Let’s start with gerrymandering—that is, when a political party shapes the boundaries of an electorate so it favors them—which the Supremes already ruled could not be done on the basis of race. The question before them was whether political gerrymandering, that is, gaming political maps so they disproportionately benefited their parties—was just as unconstitutional.
In a decision splitting the court between its five-judge conservative majority and its liberal wing, SCOTUS ruled that political gerrymandering was permissible, and that federal courts had no business interfering in the will of state legislatures on this matter.
On its face, the decision might seem like one of those “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” situations. After all, this ruling would apply equally to states run by Democrats as it would states where the GOP holds all the power.
But therein lies the rub: Republicans have control over FAR MORE states than Democrats do. CNN, citing the National Conference of State Legislatures, reports that Republicans control more than 30 of 49 partisan legislatures in the country (Nebraska, apparently, does some other shit). Of that 30, 22 also have a Republican governor.
So yeah, hope everyone in Alabama, Ohio, Florida, and Georgia enjoys having a Republican-controlled government forever-ever.
The NAACP had some thoughts about this decision, which they shared in a press release:
“Exercise of the franchise, which many fought and even died for, must not be reduced to a political charade in which the outcomes are predetermined,” wrote NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “In America, voters should choose their representatives instead of representatives choosing their voters.”
He added, “This is a dereliction of duty in protecting our democracy.”
This article originally appeared in the San Antonio Observer.
By William J. Ford
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy announced a plan Wednesday that seeks to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline, but with some help.
Braveboy, who was elected to office last year, said she will depend on resources from the public school system, sheriff’s office and nonprofit organizations to support a youth justice reform plan.
“I feel really strong about this because we cannot institutionalize our young people,” she said at the county administration building in Upper Marlboro. “Once they get in a system, mentally they think of themselves as part of the system. What we want young people to know is the community cares about them.”
Although community interventions and diversion programs aren’t new, Braveboy described the initiative led by the state’s attorney’s office to help at-risk youth as a “family approach.”
Instead of some youths being processed and tried in juvenile court for certain offenses, the person’s records will be reviewed to determine if mental health, social or other services are warranted.
For instance, Key Bridge Foundation in Largo will provide mediation sessions to handle certain conflicts.
The county will host its first Juvenile Justice Summit at Bowie State University in November for youth and adults to identify causes of behavior. In addition, possibly provide recommendations on state legislation toward criminal justice reform.
Community Public Awareness Council (C-PAC) of Kettering will mentor youth.
The group helped Imani Williams, 16, to change from a troubled, verbally abusive teenager to an honor-roll student at Friendly High School. When this upcoming school year starts Sept. 3, the senior will serve on the school’s peer mentoring group to assist incoming freshmen.
“I’ll tell them do the right and don’t do the things I did,” she said standing beside her mother and grandmother. “Ninth-grade year is not the year to play around. Stay out of trouble. Keep your grades up. Study and do your homework. Stay away from the bad crowd.”
Juveniles assessed and charged with serious offenses such as gun possession and assault would still be processed.
Prince George’s schools CEO Monica Goldson said the focus will not only push for a decrease in the suspension rate, but also call on school resource and police officers to become mentors.
“Relationships help to breed trust and accountability,” she said. “It allows us to have our students come to them for assistance and support. The only way we can do that is to make sure we train and retrain our police officers, our investigative counselors and security assistants to make sure they become those kinds of mentors our children need.”
This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.
By Sentinel News Service
Sacramento, CA – As the Trump Administration actively works to intimidate millions from participating in the 2020 census, the California Senate Public Safety Committee today passed AB 1563: The Freedom to Count Act.
The bill, authored by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), aims to ensure that all Californians have access to accurate information about the census, and have the opportunity to participate in the census without fear of fraud, intimidation, or harm.
“We cannot afford to lose the valuable resources and representation that come with a census count that includes every possible Californian,” said Assemblymember Santiago. “In order for our democracy to work, everyone must be counted. In order for everyone to be counted, our communities need to be free from fear of intimidation.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez added, “It is critical that every Californian fills out the census, but our president is determined to undercount our immigrant residents at any cost. This measure will help us restore public confidence in the census process by making it illegal to impersonate a census worker and preventing false information about the census from circulating.”
