Sessions’ Impact Strongly Felt at DOJ

SESSIONS MAKES SUBSTANTIAL CHANGES TO DOJ: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has implemented drastic policy changes in the Department of Justice that overhaul the policies and priorities set by the Obama administration, reported The Hill.​ Sessions has “rolled back protections for transgender students that allowed children to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and rescinded plans to phase out the federal government’s use of private prisons,” called for “a review of reform agreements, known as consent decrees, reached with local police departments to address allegations of misconduct,” and “put ‘sanctuary cities’ on notice, announcing that grant money would be withheld from state and local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities and turn over undocumented immigrants arrested for crimes.”

Sessions appears to be moving back to the “tough-on-crime” policies of the Bush administration, said Alex Whiting, faculty co-director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School. “Obama moved away from that approach, and I think in the criminal justice world there seemed to be a consensus between the right and left that those policies, those rigid policies of the war on drugs and trying to get the highest sentence all the time, had failed,” said Whiting. “I don’t know if he is really going to be able to persuade the department to follow his lead on this.”

Republicans Concoct Plan to Weaken CFPB

REPUBLICANS PLAN TO WEAKEN THE CFPB: House Republicans are working on a plan that could weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, reported The Washington Post. “House Republicans would de-fang the consumer protection agency and make it more susceptible to political shifts by granting more control and oversight to the White House and Congress. One key change would convert the CFPB into an executive agency with a director who can be removed by the president at will. Currently, the director of the independent agency can only be fired for cause.”

Grimm Will Press Case Before Supreme Court

Transgender teen Gavin Grimm will press his case before the Supreme Court, despite the Trump administration’s revocation of protections of transgender students in public schools, reported The Washington Post.
“The Supreme Court late Thursday afternoon asked attorneys for both sides to submit letters by next Wednesday addressing where the case should go from here,” wrote The Post. “The decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that favored Grimm was based primarily on the Obama administration’s guidance that was rescinded.”
Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, criticized Jeff Sessions for his involvement in the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the protections, stating that he “is wasting no time in confirming that he will be a force for intolerance at the Justice Department. Today Sessions’ DOJ is sending a message of hostility to hundreds of thousands of transgender students across the country.”

Opinion: American People Will Reject Gorsuch Nomination

NAN ARON: TRUMP MUST PICK AN ALTERNATIVE NOMINEENan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, predicted that “the American people and Senate will reject the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch” in an opinion piece at The Nation. “We are confident Americans will conclude that to avert a disaster, Donald Trump will have to find an alternative nominee who is unflinchingly independent; who recognizes the progress made in our nation over the past 100 years; and who when seated on the Court will take the American people not forward, not backward,” stated Aron.

In response to the criticism leveled at Gorsuch, Trump has repeated his calls for the Senate to “go nuclear” to get Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. “If we end up with that gridlock I would say if you can, Mitch, go nuclear,” Trump said, according to The New York Times. “That would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web.” McConnell has thus far denounced Trump’s urgings to use the nuclear option, stating that it will be a decision made by the Senate – not the president.

INCREASING PENALTIES FOR PROTESTERS: Lawmakers in Republican-controlled statehouses are introducing legislation that will restrict the rights of protesters. In North Dakota, “a lawmaker has introduced a bill that would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as the driver did not do it intentionally. Bills that would increase penalties on unauthorized protests have also been introduced in Michigan and Washington. Last week in Minnesota, a House committee approved legislation that would increase penalties and charge demonstrators the cost of policing protests,” reported NPR.

Sotomayor Sees ‘Injustice’ From Inadequate Legal Representation

Official Portrait of Justice Sonia SotomayorSOTOMAYOR ON LEGAL REPRESENTATION: Addressing law students in Wisconsin, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced concern that in some areas of the justice system, there is a greater need to ensure adequate legal representation for people using the courts.

“For me, the lack of legal representation in some critical areas is one of the things we don’t do well,” she said, according to The (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel. “We have an unequal representation of people in our court system. And that does I think provide an injustice that we have to pay more attention to.”

More specifics were reported by The (Madison) Capital Times: “Making the system fair also may demand publicly paid legal representation — already provided for criminal charges — be extended to civil matters such as those adjudicated in family court, and for criminal appellate issues, Sotomayor said.”

ELECTION DAY AND SUPREME COURT: “This November, we all need to be Supreme Court voters,” wrote Michele L. Jawando, vice president for Legal Progress Action at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, in The (Idaho Falls) Post Register. While Americans casting their votes on Election Day will confront many issues, “What happens with those issues often depends on who is sitting on the Supreme Court,” she said.

