Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

A Plan is Emerging to Fight “Rape on the Night Shift”

Source: Christina Jewett, Frontline and Reveal, March 9, 2016

Female janitors working alone at night have been particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and reluctant to report it. Now, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said at a rally outside the Capitol today, it’s time for change. Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, announced at the rally that her office is working on a bill that would increase protections for female janitors. Gonzalez said she was moved to tears by the documentary “Rape on the Night Shift,” a collaboration between Reveal, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, KQED, FRONTLINE and Univision. It inspired her to improve conditions for women who are subject to abuse while cleaning buildings alone at night….. The investigation found rampant sexual violence against female janitors who work alone at night in empty offices and businesses. Janitors across the country said one simple solution would be having them work together in teams….

Jobs after Jail: Ending the prison to poverty pipeline

Source: Allyson Fredericksen & Desiree Omli, Alliance for a Just Society, Job Gap Economic Prosperity series, February 2016

From the summary:
A prison sentence often doesn’t end on the day of release. For many people with conviction records, their sentence will continue for years to come with barriers to employment and housing.

Research in the report, “Jobs after Jail: Ending the prison to poverty pipeline,” by the Alliance for a Just Society, show that states have an average of 123 mandatory bans and restrictions preventing people with felony convictions from employment in certain occupations or from obtaining certain occupational or business licenses….

…..Beyond recidivism, though, finding work helps keep those with conviction records out of poverty. The Center for American Progress notes that a 2013 study found that that nation’s poverty rate would have been down 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 “if not for mass incarceration and the subsequent criminal records that haunt people for years after they have paid their debt to society.”

Recommendations in “Jobs after Jail” show that there are a variety of tools that can be used to ensure that a conviction record does not lead to a lifetime of poverty, including “Banning the Box” on employment applications, re-evaluating laws restricting employment in specific occupations, and making those with conviction records eligible for safety net services.

Additionally, a Certificate of Rehabilitation can help potential employers, licensing agencies, or even landlords assess the suitability, safety, and welfare of an applicant or renter. These certificates “can offer a presumption of rehabilitation … or at minimum an individual’s commitment to rehabilitation,” helping eliminate personal discrimination and providing additional evidence of rehabilitation and desire to reintegrate into the community.

So far, six states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York use some form of these certificates, and Washington State is one of the latest states to propose adoption of a similar system….

Uncharted Waters: The Emergence of Low-Income Water Affordability in Philadelphia

Source: Robert W. Ballenger & Thu B. Tran, Clearinghouse Review, February 16, 2016

Philadelphia’s city council passed an ordinance on November 19, 2015, to establish a new income-based water rate affordability program for low-income Philadelphians. Mayor Michael Nutter signed the ordinance on December 1, 2015. The law marks the beginning of a fundamental shift in how the City of Philadelphia will assist low-income families in maintaining life-essential water service…. While we at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia have advocated for many water revenue assistance program approvals for individuals and achieved limited success with systemic improvements, the overarching problems of inaccessibility and unaffordability persist. The city’s new ordinance mandating a new income-based water rate affordability program stands in full recognition of longstanding problems with the current mode of water-bill assistance….

Supreme Court Citation Networks

Source: The Free Law Project and the University of Baltimore School of Law, 2016

With this free tool you can analyze and study lines of Supreme Court cases by creating citation networks. You can quickly access the full text of all the opinions in your citation network as well as examine all the associated case data from Supreme Court Database (Spaeth). Citation networks are visualized graphically and underlying data is also presented in sortable tables. You can save your networks, edit and comment upon them, and share them too. You can even embed interactive network visualizations in your website or blog. Learn more by looking below at our gallery of shared networks or by making one yourself. … In addition to showing the citation relationship between cases, this tool also leverages data about the cases available in the Supreme Court Database (Spaeth). Specifically, the tool visualizes Spaeth data concerning the decision direction of cases (liberal v. conservative) and vote count (9-0, 8-1, etc). Links to the complete text of all opinions and links to the complete Spaeth data for a given case are also provided. ….
SCOTUS Visualization Project Shows Lines of Cases — Literally
Source: Robert Ambrogi, LawSites blog, February 23, 2016

State Legal Information Census: An Analysis of Primary State Legal Information

Source: Sarah Glassmeyer, LLRX, February 21, 2016

This report presents findings from a survey of state level primary legal information. Primary legal information includes code (codified statutes passed by state legislatures), regulations (codified collections of rules passed by administrative agencies) and case law (appellate court decisions). This survey was done with the goal of reviewing the free and open status of this legal information.