Efrain Escobedo, Vice President in charge of education and immigration programs at the California Community Foundation added, “AB 1563 recognizes that participating in the census is a fundamental and constitutional right that should be afforded to every person and every community; free of any form of attack or intimidation. California should continue to lead in ensuring a complete count of all.”
If enacted, AB 1563 would make it a misdemeanor crime to dissuade someone from participating in the census count in any of the following ways:
- Falsely representing oneself as a census taker
- Falsely assuming the role of a census taker
- Distributing false or misleading information about the census through mail, television, radio, telephone call, text message, email, social media or any other electronic means, including over the internet.
- Knowingly interfering with the right of another person to participate in the census count.
The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel.
By Ameera Steward
At the time, Neena Speer felt that going through law school was the worst hand she could have been dealt.
“I almost flunked out,” she said. “I went from honors student … to barely getting a 3.0 [grade point average]. … It just messed with my psyche. … Then I got out of law school, failed the bar, … [and] couldn’t find a job.
“All these experiences can happen, so I said, ‘Why not write and tell [people] about all these feelings they’re going to feel, all this stuff they’re going to go through? [Why not] tell somebody exactly how they may feel in that scenario and how to use it?’”
Those experiences led Speer to write “Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student,” a book that walks the reader through Speer’s experiences during each year of law school. She attended the University of Alabama School of Law from 2014 until 2017—and almost didn’t make it through her first year.
“I just had to have some way to cope with the fact that I thought, ‘If God was sending me here, why the heck would He have me almost fail out of law school?’” she said.
One of the problems Speer faced was that she had received advice from people who had experienced law school differently than she had, and they were telling her she wasn’t doing enough.
“I was in every office of every teacher every week, asking [questions], doing my outline, skipping football games, going out maybe every once in a while, and I didn’t do enough? It put me in a place or a mindset I didn’t know how to recover from,” she said.
To deal with it all, Speer decided to write a funny way of looking at what she was going through.
“I met so many different characters and went through so many different emotions. Had [someone] told me I was going to feel like this, I would have felt a little better knowing … beforehand that this [was] all the stuff I [would] go through,” she said. “So, I just literally wrote down [everything from] my first year of law school.”
It became therapeutic, and she sent it to a mentor.
“It was just a ‘Dear Future 1L, [first year of law school], Note to Myself.’ That’s how [the process of writing the book] started,” said Speer, 26.
The reception was so strong that she decided to write another chapter for her second (2L) and third (3L) years.
“By the time I finished law school and flunked the bar, I wrote a graduate chapter,” Speer said. “Then I wrote a bar-exam-prep diary at the end.”
Speer’s mindset was that somebody is going to deal with what she dealt with and ask what law school was like for her. So, instead of telling people, she decided to give them something to read and to go by.
“I give you real-life scenarios, real things you’re going to encounter,” she said. “I wanted this book to be a reality check for people like me—people who had never been to law school, people who never had anyone in their immediate family go to law school, … [people who] don’t know what to expect.”
“Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student” is an “expectations book” that prepares law school students “for some of the people they’ll meet; the different mindsets, emotional mindsets they’ll go through, especially in the first year,” said Speer, who added that she doesn’t sugarcoat her experiences and she wants people to have “the real.”
The end of each chapter asks readers to “gut check themselves.”
“Don’t just read this. Talk to me. Have a conversation with me.” Speer said. “The book is written as a conversation about expectations, so it’s meant for you to have a conversation. I want people to write in those pages. … This book gives you the information you need from me and gives me information I need from you to make you better.
“It’s a book in which you can actually express [yourself] and hear from somebody without being interrupted. … It’s like a safe space for you to actually be uninterrupted with whatever happened in your life, your law school experiences, or your … truth without having somebody say, ‘Oh, wait, let me tell you about mine.’ This is a place where you can put down your innermost thoughts, just like I put down my innermost thoughts.”
Speer’s book is written for female minority law students “sitting in a classroom, feeling, ‘I don’t know how to do any of this. Sometimes I feel like the people here think less of me. Sometimes I feel like the people in here don’t understand how much I can add to the conversation. Most times I don’t even feel like I deserve to sit in this seat.’ … It’s for that woman. It’s also for the same girl that got up there and finished anyway.”
Speer graduated from Homewood High School in 2010 and attended Howard University, where she double majored in psychology and French; she focused on the two subjects she was interested in during high school.
“I became fluent in French,” she said, “and psychology was just good to understand people’s minds.”
After graduating from Howard, she attended the UA School of Law.
