Thursday, September 29, 2016

Humanity at Sea

New this month from Cambridge University Press is the book Humanity at Sea: Maritime Migration and the Foundations of International Law, by Itamar Mann, University of Haifa.  According to the publisher's blurb:

This interdisciplinary study engages law, history, and political theory in a first attempt to crystallize the lessons the global 'refugee crisis' can teach us about the nature of international law. It connects the dots between the actions of Jewish migrants to Palestine after WWII, Vietnamese 'boatpeople', Haitian refugees seeking to reach Florida, Middle Eastern migrants and refugees bound to Australia, and Syrian refugees currently crossing the Mediterranean, and then legal responses by states and international organizations to these movements. Through its account of maritime migration, the book proposes a theory of human rights modelled around an encounter between individuals in which one of the parties is at great risk. It weaves together primary sources, insights from the work of twentieth-century thinkers such as Hannah Arendt and Emmanuel Levinas, and other legal materials to form a rich account of an issue of increasing global concern. 

September 29, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

UN Recommends Reparations for US Racial Discrimination

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established in 2002 by the Commission on Human Rights. Image1 Among the Group's 2008 charges were to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora and, to that end, gather all relevant information from Governments, non-governmental organizations and other relevant sources.   The means of gathering relevant information include holding  public meetings.  The Group is instructed to  propose measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent.  

The findngs document a US history of racial terrorism.  Among the working group's findings are: "In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent," the report stated. "Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching."

Recognizing police killing of unarmed black men as having created a crisis, the Working Group reports that there is a sense of urgency to resolve this human rights crisis. 

The Working Group made many suggestions that would go a long way in remedying institutional racism.  Among the recommendations are:

                    Immediately abolish police in schools.

                    Police misconduct investigations to be conducted by independent investigators.

                    Misdemeanor laws that result in the over-charging and over-incarceration of people of color be abolished.  One example given is South Carolina's law making a school disturbance a misdemeanor.

                    That younger prisoners be separated from adults and male prisoners from female ones.

The Group addressed reparations as one remedy.  From apology and debt cancellation to educational and healthcare opportunities, the Group addressed steps that are critical to addressing the consequences of societal and institutional racism.  

The problem with reparations is that in order to arrive at a place where Americans endorse them, the place where the culture is ready to recognize the harm must first be reached.  We are a long way from there.  Achieving recognition of the state's contributions to extreme suffering forced upon African Americans is not hopeless thanks to the new wave of activism, including Black Lives Matter.  However, President Obama' election unleased racism across the country.  Undermining the power of the first black president became the goal of those in the political and social systems.  The fact that any new social legislation passed over the past eight years is nothing short of a miracle.  The racism obvious in the current presidential election politics provides a vehicle for individuals to act on their persistent white supremacy beliefs.  We will find out soon if political racism can be defeated in our upcoming elections. 

But as the working group found, racial terrorism has created a crisis in America.  Perhaps this crisis will collide with new wave activism and create a real opportunity for the country to admit the heinousness of the aftermath of slavery.    One day it may be that a series of crisis or one horrendous crisis will result in a serious discussion on how to repair the damage we have done.  

The findings are worth a read in their entirety.  The Group brings to its report the clarity that often comes from outsiders looking in.  The diagnoses of the problems is accurate and the suggested remedies thoughtful. 



September 28, 2016 in Marriage Equality, Race, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Prison Labor Conditions: A Human Rights Issue?

This month, about 24, 000 prison laborers from 29 prisons in 12 states went on strike.  Tired of working for pennies an hour -- or in some states, no pay at all -- under conditions that many compare to slavery, these prisoners nonviolently refused to report to their work assignments.  In some facilities, prison guards staged sympathetic strikes to support the prisoners.  

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery, but explicitly exempted prison labor, effectively permitting prisons to perpetuate slave-like conditions for convicted prison workers.  While much of the labor is for public services, some is for corporations like Walmart, AT&T and Whole Foods that gain a financial benefit from exploiting this cheap labor pool.  