Findings indicate that there exist at least 14 barriers to accessing legal information. These barriers exist for both the individual user of a resource for personal research as well as an institutional user that would seek to republish or transform the information. Details about the types of barriers and the quantity of their existence can be found under “Barriers to Access.” At the time of the census, no state provided barrier-free access to their legal information.

Furthermore, analysis of the legal information provided by states shows that it is impossible to do any but the most basic of legal research for free using state provided legal information sources. Current collections allow for citation retrieval and some basic keyword searching. No state allows for federated searching of legal information collections. The universal lack of a citator for case law renders these collections, as a practical matter, useless and would be considered malpractice for a legal practitioner to rely upon. There is also a worrisome lack of archival material maintained by states. Not only does this affect one’s ability to do comprehensive research, but it also could be indicative of a lack of adequate preservation.

States were scored and ranked based on the openess of their legal publication practices. On a scale of 0 – 24, the highest score achieved was 18. The lowest was 8 and the median was 14. These results were compared against the adoption of the Uniform Electronic Legal Information Act (UELMA) and it was found that adoption of UELMA did not correlate to barrier free publication practices.

What Does Justice Scalia’s Death Mean for Congress and the Nation?

Source: CRS Reports & Analysis, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 16, 2016

Over the weekend, the nation was shocked to learn of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The death of the longest serving and, in the view of some commentators, most influential Justice on the current Court will have significant implications for the third branch of government. Justice Scalia’s absence may alter the outcome of several cases of interest to Congress pending before the Court and could mark a seismic shift in many legal doctrines, depending on who is confirmed to fill the newly vacant seat on the Court. The job of confirming the President’s nomination to fill the vacancy resides with the Senate, making Justice Scalia’s death likely to have a profound impact in both the short and long term on Congress. This sidebar, the first of several pending CRS projects on Justice Scalia and the new Supreme Court vacancy, provides an overview of the major implications of Justice Scalia’s death for Congress……

Tie Votes in the Supreme Court

Source: Justin R. Pidot, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, February 13, 2016

From the abstract:
What should the Supreme Court do with a tie vote? A long-standing rule provides that where the justices are evenly divided, the lower court’s decision is affirmed and the Supreme Court’s order has no precedential affect. While tie votes arise with some regularity due to the recusal of an individual justice, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016, and the possibility that his seat will not be filled until after the next Presidential election, raises the specter that the Supreme Court October Term 2015 could be replete with cases ending in ties. These include high-profile and contentious cases about public sector unions, the meaning of “one person, one vote,” the Obama administrations’ policy of deferring deportation for certain immigrants without legal status, and accommodations for religious organizations that object to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

This increased potential for tie-votes arises at a time when Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court at unprecedented levels. Politicians of all parties consistently accuse Supreme Court justices of pursuing their policy preferences rather than making principled legal decisions. Against that backdrop, tie votes only further disillusion the public. Such votes amount to an admission by the justices that they have failed to carry out the responsibility entrusted to them by the Constitution — that of definitively resolving consequential legal issues — because they could arrive at no compromise on which a majority of the justices could agree.

This Article presents an original empirical study of the 164 instances in which a tie vote occurred between 1925 and 2015. Those data reveal two important trends. First, where a case ends in a tie, the issue involved is either presented to the Supreme Court again in relatively short order or turns out to be of little significance. In other words, there is no pressing need to create a tie-breaker where the Supreme Court is deadlocked. Second, only 1 of the 164 cases would today fall within the Supreme Court’s limited mandatory jurisdiction. The remainder all would arrive at the Court on a writ of certiorari. This is important because the Court has discretion over its certiorari docket, and can exercise that discretion to avoid tie votes.

The Article suggests that the Supreme Court abandon the practice of affirming by equal division and instead dismiss cases as improvidently granted, a second procedural option for the Court. Doing so would avoid potential public backlash against tie votes, protecting the public perception of the Court’s legitimacy. Doing so would also reduce the potential for justices to write opinions to accompany affirmances by equal division that take public positions on issues that have not yet been resolved by the Court. Finally, as a matter of cognitive psychology, justices may feel internal pressure to remain consistent with a position once staked out in a vote. Dismissing the case, rather than affirming by an equally divided court, could alleviate that psychological pressures, allowing the justices to be more fair-minded when approaching the next case.