Start Your Own Business
Before starting her own firm, Speer said she could not find a job. During her search, she recalled something a mentor said to her: “I don’t really see you working for anybody. I see you starting your own business.”
That’s exactly what Speer did. She opened Neena R. Speer Law Firm LLC in April 2018.
“By the time I got to January of this year, I was like, ‘I can do this!’ I felt so good that I could do it. … I just felt more confident,” said Speer, who also is a motivational speaker and a mentor through her mentoring program called Step 1-2-3.
“Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student” is available at Amazon.com (search for the book title) and Speer’s website, https://www.neenathelastbrand.com, where you can also find out more about her.
For more author stories, click one of the links below.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.
WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, issued the following statement on a data breach which exposed account information of over 100 million Capital One customers.
“This data breach shows that it’s not just big technology companies and credit reporting agencies like Equifax that are vulnerable to hacking and data breaches – big banks are vulnerable targets as well. As this is not the first incident in which Capital One’s customer data was exposed, we need to understand what bank regulators have been doing to ensure that this bank, and other banks, have strong cybersecurity policies and practices. We must also understand what bank regulators are doing to ensure strong oversight of third-party technology providers that banks work with.
“As we learn more about this incident, I plan to work with my colleagues and take action in the Financial Services Committee on legislation to improve oversight of the cybersecurity of financial institutions.
“This massive data breach also underscores how important it is that the consumer credit reporting bills that the Financial Services Committee recently passed become law so that any consumer affected by a data breach is not further harmed. Among other things, the bills the Committee passed ensure that consumers can get a free copy of their credit score, provide better tools for victims of fraud, and make it easier for consumers to get errors on their reports corrected.”
H.R. 3642, the “Improving Credit Reporting for All Consumers Act,” introduced by Representative Alma Adams (D-NC)
Rep. Adams’ bill addresses burdens consumers experience when removing errors from their consumer reports, including by providing a new right to appeal the results of initial reviews about the accuracy or completeness of disputed items on the report. The bill empowers consumers by clarifying injunctive relief is available to ensure reporting errors are actually fixed when a consumer is harmed.
H.R. 3618, the “Free Credit Scores for Consumers Act of 2019,” introduced by Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH)
Rep. Beatty’s bill directs the nationwide CRAs to give consumers free copies of their credit scores that are used by creditors in making credit decisions, as determined by the Consumer Bureau, or if not practicable, educational credit scores whenever consumers obtain their free annual consumer reports. A consumer can get their free credit score once a year, and they can get a free credit score if they have reason to believe that their file contains inaccurate information due to fraud.
H.R. 3622, the “Restoring Unfairly Impaired Credit and Protecting Consumers Act,” introduced by Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)
Rep. Tlaib’s bill would, among other things, establish the right to free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services if a consumer is a victim of identity theft, fraud, or a related crime, or harmed by the unauthorized disclosure of the consumer’s financial or personally identifiable information.
H.R. 3614, the “Restricting Use of Credit Checks for Employment Decisions Act,” introduced by Representative Al Lawson (D-FL)
Rep. Lawson’s bill would generally prohibit employers from using credit reports for employment decisions, except when a credit report is required by local, state, or Federal law or for a national security clearance.
H.R. 3621, the “Student Borrower Credit Improvement Act,” introduced by Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)
Rep. Pressley’s bill would remove adverse credit file information relating to defaulted or delinquent private education loans for borrowers who demonstrate a history of timely loan repayments for these loans. The bill would require repayment plans be affordable and reasonable, and permits reasonable interruptions in the consecutive repayment periods for those facing unique and extenuating life events, such as service members who are receiving imminent danger or other special pay duty when deployed.
H.R. 3629, the “Clarity in Credit Score Formation Act of 2019,” introduced by Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA)
Rep. Lynch’s bill would clarify oversight of the development of credit scoring models by directing the Consumer Bureau to set standards for validating the accuracy and predictive value of credit scoring models. The bill would also require the Consumer Bureau to study the impact of having more non-traditional data on consumer reports and the use of alternative data in credit scoring models.
By The Pasadena Journal
Governor Newsom signed Assemblymember Chris Holden’s legislation, Assembly Bill 669, that authorizes the Attorney General to accept Assurances of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) when settling with companies that have violated consumer protection laws.
