Backlash Against Proposition 47: Why the Criticism of California’s Criminal Justice Reform is Misguided

by Michael Waxman

In 2014, criminal justice reform advocates proclaimed the ballot initiative Proposition 47 a historic step toward transforming California’s beleaguered criminal justice system.[1] But in the years since, media outlets and law enforcement groups are lashing back at the law for increasing crime rates. However, this criticism is largely unfounded because there is little evidence that Prop. 47 has had a causal impact on crime. Moreover, critics have overlooked the law’s potential benefits from investing millions of dollars in treatment and services for low-income communities. Ultimately, Prop. 47’s success or failure in rehabilitating California’s justice system and revitalizing low-income communities will likely have major political and policy implications for criminal justice and poverty reform efforts at the local, state, and national level.

Continue reading

In Memoriam: E. Clinton Bamberger Jr. (1926-2017)

by Brendan Kearney

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 7.09.59 PM.png

From left to right: Clinton Bamberger, Author’s sister, Author’s mother. Photo provided by Author.

Growing up in Baltimore, I attended Corpus Christi, a liberal outpost of the Catholic Church led during my childhood by a nun and then by a former Federal Communications Commission lawyer turned priest. After Mass, my mom would chat with other parishioners, and one of her favorites was a kindly older gentleman named Clinton Bamberger L’51. I liked him, too: he had an easy manner, spoke slowly and deeply, and one day, taught me a “secret” handshake, my memory of which he tested each time we crossed paths. I’m not sure where it came from, but the sequential combination of handholds and gestures made me feel like I had a special bond with an important man.

Over the years, my mom told me about things Mr. Bamberger had done, like help run the Legal Services Corporation and travel the world teaching law. I remember Mr. Bamberger himself telling me about his time at Piper & Marbury, when it was only a dozen or so lawyers, a far cry from the international behemoth DLA Piper is today. I came to understand that Mr. Bamberger had lived a full and admirable life. But I didn’t grasp the full measure of it until he died last month.

Continue reading

An Unlikely Alliance: Jeff Sessions, the Working Poor, and the Civil Rights Division

by Cecilia Aguilera

Jeff Sessions Official Photo available at http://www.sessions.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/official-photo

Jeff Sessions Official Photo, available here

Much has been made about the future of the Civil Rights Division following the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General, as advocates continue to raise concerns about his civil rights record.[1]  Still, others have presented a complicated portrait of the nominee.  According to one witness at Sessions’ confirmation hearing, “[n]o one has been more committed or engaged than Senator Sessions in protecting and promoting the interests of black workers in America,” who have been especially susceptible to “los[ing] jobs or hav[ing] their wages reduced.”[2]  Further, Sessions “positions himself as a champion of the working class and expounds . . . a belief that the world is divided between working people and elitist ‘masters of the universe[.]’ . . . ”[3]  As Attorney General, Sessions will find in the Civil Rights Division a formidable tool for protecting the interests of the working poor, and should use the Division to target practices that commercialize the criminal justice system.  Of particular concern should be modern-day peonage practices taking root in some jurisdictions.

Continue reading

How a Billionaire President Could Impact the Working Class

by Desiree Tims

donald-trump-offical-photo

President Donald Trump Official Photo, available here

On November 8, 2016, the United States elected its forty-fifth President of the United States.[1] The historic presidential election of Republican Nominee, Donald J. Trump, who is a real-estate billionaire, sparked a national debate between those who support and oppose him due to his divisive campaign rhetoric and political inexperience.[2]

Polling data revealed that Trump received an overwhelming amount of support from working-class white voters.[3] Trump’s thematic “Make America Great Again” slogan was followed by his campaign promises to reinforce law and order, restrict immigration and reduce taxes.[4] Trump has many working-class supporters—some who yearn for the return of high-paying hourly factory jobs—as well as high-income supporters who deeply desire a change to the federal tax code.[5] Furthermore, Trump’s self-declaration as the “law and order candidate” has fueled the debate on criminal justice reform, racial disparities, and equitable application of law.[6]

President-elect Trump’s impact on working-class Americans remains to be seen, but here are three issues that could come to bear during his time in office:

Continue reading

What Go Set a Watchman Can Teach Us

by Claire Chevrier

Trayvon Martin was killed by a man with multiple gun-related arrests who now makes his living painting Confederate flags.[1]  Mike Brown was shot by a police officer for allegedly stealing a box of cigarillos.[2]  Eric Garner was killed in front of all of us for selling loose cigarettes.[3]  Sandra Bland died in jail after a routine traffic stop.[4] Corey Jones was killed by a plain-clothed, rookie police officer who shot him while he was pulled over with car trouble.[5]  And Barack Obama is our president, perhaps creating a false collective “one Black friend,” thereby allowing implicit biases to bubble up where they were previously suppressed.

Continue reading

Fighting Modern Day Debtors’ Prisons in the American Justice System

by Johanna Schmidt

Long lasting principles in the American criminal justice system require that it be sensitive to the needs and treatment of people who are indigent.[1]  This sensitivity encompasses all aspects of trials, including access to counsel on direct appeal,[2] transcripts, and court records.[3]

Most importantly, the Supreme Court has continually affirmed that people who are indigent must be fined differently from their wealthy peers. In Tate v. Short, the Court held that “the Constitution prohibits the State from imposing a fine as a sentence and then automatically converting it into a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full.”[4]  Continue reading