According to one news report, the idea for the strike originated with Melvin Ray, an Alabama prisoner serving a life sentence for murder.  Ray describes this, and a range of related issues concerning prison conditions, as human rights issues.  Says Ray, who is currently in solitary confinement because of his organizing activities, "If you’re compassionate about human rights, support what we’re doing."

To learn more about this issue, check out the report in the Atlantic and detailed coverage by the Marshall Project.

September 28, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Both Clinton and Trump Fail to Respond to Human Rights Questions

As this election season continues to careen toward November 8, the focus on temperament and tweets has supplanted any serious discussion of human rights issues.  The Presidential debate included no mention of Guantanamo, for instance, and the candidates are seldom, if ever, called on to address US ratification of CEDAW or other human rights instruments.  Human Rights Watch circulated a questionnaire to the candidates, with a September 9 deadline.  As of September 26, Jill Stein was the only candidate to submit her answers.  Shouldn't the candidates of the two major parties feel at least a little heat for their failure to respond to HRW?  Kudos to the Green Party for taking human rights seriously as a campaign concern.  For the others -- it's not too late to send in your answers to HRW's questions!

September 27, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Human Rights and Tax

As reported here earlier, on September 22-23, NYU's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice held a conference on Human Rights and Tax in an Unequal World.  The purpose of the conference was to  "discuss the ways in which tax policy can be viewed as a form of human rights policy, and to consider how the international human rights framework might contribute to bringing greater equity and justice to the global tax regime."  As part of that conference, Prof. Daniel Shaviro shared his article in progress titled "Interrogating the Relationship between 'Legally Defensible' Tax Planning and Social Justice". 

The paper incorporates an interesting literary  technique, a discussion between fictional characters on the impact of inequitable tax schemes.  The abstract reads:

This article, prepared for presentation on September 23, 2016 at a conference at NYU Law School, organized by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and entitled "Human Rights and Tax in an Unequal World," mainly takes the form of a dialogue between two fictional individuals. The conclusions that the discussants reach (insofar as they are able to agree) can be summarized as follows:

Large-scale tax avoidance by wealthy individuals and large companies that is legally defensible under relevant national tax laws can nonetheless have major adverse effects on social justice and/or public morale. However, its legal defensibility complicates analyzing its ethical implications, as compared to the more straightforward case of committing tax fraud. Legal defensibility also complicates the analysis of the extent to which human rights advocates should focus on such desiderata as “good corporate tax behavior” and the ethics of tax professionals.

Much of this complexity pertains to (1) issues of ex ante legal uncertainty regarding whether a defensible position would actually be upheld if closely scrutinized, (2) the multifaceted character both of tax professionals’ ethical obligations and of their incentives, and (3) the ambiguity of people’s personal ethical obligations to act altruistically, rather than just self-interestedly. It also is hard to judge the tactical questions associated with focusing on these issues, rather than on the tax rules’ content. Ethical challenges may help to undermine social acceptance of current practices, but also may distract from legal reform efforts.

September 26, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Transformation of Michelle Alexander: A Woman of Spirit

Image1Earlier this year, Michelle Alexander spoke at Union Theological Seminary as a Woman of Spirit.   Now the newly resigned Ohio State law professor and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is surrendering her legal gown for a theological one as she returns to Union Theological as a visiting professor and student.  Prof. Alexander has been drawn to the study of the divine for some time.  In 2013, she spoke at Yale Divinity School addressing mass incarceration but incorporating values of forgiveness and redemption.  At that talk Prof. Alexander referenced the "spirit whispering in my ear".

Finding law insufficient to the task of creating a culture where each and every human being is valued, Prof. Alexander said "Without a moral or spiritual awakening, we will forever remain trapped in political games fueled by fear, greed and the hunger for power." 

