When Race Tips The Scales In Plea Bargaining

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By Jenn Rolnick Borchetta And Alice Fontier for The Marshall Project – TWO OFFICERS ESCORTED a young black man into the courtroom, bringing him in handcuffs from a holding cell in the back called “the pen.” They placed him beside his public defender and stepped away. So far, things were routine. The prosecutor had offered the man a plea deal of probation and he indicated that he would accept. In a scene that plays out dozens of times a day in the Bronx criminal court, the judge ran through a constitutionally required script. She explained what it means to accept a prosecutor’s plea offer: that he was giving up his right to a trial; he was admitting guilt; he could not change his mind. The judge asked, as she must: “Is anyone forcing you to accept this plea today?” At this point, most people quietly say “no.” But the man responded “yes,” he was being forced to accept the plea. Refusing to accept meant facing the strong arm of prosecution and potentially going to prison for years. He protested that he had no real choice.Three court officers surrounded him. The judge repeated the question: “Is anyone forcing you to accept this plea today?” This time, flanked by officers, he said no. A few minutes later, he walked out a free man, but he now had a criminal conviction and the oversight and constraints that come with probation.

The Pros And Cons Of A ConCon?

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By Peter Rugh for The Indypendent – On Nov. 7 voters in New York State will have an opportunity to gamble. Every two decades the option to call a statewide constitutional convention, or ConCon, appears on ballots. It is a chance to enshrine into law new progressive provisions lawmakers are unwilling or unable to enact — campaign finance reforms, term limits on the state legislature and enhanced worker rights and environmental protections. Lawmakers in Albany can enact constitutional changes that are subject to voter approval, but a ConCon is “the only mechanism in New York that bypasses the legislature’s gatekeeping power,” said J.H. Snider, who runs the New York State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse. He sees this year’s vote on a potential ConCon as a much-needed opportunity to clean up the state’s foundational text. “The constitution needs to be modernized,” Snider said of the 43-page document. “It’s a cesspool. Nobody reads it. It’s way too long. It’s full of obsolete laws.” The ConCon “provides a unique democratic function in New York. People may decide they want to exercise that right or not, but they should understand that right.” If voters give the ConCon the go-ahead this November, the following year they will have the ability to elect delegates, three for each of New York’s 63 Senate districts and 15 statewide. On April 2, 2019 the ConCon would convene in Albany.

The Corruption Of The Law

Harlan Fiske Stone's conservatism was grounded in the belief that the law is designed to protect the weak from the powerful. (Mr. Fish)

By Chris Hedges for Truth Dig – ISLE AU HAUT, Maine—I drink coffee in the morning on a round, ornate oak table that once belonged to Harlan Fiske Stone, a U.S. Supreme Court justice from 1925 to 1946 and the chief justice for the last five of those years. Stone and his family spent their summers on this windswept, remote island six miles off the coast of Maine. Stone, a Republican and close friend of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, embodied a lost era in American politics. His brand of conservatism, grounded in the belief that the law is designed to protect the weak from the powerful, bears no resemblance to that of the self-proclaimed “strict constitutionalists” in the Federalist Society who have accumulated tremendous power in the judiciary. The Federalist Society, at the behest of President Trump, is in charge of vetting the 108 candidates for the federal judgeships that will be filled by the administration. The newest justice, Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, comes out of the Federalist Society, as did Justices Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. The self-identified “liberals” in the judiciary, while progressive on social issues such as abortion and affirmative action, serve corporate power as assiduously as the right-wing ideologues of the Federalist Society.

An Undocumented Teen Gains Asylum With The Help Of His Undocumented Lawyer

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Attorney Cesar Vargas, right, the first openly undocumented attorney in New York, with his client Ivan Ruiz in Manhattan.

By Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post – NEW YORK ― When attorney Cesar Vargas first met his teenage client Ivan Ruiz, a newly arrived undocumented immigrant from Honduras, he noticed Ruiz seemed to wear the weight of his traumatic childhood on his sleeve. Ruiz, 15 at the time, rarely spoke, returning questions about his life in Honduras with long stares and heavy nods. It was only over the course of a year that Vargas would learn the extent of abuse Ruiz suffered while living with extended family members after his parents immigrated to the United States for a better life. Ruiz was barely fed, forced to work long hours and beaten ― even whipped with tire rubber ― as punishment. The abuse became too much to bear. After trekking through Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, Ruiz crossed the border into the United States in spring 2016. His journey wasn’t over, though, and a year ago he was ordered to appear in immigration court. With Vargas’ help, Ruiz recently won a life-changing victory: He was granted asylum. He now spends his days in summer school, soaking up new English words and the novelty of life with only low-stakes, teenage worries. He recently took two girls to the prom and is delicately balancing the affections of another.

