Wednesday, February 28, 2018
By Jeremiah Ho
RebLaw 2018 took place at Yale Law School a few weeks ago. For those who might not be familiar with the yearly RebLaw conference, it is one of the largest student-run public interest conferences in the United States. The philosophy behind the conference is influenced by Gerald Lopez’s Rebellious Lawyering. And the conference’s mission is to build awareness amongst law students, practitioners, and activists of social change movements and to challenge hierarchies of race, gender, class, and expertise within legal practice and education.
At the University of Massachusetts School of Law, where I teach, the several students who attended this year’s RebLaw conference had also decided to organize a series of social justice and public interest events in the week gearing up to their conference trip to Yale. They called it “Justice Week” and they held various events ranging from a roundtable discussion featuring public interest lawyers from Massachusetts to a movie showing of “Vincent Who?” followed by a question-and-answer discussion on the issues surrounding Asian Americans and the justice system.
In between these events, I was asked to teach a workshop on how legal pedagogy replicates and sustains hierarchy in law schools and legal culture. At first, I was apprehensive. This was a tall order for a one-hour lunchtime event. But then I saw fervor of my students and saw an opportunity to have an honest conversation about what law schools do sustain intellectual and cultural hierarchy. In the last year especially, I have been concerned about how to connect my teaching of law with a duty that is more moral and meaningful. So I jumped right in and assigned two readings, Duncan Kennedy’s classic Legal Education as Training for Hierarchy and Shari Motro’s recent article in the Yale Journal of Law and Humanities, Scholarship against Desire.
Often the discussion about teaching law students to think critically revolves around the “Thinking like a lawyer” phrase, attributed to Christopher Langdell at Harvard in the 1870s. As Robin West and others have noted, most commonly that idea of thinking critically in law schools is siphoned within the context of learning doctrine. Despite some innovations, we still rely very heavily on Landgell’s formalist pedagogy to teach law—pedagogy that draws from 19th century perspectives of science and objectivity, and from Langdell’s heuristic that “law is complete” or that “law is a science.” Thus, our classroom investigations of the law through a body of cases, our lecture explorations animated by the Socratic method, and our adherence to doctrinal courses over clinical ones in the curriculum create a distorted view for our students about what law itself is and how it is connected to the human experience by being a vehicle for certain ends, such as justice. Our students spend a lot of time trying to learn the rule of law inductively and develop analytical skills that are contextually in service of the doctrinal aspects of law. In the law classroom, often the law takes shape in that 19th century form; if it’s complete and scientific, according to Langdell and his pedagogy, then the law resembles some animal perfected by some Darwinian journey that our students, like scientists, must ferret it out amongst the casebooks they purchase. But beyond that, our pedagogy leaves very little room to help students conceptualize the law. They end up accepting the law’s completeness. Thus, a good deal of American legal education ends up being rigorous but not intellectual, legalistic but not political, and analytical but not creative and personal.
The goal of my workshop was to get law students to see that the version of law and lawyering they have been exposed to has its perceptual limitations. The Duncan Kennedy piece is very good at giving language to observations about law schools—observations that, for better or worse, students often accept and take for granted. If law school is hierarchical, then who gets to be at the top of that hierarchy and what kinds of values and norms are replicated in furtherance of sustaining that hierarchy? If Langdell and his white-Anglo, male, “learned” 19th century objectivity propagated how we teach and have taught law for the last 140 years, then what does it mean for hierarchy when that same pedagogy remains? What does this mean for other voices and experiences in the law and its furtherance of justice?
What we have seen in the uptick in the last year with social and political developments, such as the #MeToo movement, are various responses to hierarchy. Meanwhile, events such as the passing of federal tax reforms that promote financial inequality are examples of embattled approaches of continued dominance by those who are invested in holding onto positions at the top of our society. I think law schools need to respond by broadening and challenging students to conceptualize the law differently than how it has been taught. Otherwise, Kennedy is right, we are training our students to think about the law critically but only in the sandbox and not out in the field. They don’t realize that the law is within them and that they bring the law to life. For instance, what kind of methodical and creative legal thinking would it take to link the debate surrounding gun rights and legislation, which has resided as a Second Amendment issue, with violation of human rights? Do we teach or at least encourage that in law schools?