"This is not simply a legal problem, or a political problem, or a policy problem.  At its core, America's journey from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration raises profound moral and spiritual questions about who we are, individually and collectively, who we aim to become and what we are able to do now. "

Ms. Alexander joins the call of other spiritual leaders who recognize America's crisis as a spiritual one.     All indications are that we can look forward to Ms. Alexander's transformation to a spiritual scholar to be as profound as her legal  commentary.  She shared her vision of a new world: "I would like to imagine that a wide range of people of faith and conscience who sing songs from different keys may be able to join in a common chorus that shakes the foundations of our unjust political, legal and economic systems, and ushers in a new America." 

To read more, see the Union Theological press release and Paul Caron's report on Tax Prof Blog.


September 25, 2016 in Margaret Drew, Race, social justice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

No Suspicion When African American Man Tries to Avoid Police Encounter, Mass SCJ Rules

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a unanimous ruling granting a motion to suppress and throwing out the conviction of Jimmy Warren, an African-American male.  According to the court, the underlying investigatory stop was not based on reasonable suspicion.  

The court's ruling reviews the facts of the investigatory stop in painstaking detail, showing that the police in question quickly jumped to assumptions about the likely criminal activity of the accused.  But the opinion also rests in part on the unremarkable conclusion that there is nothing unusual or suspicious about a black man running the other way when the police attempt to initiate a consensual field investigation.   The court cites a recent Boston police department study showing that black men are targeted for a disproportionate number of stop and frisks, with many having repeated encounters with the police despite no evidence of criminal activity.  No wonder, the court concluded, black men would try to avoid such engagement by simply getting away from the police.  And when police are initiating a field investigation, there is nothing illegal about simply avoiding their inquiries.  

That the SJC's opinion rests on common sense and an appreciation of the experiences of black men in Boston surely is due in significant part to Justice Geraldine Hines, who joined the court in 2014 and wrote the SJC's opinion in Commonwealth v. Jimmy Warren.  A career civil rights advocate working on human rights in the US and abroad before she took the bench, Justice Hines is the first African American woman to serve on the Massachusetts high court.  The decision in the Warren case was unanimous, but there is no mistaking contributions that Justice Hines' experience and perspective made to the decision.  

September 22, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lecture Series on Human Rights Continues at Columbia Law

Nearly one year ago , Columbia Law School resumed a lecture series that engages members of the federal judiciary in discussion of human rights and humanitarian law.  The series is sponsored by Columbia's Human Rights Institute and NYU Law's Bernstein Institute for Human Rights. 

The series revives a program from the 1980's established by Prof. Alice Henkin  of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. Prof. Henkin's late husband, Louis Henkin, also of Columbia University School of Law, is credited with founding the study of human rights law.  Prof. Sarah Cleveland carries on Henkin's work and was the first speaker in the series.  And earlier this year Prof. Cleveland spoke on Human Rights Connectivity and the Future of the Human Rights System.  To follow upcoming Human Rights events at the Institute, you may check out the Institute's website as well as its Facebook page.

September 21, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Human Right to Transportation

Last year, the UMass Law faculty approved the creation of a Human Rights at Home Clinic.  The clinic will open this coming spring semester.

Over the course of the past 18  months, myself and two colleagues (one from the Nursing School at UMass Dartmouth and one from the law school) have interviewed individuals from our community who are living with HIV.  Our interviews are open ended.  We want to know which of the individuals' needs are not being met.  

While the study has not closed and our results have not been analyzed, anecdotally I  am struck by how often lack of adequate 
transportation has been mentioned as an impediment to good health and independence.  Inadequate transportation impedes Image1those dependent upon public transportation from developing to their potential.  Transportation that does not run frequently or on schedule limits the ability to obtain and retain work.  In addition, adequate health care can be interrupted if appointments cannot be kept due to inability to keep appointments.  

As a social determinant of health, transportation is the link that can result in adequate treatment or lead to deteriorating  conditions if access to treatment is denied due to the individuals inability to access care easily. 

Transportation as a human right has been a concern over the past five years as more and more cities limit the hours that transportation operates as a budget saving measure.  "Transportation equity is a civil and human rights priority. Access to affordable and reliable transportation widens opportunity and is essential to addressing poverty, unemployment, and other equal opportunity goals such as access to good schools and health care services." 

