Report: Current Judicial Vacancies at Five-Year Low

By Juliet Eisenstein, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

After an era of unprecedented obstruction in the U.S. Senate, the number of judicial vacancies is at a five-year low, according to Alliance for Justice’s (AFJ) latest “State of the Judiciary” report.

The report credits “bold action by Senate Democrats” for alleviating the frustrating process of judicial nominations that has been a mainstay throughout the Obama administration. Specifically, a Senate rules change this past November allowed the president’s judicial nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority, rather than the previous supermajority of 60 votes.

Following this modification, the president and the Senate have succeeded not only in protecting the democratic process and increasing the pace of confirmations, but also in ensuring the professional and personal diversity of the nominees. As the report says, “lawyers with experience working in the public interest have been nominated at a substantially higher rate than during President Obama’s first five years in office.” Thirteen of the 18 men and women nominated by Obama so far this year have past experience not only as public defenders and plaintiff attorneys, but also as tenured academics. Moreover, Obama has “appointed the highest percentage of women and people of color in history,” as well as eight openly gay federal judges, compared to only one confirmed before his administration.

Still, the battle continues. While progress this year is noteworthy, a greater commitment to the nominations process – one that ensures a diverse and well-resourced federal judiciary – is needed before this issue will disappear. As the report notes, “During President Obama’s time in office, current vacancies have risen by 13 percent… [and] the number of seats considered to be ‘judicial emergencies’ has risen by 25 percent.” The report goes on to express that many of these vacancies are driven by partisanship, as “states with at least one Republican senator account for 87 percent of all current vacancies without nominees, and states with two Republican senators account for 55 percent of all current vacancies without nominees.” Nevertheless, vacancies in federal courts have dropped from 10 percent of all federal judgeships to 7.2 percent in just the past month.

“Obstruction and gridlock cannot be the ‘new norm’ for judicial nominees,” the report says, and with the progress made in recent months there is still hope that it won’t be.

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More Jobs Does Not Equal Economic Growth

By Quaila Hugh, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Six and a half years after the start of the Great Recession we have finally recovered the jobs we lost, according to employment data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate, however, is unchanged. Why?

As the country has grown, so has the number of jobs needed to support our expanding population. Reports estimate that we need about 7 million more jobs to keep up with the growth of the potential workforce. Further, not all jobs are created equal. According to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project, employment gains have been concentrated in lower-wage industries, where we’ve seen 44 percent of new jobs created. Only 22 percent of these jobs, however, were lost during the Great Recession.

This makes efforts to raise the minimum wage more relevant than ever. If low-wage jobs continue to replace the mid- and high-wage jobs our economy lost, our economy will struggle to see the growth it needs for families to make ends meet. Minimum wage is not a living wage. And around the country, people are demanding that Congress raise it.

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Report Provides Comprehensive Recommendations to Improve School Discipline Policies

By Quaila Hugh, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in March released its Civil Rights Data Collection, which identified troubling disparities in school discipline. Black children, for example, represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.

To complement this data, The Council of State Governments Justice Center this week released “School Discipline Consensus Report: Strategies from the Field to Keep Students Engaged in School and Out of the Juvenile Justice System,” which carefully charts the harmful outcomes that strict discipline policies have on our students.

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According to the report, students suspended from school are likely to have their grades fall during the period of suspension, increasing the likelihood of students dropping out and funneling into the juvenile justice system. Further, the report echoes the OCR data in illustrating that these policies disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBT.

The report, however, does not passively testify to these issues. Collecting information, data, and testimony from over 600 practitioners over the course of three years, it outlines more than 60 recommendations for how to improve our current discipline practices. The holistic recommendations are best practices collected from every related field, including education, health, law enforcement, juvenile justice, and families, all of which have a stake in school discipline.

This report is a call to action to protect the minority students suspended at sometimes double the rate as their White peers, the 20 percent of secondary school students with disabilities, and the LGBT youth who are three times more likely to be subjected to severe disciplinary treatment. It highlights crucial changes in discipline policy needed to create a safe environment, address the behavioral health needs of children, and inform police on how to build a positive relationship with students.

As the title suggests, this will ensure we engage our students in classrooms and do not allow our most vulnerable populations to fall through the cracks and into the courtrooms.

Click here to read the full report.

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Congressional Briefing Underscores Need for Updated Profiling Guidance

By Quaila Hugh, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

At a recent briefing for congressional staff sponsored by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and moderated by Lexer Quamie, advocates explained why it’s critical that the Department of Justice update its 2003 Guidance on Use of Race by Law Enforcement to clarify the law around profiling. The guidance provides standards on the use of racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials, but contains several loopholes and exceptions, which advocates believe render it ineffective.

Adil Haq, staff attorney with Muslim Advocates, explained the DOJ Guidance that President George W. Bush issued in 2003 and the guidance’s many shortcomings, including the need to include a prohibition on profiling based on national origin and religion and the need for the guidance to apply to local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding. Linda Sarsour, national advocacy director at the National Network for Arab American Communities, spoke passionately about the guidance’s exceptions for “national security” and the need for it to apply to data surveillance activities.