The solution in regard to pedagogy that would destabilize the hierarchy set in law schools is what I gleamed from Shari Motro’s piece, Scholarship against Desire, where she rages against the hierarchical and assimilative nature of law faculty culture by weaving authenticity into her scholarly work and her law teaching. Whether concrete solutions to change our pedagogy wholesale to reflect a different conception of law, I’m not yet sure because I’m not convinced that there is just one overarching conception of law. Rather, I see pluralism. And thus, I assigned Motro’s work to challenge students—not just those interested in human rights or public interest—to bring their authenticity to the forefront of their studies and work. Pluralism is sustained by authenticity of experience. And law, after all, furthers human experiences.
At a time in which many social issues are rising to the forefront—some ripening very rapidly to be changed—I feel as if law schools are not doing enough to teach future legal thinkers and problem-solvers to explore the possibilities of law, rather than its probabilities. I see this domestically in the U.S. as a challenge to the forward momentum of human rights thinking on issues in which lawyers have input or agency. I also hope myself to be thinking about ways to address this issue as someone in the academy.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Monday's post briefly referenced police violence toward sex workers. But police violence toward women is a chronic and significant problem, particularly toward women of color. Navigating Force and Choice documented police violence toward sex workers, especially toward transgender women. But police sexual violence occurs across a wide spectrum. Andrea Ritchie has documented police sexual violence toward women of color in Invisible No More.
Ms. Ritchie argues that the problem is systemic, but prosecutor and others address only incident based allegations of police sexual violence. A Buffalo study found that a report of police sexual violence happens every five days. That report noted the range of victims to cover adolescents, those participating in ride-alongs, as well as those forced to engage in sexual behavior to avoid arrest. Nearly all victims were women and nearly all perpetrators were men.
Police sexual violence was documented by former police chief Norm Stamper, as well. One chapter in his book details police sexual violence which the author states is present in all police departments. He refers to these officers as rapists in uniform. As with all manner of police violence, and in particular violence against women, local command leadership can create an atmosphere of tolerance. Ms. Ritchie, Mr. Stamper and the Buffalo report all agree that the problem rests in police culture and is systemic, not isolated. In the days of #Me Too, this particularly hideous form of misogyny needs airing.
Monday, February 26, 2018
The Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI), has issued a call for papers for its next research conference on the theme "Renewing Rights in a Time of Transition: 70 Years of the UDHR." The deadline for submitting an abstract is March 5.
AHRI is a network of over 60 member institutions that carries out research and educational activities in the field of human rights. Member institutions are from 33 different countries, including several U.S. members. AHRI's objective is to bring together human rights researchers from across the disciplines, to facilitate the exchange of ideas and collaboration, and to promote research, education and discussion in the field of human rights.
The 2018 AHRI Human Rights Research Conference will be hosted by the Global Justice Academy at the University of Edinburgh Law School in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 7-8 September 2018. More information about the conference and the call for papers is available here.
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.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Ben and Jerry's Foundation is seeking proposals for social justice and economic justice projects. Pre-proposals are due on April 18, 2018. One year grants of up to $25,000.00 will be awarded to organizations that promote social justice, including environmental justice, and whose operating budgets are under $500,000.00 annually. Click here for a list of 2016 grantees
Grant awards focus on grassroot organizations recognizing that:
True change occurs only when underlying systemic forces are understood and addressed Lasting change occurs when Social Justice Movements are built from the ground up and grassroots groups come together across sectors and constituencies to work for the common principles of Human Rights and Justice for All.
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.
Monday, February 19, 2018
Macy's announced its decision to sell hijab. Hijab are just one product in the Verona line, which is intended to offer modest clothing with Muslim women as the primary target consumers. The decision is not without controversy. The usual haters have criticized the company for selling "Muslim" products. But the decision reveals positive indicators of the acceptance of Muslim women as well as recognition that Muslim women are an increasingly significant percentage of Macy's business market. Nike had already announced its intention to release a "Pro Hijab" for women athletes.