This spring the UMass students will conduct a study of the transportation systems in local communities.  I would like to hear from any others who have been involved in similar studies or who are contemplating conducting studies of their own.  


September 20, 2016 in Margaret Drew, Poor | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Inter-American Commission Update

The financial crisis facing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continues, but a detailed press release issued on September 8, 2016, lays out a path for resuming full operations during the Commission's "second semester."   If countries fulfill their formal pledges of support by September 30, the Commission will be able to reinstate hearings scheduled for late November and December 2016, which are currently suspended.   The press release also notes that the current IACHR budget of less than $5 million per year is simply too small to carry out the Commission's operations.  The Commission urges the OAS General Assembly, meeting in October, to increase the Commission budget going forward in order to avert a recurring crisis.  

September 19, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mainstream Media Might Elect President Trump

I do not recall a presidential campaign where news coverage of the candidates was so lopsided.   Donald Trump would be trailing Hillary Clinton by quite a bit except for the publicity he has been provided at the expense of a campaign that actually focuses on issues.  Thanks to reality tv and exploitative, rather than balanced, journalism, the "soundbite" method of reporting has been an advantage to Mr. Trump.  Bullies are ready producers of soundbites.  More respectful folks are not.  The nation now believes that Mr. Trump has just about an equal chance of being elected president, largely a media creation. The media kept Donald Trump in the spotlight for years with his false "birther" claims.  The media knew these claims were ridiculous but supported the offensive and racist theory by providing coverage any time that Mr. Trump yelled "birther".  If anyone else had made such a claim, it is doubtful the Times  would have printed the story.  But because a rich bully said it, media printed the defamatory allegations over and over, thus providing another distraction from President's Obama's number one task of governing.

The lopsided coverage continues.

Take for example, today's poll as reported by the NYT. The reporting soundbites give more credibility to the Trump campaign than is deserved.  The lead reads "Our poll shows a nearly even split among voters nationally, with Donald Trump seen as riskier but more potentially transformative and Hillary Clinton seen as safer and more temperamentally suited for the job."  The transformation question was designed in a way that gives Mr. Trump a more positive bounce than he otherwise would have.  No information was given to the type of transformation we could expect from a Trump presidency.  Media can not stand behind faux neutrality to defend coverage that pretends Mr. Trump's brand of transformation is anything but dangerous to millions of voters and others living within our borders. 

Misogyny is substituting for the racism of the last two elections. The press would do well to acknowledge the undercurrent of hatred that drives Mr. Trump's campaign.  Recently Mr. Trump suggested that his opponent's government provided protection should stand down so that we could "see what happens to her." Earlier Mr. Trump encouraged supporters to rebel against Mrs. Clinton should she be elected.  Perhaps the headlines should have read that Mr. Trump is planting the seeds of violence and treason, whose growth will be seen post election.  Mr. Trump provided the perfect opening for an article on the dangers portended by his rise.  Reporting on the dangers Mr. Trump creates might have been a better service to readers than providing shocking but dangerous soundbites originating with the  Republican nominee.  For anyone who doubts the role of misogyny in this campaign, watch this disturbing interview with the Trump supporter whose t-shirt reads "Trump that Bitch".  

More credible reporting would characterize Mr. Trumps remarks as what they are:  divisive and dangerous.    Our mainstream media has fallen for the bully's tactics through its coverage.  You cannot stop bullies from speaking the outrageous.  But you can encourage  their escalation through reporting the sensational soundbite slogans while avoiding discussion of the consequences.

September 18, 2016 in Discrimination, Gender Oppression, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Your New Best Friends: Human Rights Research Guides

Now that the school year is underway, are you facing a thorny human rights law research project?  Or if you're a professor, have you assigned a thorny research project to your students?

Skilled librarians at many of the major law schools offer easy-to-use human rights research guides to set you, or your student, on the way to a successful research result.  Here's a rundown of a few of them, which could be included in syllabi or shared with students who are working with this material and need a hand to get started.

Not surprisingly, law schools with the most focus on human rights and international law typically offer the most extensive research guides.  Check out, for example, Columbia Law School, NYU School of Law and Harvard Law School.