To explain the “border integrity” exception to the guidance, Jose Magaña, staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, drew a mental image for the audience to emphasize the importance of closing the loophole. “Imagine the next time you are on the metro. Imagine an officer boards the train and interrogates your fellow passengers about immigration status. He seems to be ignoring those with lighter skin,” Magaña said. “This is justified by border protection.”

According to the panelists, targeting individuals based, not on their behavior, but rather on the basis of personal characteristics – such as race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, or religion – undermines our constitution and creates a “culture of fear.”

The briefing called on advocates and members of Congress to take action through letters to the DOJ, floor statements, and editorials. The hope is that these actions can begin to break down the “culture of fear” and rebuild the trust that has eroded between law enforcement and many communities of color.

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Edley: Implementation Key to Common Core’s Success

By Quaila Hugh, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Common Core State Standards are supported by a number of civil rights groups and educators alike. The standards, developed to ensure students graduate college- or career-ready, are indispensable to the effort of bringing about excellence through equity for each and every child.

Christopher Edley Jr., a professor at the University of California-Berkeley Law School and co-chair of the National Commission on Education Equity and Excellence, although a proponent of the standards, cautions us to proceed with care. Implementation, Edley warns, is critical to the success of Common Core’s goal.

However, the Common Core, even where it survives politically, will fail if the implementation fails. Implementation must be judged a failure if it reinforces rather than narrows our system’s great divides. In particular, if education leaders and advocates are impatient, incautious and cheap, then we will know that they have subordinated excellence-for-all to some other agenda—in effect, if not also by intent.

Edley reiterates the concerns so many have raised, saying:

Teachers won’t get the necessary professional development and other support to deliver CCSS well. High stakes for kids and teachers will start too soon, be too severe, and violate tenets of psychometrics.  Poor scores will demotivate and stigmatize, even if lack of resources and support are the chief villains. Teachers and public education as a whole will be trashed by so-called privatizers.

Finally, most important and certainly familiar, the worst of all this will play out for the districts, schools, and kids who are most aggrieved by the current state of affairs.

Edley warns that if Common Core advocates continue to dismiss or deflect implementation concerns, the standards will meet the same fate of Clinton’s Voluntary National Test death.

Click here to read the full article.

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Annual UNITED SIKHS Report Highlights Civil and Human Rights Issues

By Quaila Hugh, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Last week, the UNITED SIKHS, a grassroots organization committed to the empowerment of the Sikh community, released the 5th annual Global Sikh Civil and Human Rights Report, which documents various civil and human rights issues members of the Sikh community face around the globe.UNITEDSIKHSreport

Rep. Paul Ryan, R. Wisc., who has been a particularly visible ally to the Sikh community following an act of domestic terrorism against a Sikh temple that occurred in his state in 2012, spoke at an event to launch the report, saying, “We need to be doing a better job of talking about tolerance… and count [the Sikh community] as partners.” He briefly discussed the difficulties Sikh individuals encounter when attempting to serve in the U.S army and argued in favor of support to all who are willing to join and serve the country.

Brian Bachman, acting director of the U.S. Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom, said that religious freedom is part of our national identity. Bachman called this freedom an ideal that the United States must continually work to live up to, and reports such as this one outlines institutional practices we need to change in order to live up to that ideal.

Read the full report here.

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Transit Workers Rally to Demand Greater Federal Investment in Public Transportation

By Connor Maxwell, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On Tuesday afternoon, the chant “Fix it, fund it, make it fair!” could be heard from blocks away as hundreds of workers representing the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) rallied alongside prominent labor, civil rights, and political leaders at the U.S. Capitol to call on their representatives for a solution to our transportation funding crisis before the next transportation authorization expires at the end of September.

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) is a two-year program that funded surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. The failure of Congress to act could mean cuts to public transportation funding which – according to the TWU – could place up to 700,000 jobs in jeopardy and lead to rate hikes which could disproportionately affect economically vulnerable communities, including low-income riders, older adults, and people with disabilities.

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The speakers at the rally reinforced the important role public transportation plays in economic and environmental stability as well as community development and offered solutions to the transportation funding crisis. Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, declared the transportation crisis an “American interest” rather than just a “special interest,” stating, “if you cut off transit, you cut off the legs of 99 percent of Americans.” TWU president Harry Lombardo and ATU president Lawrence Hanley called on transit workers to unite and put pressure on their elected officials to follow through on their promises to protect transit dollars and jobs.

Tuesday’s rally in Washington, D.C. was part of a national effort, complemented by rallies in cities across the country as a part of the National Transit Call Congress Day and Transit Action Month. The Leadership Conference believes that transportation equity is a civil and human rights priority and, together with PolicyLink, co-chair the Transportation Equity Caucus, a diverse coalition of organizations promoting policies that ensure access, mobility, and opportunity for all.

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