Macy's announcement reminds us that there is no political correctness in whether a woman decides to wear hijab. Many women choose to wear hijab representing a deeper connection to faith, Others decry wearing hijab because of symbolism of controlling women through prescribed clothing. In Iran last week, 29 women were arrested for removing their hijab as part of a protest against mandatory wearing of hijab.
While debate and controversy continues, women acknowledge that this is a matter of choice. Women's autonomy is the issue that connects various sides of the hijab debate.
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.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Under-reported in discourse addressing prison conditions and human rights violations is the particularly harsh treatment of women prisoners. The dis-empowerment that comes with gender oppression brings with it even more abusive conditions for pregnant women who have even less control over their lives than other prisoners.
A class action lawsuit filed in Almeda County, California addresses the horrific conditions suffered by incarcerated women the Santa Rita prison. The lawsuit details the horrific conditions, particularly for pregnant women. The lawsuit details pregnant women being denied blankets, healthy nutrition, and fresh air. Pregnant women are denied medical care and encouraged to have abortions.
A press release describing the suit states the "The women seek injunctive relief under the U.S. and state constitutions and demand an end to inhumane and sexually biased treatment at Santa Rita. Plaintiffs charge they are subject to more restrictions and harsher treatment than male prisoners, including being held in holding cells for longer periods of time, being denied equal access to jobs outside the cell, limited on classes and education, and subjected to more frequent strip searches and body cavity searches." One woman delivered her child alone with the baby's umbilical cord around the child's neck. The woman screams were not only ignored, a prison employee shut a door to muffle the sounds. Other inhumane treatment is described in the complaint.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
If (like me) you need some inspiration to keep going in these dark times, take the time to watch or read this interview with legendary organizer Dolores Huerta, conducted by Professor Rachel Rosenbloom of Northeastern University and to be published in the upcoming August 2018 edition of Signs.
About "Number 45," Huerta says, "as an organizer, I see this as a great organizing opportunity. Because when people are challenged, and we’re being challenged right now, I think it really gives people the motivation to get involved. If they haven’t been involved before, then this is the time to do it. Because 'number 45''s attacking so many people, so that gives us a chance to say, 'Okay, we’ve got to stand up not only for ourselves but for these other brothers and sisters and these other movements that are also under attack.'”
She's right, you know.
Monday, February 12, 2018
On January 24, the NAACP and the NAACP Legal & Educational Defense Fund sued the Department of Homeland Security for terminating the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for nearly 60,000 Haitians, claiming the decision is racially discriminatory. The TPS determination should be based on a neutral evaluation of whether the conditions in the country have sufficiently improved to allow the safe return of migrants. Instead, the NAACP argues, the administration’s rationale is pretextual, and reflects the broader context of President Trump’s open hostility to non-white immigrants that began on the day he launched his campaign and have persisted since then. TPS has also been terminated for Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan.
“The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to rescind TPS status for Haitian immigrants was infected by racial discrimination,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. “Every step taken by the Department to reach this decision reveals that far from a rational and fact-based determination, this decision was driven by calculated, determined and intentional discrimination against Haitian immigrants.”
Specifically, the NAACP argues that the discriminatory motive “is supported by the Administration’s departure from the normal decision-making process; the fact that the decision bears more heavily on one race than another; the sequence of events leading to the decision; the contemporaneous statements of decisionmakers; and the historical background of the decision.”