For particular research angles, however, other law schools's resources may be more useful.  For example, Georgetown Law School offers a human rights research guide that emphasizes the rights of women, reflecting Georgetown's longstanding women's human rights clinic.   With a general focus on public interest law, Northeastern Law School's guide provides an overview and links to country reports and NGOs working in the UN system. Arizona State School of Law has a research guide focused on human trafficking.

In short, there's no need to rely on the blunt instruments of google searches and Wikipedia sites.  Knowledgeable professionals across the country have already done the legwork to get you started with your human rights research, whether you're engaged in general research or addressing a targeted topic.

September 15, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Human Rights Reads for Summer's End

Yes, we're a little behind in getting this up in mid-September, but Autumn does not officially start until next week!  Here, then, from the excellent British blog and website Rights Info, are some suggestions for human rights reads to close out the last bit of summer.  Use the comment tab to let us know if you have more recommendations to share!

September 14, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Native People Continue to Lead The Country in Preserving the Earth

Native Americans continue to be the consistent and persistent voices against the destruction of the earth and native lands.  The most recent protest results from the government's construction of an oil pipeline intended to run from North Dakota to Illinois.  The pipeline is intended to carry the oil resulting from fracking, a process that results in extensive pollution and contributes to land instability.  Recent reports link recent Oklahoma earthquakes to fracking. 

The most recent pipeline protests, led by the Standing Rock Sioux, attempt to protect some of the sacred lands being disrupted by pipeline construction.  The pipeline route as presently designed would cause the disruption of sacred lands and burial grounds.  In addition, a leak in the pipeline would cause the pollution of the surrounding lands.

One protester, Jeanne Weahkee, said "It's about our rights as native people to this land.  It's about our rights to worship.  It's about our rights to be able to call a place home, and it's our rights to water."

The US has a long history of taking land and other resources from the Native Peoples. And attacking their dignity in other ways, from breaking treaties to forced relocation of tribal members when their lands have commercial value.  Yet it is the Native Peoples who lead the protests to our country's destruction of the earth.  Few others are as committed to protecting the earth because many other Americans do not develop a sacred connection to the land.

President Obama recently said that the reports on consequences of global warming are terrifying.  But relatively few Americans are taking strategic action to prevent further destruction of the earth and her resources.  The Native People recognize our obligations to be stewards of the earth, with financial gain being irrelevant.

 Temporary success came in the recent protests when the Obama administration halted construction in order to revisit the pipeline route. 

September 13, 2016 in Margaret Drew, Native American | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Biodiversity and Human Rights: A Call for Input

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment is seeking input for a thematic report on biodiversity and human rights.  More information and a questionnaire prepared by the Special Rapporteur is available here.  The deadline for questionnaire submissions is September 30, 2016.

Here is the call issued by the Special Rapporteur:

In response to increasing threats to biodiversity and ecosystems in the past decades, the global community has taken a number of important actions. Examples include the Convention on Biological Diversity, which entered into force in 1993 and is now one of the most widely ratified treaties in the world. Conservation of biological diversity was the subject of Chapter 15 of Agenda 21, which was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, and at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, Member States recognized “the severity of global biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems” and emphasized the adverse impact that this situation has on “food security and nutrition, provision of and access to water, health of the rural poor and of people worldwide, including present and future generations.” Goal 15 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is devoted to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.

The loss of biodiversity may interfere with the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, livelihood, water, housing, culture. The rights of indigenous peoples and others particularly reliant on healthy ecosystems are especially subject to threat. Biodiversity and human rights are closely linked and interdependent. The full enjoyment of many human rights depends on healthy ecosystems; at the same time, effective biodiversity policies depend on the exercise of human rights, including rights to information and participation, and require taking into account the rights of those who live in protected areas or who are otherwise directly affected by the policies.
Despite the close linkages, the two areas have often developed in parallel and in isolation from each other. Their relationship is not well-understood or clearly defined. There is a gap in assessing biodiversity/ecosystems policies from a human rights perspective. Furthermore, there is a need to clarify States’ human rights obligations pertaining to policies on biodiversity/ecosystems.

