 106 No. 2 (2018) may be found here. The abstract reads:
The proliferation of adult criminal records and their harmful impact on people with convictions has received growing attention from scholars, the media, and legislators from both sides of the political aisle. Much less attention has been given to the far-reaching impact of juvenile delinquency records, partly because many people believe that juvenile records are not public, especially after a juvenile turns eighteen. That common notion is a myth.
This Article addresses that myth and adds to both the juvenile justice ad collateral consequences literature in four ways. First, The Juevenile Record Myth illuminates the variety of ways states treat juvenile records - revealing that state confidentiality, sealing, and expungement provisions often provide far less protection that than those terms suggest. Although juvenile delinquency records are not as publicly accessible as adult records, their impact is felt well beyod a juvenile's eighteenth birthday. No state completely seals juvenile delinquency records from public view or expunges them. Some states even publish juvenile records online, and almost all permit some degree of public access.
Second, this Article provides the first comprehensive analysis of the crucial role of nondisclosure provisions in eliminating the stigma of a juvenile record. Now that colleges, employers, state licensing agencies, and even landlords are increasingly asking about juvenile delinqency charges and adjudications, the confidentiality, sealng and expungement protections that do exist, will be significantly undermined unless states allow juveniles with records not to disclose them. Third, using recent literature on juvenile brain development and the recidivism research of criminologists, The Juvenile Record myth presents new arguments for why juvenile delinquency records should not follow a juvenile into adulthood - and why the state's obligation to help rehabilitate juveniles (an obligation typically recognized in a state's juvenile code) should extend to restricting access to juvenile records. Finally, Prof. Radice argues for a comprehensive and uniform approach to removing the stigma of a juvenile record through a combination of robust confidentiality, expungement, sealing, and non-disclosure statutes to facilitate a juvenile's reintegration.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
This past Friday I was privileged to participate in a conversation on Race, Redemption and Restoration sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation of Washington, D.C. The conversation brought together a nationwide group of those working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. I was humbled to be in a room filled with the formerly incarcerated and those who support them. As a white woman, I was there to learn. And I dd. The discussions gave me a broader perspective on the historical background of mass incarceration, which has been effective through a combination of voter suppression strategies, "war on drugs" and other tactics to enhance black oppression and the suppression of everyone of color.
The conversation was honest and magnificent. Many in communities are doing amazing work to support the formerly incarcerated, including working to change laws and policies that aid unjust arrests and sentencing; developing housing, and creating communities that foster dignity. Future posts will focus on some of the organizations providing innovative and effective supports.
I wish I could better capture the conversation's tone, as well as the caring and brilliance of the day. But for now let me restate part of the discussion and something that is obvious. The most effective action that a white person can take is to inform and influence other whites. Tempering the resistance to creating racial equity is something that whites are particularly well poised to do. How to transform racist views is something whites must learn. The oppressed carry enough burdens. Building white empathy is insufficient because creating empathy alone does not result in change. White people have to figure this out and carry the burden of the conversation. It is not up to the oppressed to teach others how to change.
Monday, March 5, 2018
Just Us Voices gives formerly incarcerated women an opportunity to tell their stories. The organization is soliciting formerly incacerated women to tell others about their experiences within and without of prison. To view a video of last years' voices click here. The penal system is not designed to accomodate women, their needs or their special circumstances. Just Us Voices encourages women to share their experiences as a form of healing, as a way to enfold others into the experience and eventually into advocacy.
Just Us Voices describes itself as "a new multimedia initiative that aims to transform the public dialogue on mass incarceration through storytelling and the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated women. Although women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, the national conversation on mass incarceration focuses primarily on the experiences of men. JustUS Voices will broaden the conversation to include perspectives and insights through the unique lens of gender, race and justice."
Sunday, February 25, 2018
The National Institute of Justice funded a study of the experiences of sex workers in New York City. New York City created a Human Trafficking Court and the participants had involvement with the court system, and the Human Trafficking Court in particular. Navigating Force and Choice: Experiences in the New York City Sex Trade and the Criminal Justice System Response was recently published and contains the research findings.