Haitian immigrants were first granted TPS after the catastrophic January, 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and rendered a million homeless, with many more residing in substandard housing. In extending the designation in 2011, then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano observed that the “earthquake has exacerbated Haiti’s position as the least developed country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world.” In October, 2010, Haiti was hit by a cholera epidemic brought by UN peacekeeping troops from Nepal and spread through reckless waste disposal management. The epidemic has killed nearly 12,000 people and sickened more than 900,000, and continues today. After years of stonewalling, the UN finally offered Haiti an apology for last year, but has only raised a tiny fraction of the $400 million the U.N Cholera Relief Fund in Haiti intended to provide cholera remediation, improvements to the water and sanitation system, and relief to victims. Although the previous administration contributed millions to cholera remediation, the Trump administration has refused to contribute anything at all, blaming the epidemic on the UN’s incompetence. And then, in October, 2016, Haiti was hit again by a devastating Category IV hurricane that intensified the country’s political and economic instability.
The Trump administration’s animus towards Haitians was evident as early as April, 2017, when then Secretary John Kelly instructed DHS to begin seeking evidence that Haitian TPS recipients were either criminals or receiving public assistance. “The administration’s efforts to gather this data on Haitian TPS recipients trades on false anti-Black stereotypes about criminality and exploitation of public benefits, and suggests the effort to manufacture a public safety rationale,” the complaint argues. Further evidence of discriminatory intent includes Trump’s June, 2017 comment that all Haitians have AIDS, and is reinforced in his January, 2018 comment that he did not want migrants from “shithole” countries, asking “Why do we need more Haitians?,” followed by an order to take them out of a draft immigration plan. Senator Richard Durbin, who was shaken by the tenor of the meeting, characterized Trump’s focus on Haitians as “an obvious racial decision.” But as Brian Concannon, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy and Haiti said, “President Trump’s remarks about Haiti are false. They are an affront to the dignity of the Haitian people and the American people.” There has also been a dramatic spike in the number of Haitians deported last year.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the Miami Herald that immigration policies do not typically belong in the courts, but that “we have to acknowledge that the immigration policies of this administration seem more and more clearly rooted in racism and racial animus.” His organization is involved in several lawsuits against the administration, including Trump’s travel ban. “When Trump says we need a Muslim ban to protect the country from terrorists, when he says we need a wall to protect the safety of our communities, what he’s saying is ugly racism; Muslims are terrorists, Mexicans are criminals,” Simon continued. “The more he talks, the more the doors of the courtrooms of this country should be open to challenging immigration policies that clearly seem to be based on race and ethnicity.”
Sunday, February 11, 2018
The Public Welfare Foundation will hold a day-long forum: A Conversation on Race, Redemption and Restoration. The forum will be held on March 9, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
The invitation states "We will dive into candid conversations about: advancing racial justice, particularly within the youth and criminal justice field, the steep barriers to opportunities facing individuals who transition back to communities from the justice system; and necessary strategies to restore communities experiencing crime, violence, and lingering impacts of the criminal justice system. "
While the conference is by invitation only, it may possible to secure admission by contacting the Foundation directly to explore availability.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
by Margaret Drew
Previously, I wrote about the human right to transportation. In modern culture, access to basic human rights, such as work, housing, medical care, and education, can hinge on the ability to travel. During the spring 2017 semester, students in UMass Law's Human Rights at Home Clinic conducted a transportation study of the South Coast Massachusetts area. Prior area transportation studies had been conducted, but none from a human rights perspective.
Students rode bus routes operated by the Southeast Regional Transportation Authority (SRTA), interviewing riders during the process. As part of their due diligence, students met with Eric Rousseau, SRTA administrator, who twice during the semester engaged students during our weekly seminar. The first visit came at the beginning of the study and the second when the students presented their findings. The collaboration that developed created an opportunity for both sides to discuss their different approaches. One obvious difference revolved around economics. While Administrator Rousseau must justify expenditures to regional stakeholders, the students argued for change based upon the needs of riders, without regard for cost or the number of riders affected. Once the student's report was released, the partners easily found common ground on changes to be made. Some changes will be accomplished in the near future, while others may take longer, while others involve third party cooperation, such as municipalities.
Simple changes, such as enforcement of no-parking zones, and cutting tree limbs that block bus stop signs are more easily accomplished and are under local control, rather than SRTA's. The same is true of sign postings, as well as ensuring that bus drivers routinely lower buses to ease access for elderly and disabled. One change that will be likely accomplished by year's end is creating a bus stop for those visiting our local house of corrections, as well as increased signage along specific routes.