Against this backdrop, the Special Rapporteur seeks to clarify human rights obligations relating to biodiversity by exploring the relationship of the two and by assessing the effects of biodiversity on the enjoyment of human rights. He is interested in examining the legal framework, identifying gaps and analysing how human rights obligations in biodiversity policies and programmes are implemented at various levels (e.g., at the national, local and municipal levels) and by different government bodies (e.g., ministries of environment, development, agriculture, mining, etc.) in practice. He is also interested in clarifying heightened obligations of States in protecting individuals and groups who are in a vulnerable situation.

September 12, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ferguson to Geneva: A St. Louis Gathering Takes Stock of Equality before the Law

On September 28 and 29, Webster University in St. Louis will be holding a special conference titled "Equality Before the Law," taking Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the baseline for understanding equality.  Plenary speakers will address a range of issues, from trans rights to use of technology by grassroots groups.  A highlight on September 28 will be a book signing and talk by Washington University Professor Kim Norwood, author of Ferguson's Fault Lines: The Race Quake that Rocked a Nation.  The conference keynote, titled Ferguson to Geneva: A Human Rights Framework for the Movement, will be delivered on September 29 by St. Louis University Professor Justin Hansford.  Professor Hansford is co-author of the Ferguson to Geneva shadow report submitted to UN Committee Against Torture in 2014.

The conference is free and open to the public.  More information on this event is available here


September 12, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Straight-Ticket Voting - The Latest Voting Rights Challenge

Straight-ticket voting is the latest voting practice to come before the US Supreme Court.  When a voter uses the straight ticket, one check mark  results in a vote for all of the candidates for that party on the ballot .  Many states have eliminated this practice and Michigan sought to do the same, despite the fact that the practice has been in place for over 100 years.   The Michigan legislature voted  to eliminate the practice but a federal district court refused to invalidate it.Image1

The State argued race neutrality as the type of voting applies to all voters.  The opposition claims that 65-76% of African American Michigan voters use straight-ticket voting.  The opposition also said, that unlike other states, Michigan does not offer early voting and absentee voting is permitted only when certain criteria are met.  The opposition concluded that  elimination of straight-ticket voting would result in long lines if eliminated so close to the election.  SCOTUS declined to hear the case.  Michigan had asked for a quick decision so that it could begin printing absentee ballots.  More information regarding this petition may be found at SCOTUS Blog.


September 11, 2016 in Margaret Drew, Voting | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Effective Prevention of Homelessness Despite No Right to Counsel

In the face of overwhelming evidence that having a lawyer when a tenant is facing eviction evens the playing field for tenants, Mayor DeBlasio is not ready to endorse a human right to counsel in these circumstances.

In January, the Mayor announced a program to supply lawyers to those being evicted.  At the time, Mayor DeBlasio said:   "Providing legal assistance through the Office of Civil Justice is not just effective and efficient, it's the right thing to do to ensure equal justice for all New Yorkers."  Several boroughs' community boards have supported the right to counsel in eviction proceedings but the Mayor is not ready to take that leap, despite the overwhelming success of his program to provide counsel.  The tenant representation rate is now 27% compared with 1% in 2013.  The Mayor acknowledged huge savings by city in not having to provide shelter to the homeless families who can avoid eviction through the help of legal counsel.

Hope is in the air, however.  One headline reported that "More New Yorkers Facing Eviction Have Lawyers, But No Right To Counsel Yet."  The "yet" is hopeful.  Whether or not the right to counsel is formally endorsed, NYC is stepping forward to provide counsel in housing court evictions.  Given widespread support for the program, the right to counsel might quietly be endorsed without fanfare.  Time will take care of the formal acknowledgement of the right. 