“This bill increases accountability by ensuring that AVCs entered into by the Attorney General have the same force and effect as a stipulated judgement,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden. “This bill expands the tools available while still holding private companies that defraud California residents accountable.”
AVCs are written documents that are subject to Court approval, and AB 669 will permit the Attorney General to use AVCs to resolve consumer protection actions. When agreeing to an AVC, the defendant is assuring the Attorney General that they will comply with the law and the terms of the settlement.
“AVCs are often used by our sister states to resolve multistate consumer protection investigations,” said Holden. “Allowing our Attorney General to also accept AVCs will enable him to work more effectively as part of multistate coalitions, thereby conserving time and resources.”
This article originally appeared in the Pasadena Journal.
By Dianne Anderson
It should come as no surprise that the last place most formerly incarcerated want to be is at another courthouse standing before another judge.
That’s probably one reason why thousands that could have gotten expunged haven’t taken advantage of the process locally since 2014 when the expungement law opened up.
Since then, Michelle Dodd has handled over 300 cases from start to finish. She takes care of the entire process, and all clients need to do is show up at the door of the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino.
And, it’s free.
“They’re going to send you right to me. I’m going to do the paperwork, you’ll come in and sign it. You don’t ever have to see the judge or the court clerk,” said Dodd, case management director at the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino.
Documents are sent by mail so the client doesn’t have to file. The judge hears it within 30 to 45 days when the order is denied, or approved, via the mail.
With her 90% success rate, mostly it’s approved.
Over the past few years, she has seen several clients come in that need multiple expungements. One client originally had three charges, but had snowballed into 28 parole layered charges. It was a case of violation on top of violation, on top of violation.
“The reality is that they were young. Now they’re older, and all of these are from their past. They were silly charges,” she said.
Youth get tied up in the system from an early age, and probably never learned how, or had an opportunity to clean up their past. Now that they’re older, they have a family to support and they’re trying to get a job.
Despite their checkered backgrounds, some of her clients have been able to land decent work, but she recommends not waiting until the last minute to set the record straight.
One client was up for a job at DMV, but he lost his window of opportunity because his expungement was not even close to being ready. He had to produce proof, but he didn’t realize that he needed an expungement until they notified him.
“They sent him a letter of denial that he had a charge from 23 years ago, and he needed to get it fixed,” she said. “But they only gave him ten days to clear that up before he could reapply.”
It cost him the potential job.
Others have also come in because they are trying to assist their aging parents. Decades later, they can’t pass the background check without an expungement that they didn’t realize they needed.
“They’re thinking I did two days in jail, and got 36 months of probation,” she said. “Now, it’s 20 years later and they can’t get the job because of that charge.”
Dodd, who has worked with Legal Aid nearly 24 years, said the expungement law passed in 2014, but the forms changed in 2017 to re-sentencing language that now involves several different components, including immigration.
Until the laws change, the biggest barrier even with expungement is that the formerly incarcerated still must check the box that they’ve been arrested.
“Once it’s expunged, it says dismissed instead of what the sentence was,” she said. “To get it off the record requires an entirely different motion, and character letters from people [without a] guarantee that’s going through either.”
However, there may be some encouraging changes on the horizon for low-level offenders that have been locked out of jobs, housing or education because of their arrest record.
AB 1076 wants to seal the conviction database of eight million records from public view, but it will be open for certain law enforcement agencies. To pass, it needs to clear both Democratically-controlled houses before heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign or veto in September. If passed, the law would take effect in January, 2021.
“That’s the change we need,” Dodd said.
Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), author of AB 1076, states on his website that the process of automating arrest and conviction relief at the California Department of Justice is the first of its kind.
“Everybody deserves a second chance. We must open doors for those facing housing and employment barriers and use available technology to clear arrest and criminal records for individuals already eligible for relief. There is a great cost to our economy and society when we shut out job-seeking workers looking for a better future,” Ting stated.
According to www.timedone.org, a campaign of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, one-fifth of the 70 million Americans convicted of a crime still struggle with barriers to access jobs, housing, education long after they have served their time.
“The negative impacts of a felony conviction disproportionately impact people of color, people living in urban areas, people without a college degree, and people who are low income. The largest disparities relate to finding a job or housing,” Californians for Safety and Justice reports. “ People of color are 25% more likely than white people to report difficulty finding a job and 61% more likely to report difficulty finding housing.”
For more information on clinic times and document preparation, see http://legalaidofsb.org/