Given the current composition of the court and a vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, “The next president could dramatically change the nature of the U.S. Supreme Court for generations to come,” Jawando wrote.

‘STRAIGHT-TICKET VOTING’: The Supreme Court “refused to revive a Michigan law that barred straight-ticket voting,” a system “in which voters may choose a party’s entire slate with a single notation,” The New York Times reported.

KANSAS COURT ELECTION: An editorial in The New York Times turned a national spotlight on “extremist meddling” by Kansas Republicans seeking “to purge a majority of judges from the State Supreme Court” this fall. “Right-wing politicians who adhere to the fantasy that government is the problem, not the solution, are eager to politicize the courts,” the editorial said. The hot-button issues in the judicial retention (up-or-down) election were recapped in an Associated Press article.

Access to Justice Issues Raised by Tennessee Refugee’s Case

The Tennessean reports that Sawn Hing, a Burmese refugee who spent two years tangled in the criminal justice system after facing child abuse accusations, has had her case reopened. According to the article, the case raises questions about the Nashville court system’s ability to deal with its growing immigrant and refugee populations.

Saw Hing’s case was reopened after it emerged that Hing’s pastor, who was used in court proceedings to interpret and translate Hing’s rare language of Matu-Chin, didn’t actually speak the language or understand the legal terms in English.

With over 120 languages spoken in Nashville metro schools alone, immigrant advocates argue that the case highlights how cultural and linguistic differences are becoming an increasing barrier to accessing justice among immigrant and minority populations. (more…)

How One Family Court Judge Approaches Access to Justice

In communities that are magnets for immigrants, ensuring access to justice for people without much knowledge of English can be a challenge. A NPR Buffalo report from New York state illustrates how one judge is trying to meet the challenge.

In one Buffalo area, NPR says, “There are so many languages that Family Court Judge Lisa Bloch Rodwin has a a phone translation system for some tongues that no certified interpreter speaks locally. That’s why she is now on a statewide Advisory Council on Immigration Issues in Family Court, seeking to make the system work better.”

The report is headlined, “Courts adapting to challenges posed by growing immigrant populations.”

Judicial Term Limits Proposal Draws More Fire

Pundits are continuing to fault a proposed constitutional amendment for judicial term limits in Florida (see Gavel Grab). At the Vero Beach Press Journal, attorney Mark Miller says the proposal does not promote highly qualified senior judges, has not been well thought out and does not make sense.

It is not at all clear why sponsors of the proposal believe it is needed, writes Miller, vice president of the Martin County Bar Association, given that Florida voters have an opportunity every six years to remove a judge from the intermediate appellate or state Supreme Court bench.

“Those who have proposed to amend the Florida Constitution do not appear to have given this change the kind of thought and consideration that the people of Florida deserve,” he concludes. (more…)

Texas Commission to Address ‘Justice Gap’

A recent article bytexas court the Texas Tribune reports that a large number of mostly middle class Texans fall into a “justice gap” where they aren’t poor enough to receive free legal aid provided to indigents but can’t afford basic legal services on their own.

The article reports that the state’s highest civil court launched a new commission to identify and assist Texans who have fallen into the “justice gap.” “The 18-member Texas Commission to Expand Civil Legal Services, led by former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, will spend the next year gathering data and coming up with recommendations to be presented in November 2016.”

In interview with the Tribune, Jefferson said, “one of the most famous phrases in American law is liberty and justice for all — it is part of our culture, it is part of our custom, it is part of the fabric of our democracy…one of the biggest challenges today is to make that phrase a promise and to make that promise a reality.”

“Today, even most lawyers cannot afford to retain another lawyer to represent them in civil legal disputes,” Jefferson said. “This is a crisis for the legal profession and for our state.”

Gov. Cuomo to Pick New Chief Judge for New York’s Top Court

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will face a far-reaching decision when he chooses the next chief judge of the state’s highest court, from  seven candidates recommended by a vetting commission, a New York Times editorial says.

In discussing the appointment, the editorial lauds retiring Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the state Court of Appeals for his accomplishments.

“[H]is most lasting legacy could be his effort to provide lawyers for the thousands of low-income New Yorkers who face serious civil proceedings — from eviction and foreclosure to the loss of child custody — with no legal support at all,” the editorial says. It also mentions his efforts to make the court system more fair and transparent, to reform the state’s bail system and to cut wrongful convictions.