September 8, 2016 in Civil Right to Counsel, Homelessness, Margaret Drew, Right to Counsel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Human Rights Law at the US Supreme Court: Two New Resources

With the start of the Supreme Court term now on the horizon, and the prospect of at least one new Justice very soon, it's a good time to highlight two new resources on the Supreme Court's approach to human rights and international law.  One, a new book, highlights the divide on the Court in approaching human rights law.  The second, an analysis of the Obergefell case, suggests that the divide is not as dramatic as the justices' rhetoric might imply. 

The new book is by Stephen Simon, published this past summer, and titled The U.S. Supreme Court and the Domestic Force of International Human Rights Law.  Here is the publisher's blurb:

The U.S. Supreme Court and the Domestic Force of International Human Rights Law, By Stephen A. Simon, 9781498534703 | Rowman & Littlefield

"The core idea underlying human rights is that everyone is inherently and equally worthy of respect as a person. The emergence of that idea has been one of the most significant international developments since the Second World War. But it is one thing to embrace something as an aspirational ideal and quite another to recognize it as enforceable law. The continued development of the international human rights regime brings a pressing question to the fore: What role should international human rights have as law within the American legal system?

The U.S. Supreme Court and the Domestic Force of International Human Rights Law examines this question through the prism of the U.S. Supreme Court’s handling of controversies bearing most closely on it. It shows that the specific disputes the Court has addressed can be best understood by recognizing how each interconnects with an overarching debate over the proper role to be accorded international human rights law within American institutions. By approaching the subject from the justices’ standpoint, this book reveals a divide in the Court between two fundamentally different orientations toward the domestic impact of the international human rights regime."
The addition of a new Justice will likely affect the divide that Simon identifies, since Justice Scalia was a particularly outspoken opponent of foreign law citations.  But an essay by Zachary Kaufman in the Yale Journal of International Law Online, observes that the divide may have already been closing in 2015.  Kaufman's essay, "From the Aztecs to the Kalahari Bushmen: Conservative Justices' Citation of Foreign Sources: Consistency, Inconsistency, or Evolution?," reviews the dissenting opinions in Obergefell v, Hodges and notes that every one of them, including Justice Scalia's, incorporates an appeal to foreign law of some stripe.
Kaufman recognizes that this may not reflect a complete change of heart by the Justices who previously rejected the relevance of foreign law (and with it, human rights law).   Perhaps it should be chalked up to inconsistency.  Still, the willingness of every Justice to reach out to foreign law and practice that supports their position does suggest a mellowing of the debate, and that we will not likely see more Scalia-style foreign and international law "take-downs" in the coming terms. 


September 7, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Banning Women's Autonomy

By now the notorious actions of armed French police officers demanding that a Muslim woman remove a shirt she wore as part of her swimwear are well known.  The action was humiliating and not isolated.  The officers also appear to be writing a ticket.  The woman was considered in violation of a local (Nice) regulation banning swimwear designed to accommodate the dress needs of Muslim women.  In the offensive reference of the outfits as "Burkinis", the absurd justification for the swimwear ban is that the dress "overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks."

Other French resorts and towns have implemented similar bans.  A French tribunal recently overturned Nice's ban and presumably other bans will fall.  Like the angry rhetoric of Donald Trump, however, the bans have done their damage by igniting bigots into discriminatory and hateful action.  One woman bather was fined after being subjected to taunts of "Go Back Home" from other bathers as the woman's young daughter cried.

Some defend France's bans on clothing worn by Muslim women as protecting women from religious beliefs that oppress them.  But the tickets issued fine the bathers for not "wearing an outfit that respects good morals and secularism".  To date no nuns in traditional garb have been fined.

Controlling women's swimwear has a history.  In 1957 an Italian woman was fined for wearing an "immodest" bikini. 

The bans and the seeming entitlement to control women's clothing is nothing less than denying women's autonomy.  The US does the same in more subtle ways.  Women's voices are minimized when all women, including a presidential candidate, is subjected to critiques by individuals, journalists and pundits. U.S methods are less direct, but are part of an ongoing global effort to control women by removing their  autonomy over personal choices, even those as fundamental as religious ones.








September 6, 2016 in Gender Oppression, Margaret Drew | Permalink | Comments (0)