The population of interviewed sex workers was varied and impressive, including cis men and women, trans women and those identifying as other. The study explored four aspects of the sex workers' lives: personal histories, involvement in the sex trade, involvement with trafficking and criminal justice involvement. The sex workers revealed important and difficult information, including difficult child hood trauma and police violence. Defense attorneys and others involved with the court system were also interviewed and contributed toward assessment and recommendations. The report may be found here.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
The survivor youth of the Parkland Florida shooting see the duplicity of politician's sympathy. Action to prevent gun violence is what the survivors are looking for, not words. Senator Rubio accepted over $3,000,000 in NRA funding and received its A+ rating. The hypocrisy of his offering sympathy is as obvious as it is offensive.
Mr. Rubio argues that no law would have prevented the Parkland massacre. The evidence is otherwise. Austraila has virtually eliminated mass shootings since passing its 1997 law banning semi-automatic and other weapons. The US has never had such a ban so Mr. Rubio has no basis for arguing that a law will not prevent gun massacres. That Mr. Rubio and others are unwilling to experiment with a ban that might protect children, may hint at the size of the monster he and other legislators created when they accepted funding from the NRA. Banning future sales of automatic and semi-automatic weapons is one thing. Collecting those currently owned is another. Perhaps the politicians' fear is that they will become targets and a revolt of sorts will ensue. Maybe. But a ban has to start sometime.
That the US is willing to sacrifice youth of all ages is appalling to those within and without our borders. The false equivalency of the claim that gun rights equal rights of freedom does not hold up in the face of the slaughter of children.
A European observer said it well: America´s obsession with equating the right to buy and possess a gun with a fundamental human right and freedom, while simultaneously justifying it as a constitutional right, does not harmonize with the European values, according to which the right to life is a human right and not the right to take someone else´s life.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
The Pozen Center for Human Rights at the University of Chicago is seeking a director for Human Rights Practice. The position is a three year one.
The director is expected to lead graduate and undergraduate students in developing solutions to real world human rights problems.
A range of projects is envisioned including "arts-based projects that explore questions surrounding the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, LGBTQ and women’s rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, policing and other law enforcement practices, the right to shelter, public health, the right to water or land, homelessness, or statelessness. [The Center is] particularly interested in practitioners who use innovative new practices including social media, the visual arts, or big data."
Those with a history of working with students will be preferred.
For more information click here. Application review begins on March 5th.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
The Red Mountain Theater Company announced its first festival devoted to human rights themes. The Birmingham based company has several new plays devoted to developing understanding an empathy for those whose experiences are unlike our own. The productions are i n collaboration with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
A press announcement informs: This empathy and understanding of another's point of view is perhaps now more important than ever in our nation - and especially in Birmingham, a city marked by a fractured and violent past. However, it's from that pain that the inspiration for Human Rights New Works Festival was born- a festival that would serve [as] a catalyst for healing and hope in a future of equitable treatment of all.
The range of topics addressed is impressive. Fighting censorship, struggling parents to accept a transgender child, and voting rights activism are among the topics unveiled in new plays and other writings.
The festival runs March 15-18. More information may be found here.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Adam Foss is an amazing advocate for juveniles. As a Suffolk County (MA) prosecutor, Mr. Foss learned to listen to his young clients and came to understand the reasons why poor, and often brown or black, youths engage in criminal activity. Interrupting the school to prison pipeline is something he recognizes that all of us can do. Addressing the fundamental needs of poor boys and girls, such as education and self-esteem, are key. The difficulty comes in convincing prosecutors to be invested in listening to the juveniles' stories and creating responses that assist them in escaping lives of financial and emotional poverty. Adam Foss' transformative approach to juvenile justice can lead to not only transformation of the juveniles but of the prosecutors, as well.
Mr. Foss' website, prosecutorimpact.com, emphasizes those benefits when prosecutors have a broader vision of how justice is accomplished. Prosecutors need to embrace a paradigm shift from conviction being considered the only "win". According to Mr. Foss, a win includes:
Improved community safety
Repaired harm of the victims
Improved long-term community health
Hold those who commit crimes accountable in ways that increase their chances for success in the community.
The last element gives essential support to the first three.
Here is link to Mr. Foss' Ted Talk.