We anticipate a long term collaboration with SRTA and look forward to additional improvements. Anyone wishing to read the report's executive summary or would like assistance in designing a transportation study are welcome contact Margaret Drew at email@example.com
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Harvard University will host a program on Migration and the Humanities. The opening reception will take place this evening with a performance by the Silkroad Ensemble and introductory remarks by Drew Gilpin Faust.Friday's conference will address issues on Identifty and Dignity, and Survival and Security.
The conference is free and open to the public.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Under the current administration, sanctuary cities have too often become a target for federal immigration enforcement rather than places of safety for families and individuals who should be a low priority for law enforcement resources.
An interdisciplinary team at Northeastern University is currently investigating whether the sanctuary designation helps members of immigrant communities feel safe, building community resilience. Participating scholars are conducting research in several formally designated safe communities, asking “In what ways do sanctuary cities impact perceptions and experiences of safety and inclusion not only for residents who might avail themselves of sanctuary, but for other residents as well, particularly members of marginalized social groups?”
As one aspect of the project, Professors Serena Parekh (Philosophy) and Martha Davis (Law) recently released a White Paper on the philosophical justifications that support sanctuary designations. In sum, the authors argue that a legitimate government must ensure that all residents (not citizens alone) can access basic rights like food, water, elementary education, and the mechanisms of justice like the courts. This argument dovetails with the provisions of human rights law, which explicitly extend basic protections to all residents of a state, regardless of their contingent legal status within the state. Building on the philosophical analysis, the authors offer suggestions about the scope of effective sanctuary provisions that would meet human rights and philosophical standards.
We have to ask: Will Philosophy defeat the pernicious policies of the current DOJ?
Not likely, at least in the short term. But at the same time, there are good reasons to expose the illegitimacy of the current administration's immigration policies at every opportunity, and the White Paper is intended to contribute to this effort.
Monday, February 5, 2018
We might be forgiven for thinking that the Department of Justice would prioritize expanding access to justice. Instead, the New York Times reports, the DOJ's Access to Justice initiative, started in 2010, has been essentially shuttered, with no staff and no support from the Department. The New York Times' calls to the DOJ for an explanation were unanswered.
The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, one of the A2J office's accomplishments, also appears to have gone dark. The material on the Roundtable's website is archived. Its last publication -- pushed out in January 2017 -- is an exploration of A2J indicators relevant to U.S. efforts to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 on access to justice.
Will this move by DOJ eventually trigger scrutiny by the international community? Will it give countries where access to justice is a fiction more cover for their human right violations? The existence of the Access to Justice office was not a secret -- the US had touted it, and NGOs had praised it (while calling for more funding) in several reports to human rights bodies.
NGOs like the National Center for Access to Justice will carry on this work, to the extent that they can, and local governments have taken great strides in recent years to expand access to counsel. But the absence of a partner in DOJ, and the apparent lack of DOJ commitment to the issue, is likely to hinder progress both domestically and internationally -- sad news when access to justice should be an issue that garners bipartisan and universal support in the U.S.
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Increasingly, courts and legislatures recognize the importance of the rights to counsel in immigration cases. New York expanded to universal representation in immigration court due to its of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project.
Vermont has a bill pending that would require appointment of counsel in any matter arising out of or relating to immigration status.
Meanwhile, in the manner of two steps forward and one back, the 9th Circuit, held that children in removal proceedings have no right to counsel. The case involved accompanied children, but the opinion denies that the child in question had a sufficient liberty interest in having counsel because of his short time in the United States. The court noted that the Immigration Court judges' more proactive involvement in the proceedings the child is protected. Apparently the Court failed to remember the Immigration Court judge who thought that a three year old was qualified to represent herself.
More on the juvenile immigration case may be found here.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
With an original introduction by the Professor Stark, this topical volume is an invaluable resource for scholars, students, and activists."