Incredible Quinceañera Protest At Texas Capitol Against Vile Anti-Immigrant Law

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By Rafi Schwartz for Fusion – On Wednesday, a group of 15 teenage girls, dressed in brightly colored gowns, stood in front of the Texas State Capitol to participate in one of Latin American culture’s most cherished traditions: the quinceañera. But this quinceañera was more than simply a coming-of-age celebration. Instead, it was a public protest against one of the most viciously anti-immigrant pieces of legislation in Texas’ recent history: SB4, the so-called “sanctuary cities bill.” SB4—which essentially forces Texas cities to comply with federal immigration law enforcement actions—has been one of the state’s most hotly contested pieces of legislation all year, drawing comparisons to Arizona’s infamous “papers please” law, and prompting massive protests. Dubbed “Quinceañera at the Capitol,” the protest was organized by Latino advocacy group Jolt, which describes itself on Facebook as a “Texas-based multi-issue organization that builds the political power and influence of Latinos in our democracy.”

Maine's Food Sovereignty Law Touted As Nationwide First

A farmer in Haiti explains his harvesting process as he stands in front of a large cabbage plot, holding a garden hoe. Small farmers from the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) are resisting the intrusion of multinational agriculture corporations like Monsanto into their food supply. (Flickr / Unitarian Universalist Service Committee)

By Julia Bayly for Bangor Daily News – With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Paul LePage last week enacted landmark legislation putting Maine in the forefront of the food sovereignty movement. LePage signed LD 725, An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, Friday legitimizing the authority of towns and communities to enact ordinances regulating local food distribution free from state regulatory control. According to food sovereignty advocates, the law is the first of its kind in the country. “This is a great day for rural economic development and the environmental and social wealth of rural communities,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. “The Governor has signed into law a first-in-the-nation piece of landmark legislation [and] the state of Maine will [now] recognize, at last, the right of municipalities to regulate local food systems as they see fit.” Sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, LD 725 does not include food grown or processed for wholesale or retail distribution outside of the community from which it comes. Supporters of food sovereignty want local food producers to be exempt from state licensing and inspections governing the selling of food as long as the transactions are between the producers and the customers for home consumption or when the food is sold and consumed at community events such as church suppers.

The Grizzled, Stubborn Lawyers Protecting The Environment From Trump

Indigenous leaders participate in a protest march and rally in opposition to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, in front of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC in March.KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

By Nick Stockton for Wired – ON HIS FOURTH full day in office, President Trump signed an executive order that was supposed to settle this whole Dakota Access Pipeline thing—no more delays due to protests, no more reconsidering the route because of environmental worries. And for a while, it seemed to work. The protest camps are gone, and the pipe has been pumping oil since March. But Thursday, a federal judge ordered a do-over on the rush-job environmental review Trump ordered back in January. Trump came into office aiming for a blitzkrieg on environmental regulations. He got trench warfare. That’s because firing from the other side of no man’s land is a nimble alliance of environmental groups that have spent decades preparing for the likes of him. You have probably heard of many of them: the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, EarthJustice, and so on. Others are smaller, focused on regional issues—like the Standing Rock Sioux that just won a small victory against the Dakota Access Pipeline. What they all have in common are stubborn, attrition-minded legal teams. Trump’s assault is just a more bombastic version of what these lawyers have weathered under past administrations. And if there’s any green left in the government by 2020, they’ll be the ones responsible.

World's First River Given Legal Status As A Person

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By Lorraine Chow for Eco Watch – As the Trump administration works to dismantle environmental regulations protecting American waterways, New Zealand has recognized the Whanganui River as a legal person. On Wednesday, New Zealand Parliament passed the Te Awa Tupua Bill which states that the river is “an indivisible and living whole,” making it the world’s first river to be given this special designation. The river has been granted the ability to represent itself through human representatives, one appointed by the Whanganui Iwi (Maori people) and one by the Crown (government of New Zealand), Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson explained to Newshub.

‘Reinventing Law For The Commons’

PILLARS OF JUSTICE: Although the U.S. Supreme Court is the most diverse it has ever been – three of the nine justices are women and two are minorities – the elite bar that comes before it is strikingly homogeneous: Of the 66 top lawyers, 63 are white. Only eight are women. REUTERS/Molly Riley

By Theodora Kotsaka for Transform Europe – Nicos Poulantzas Institute is working on Commons during the last four years, focusing on areas as water and its management as a common good, digital commons and applied policies on Commons related to productions model transformation. D. Bollier’s speech was organized in order to complete the picture by referring to the argent need of reinventing a law for the Commons. In countries around the world, Bollier noted, a burgeoning ‘Commons Sector’ is developing effective, ecological alternatives to the increasingly dysfunctional market/state system. Commons are developing new types of food-growing and -distribution systems, alternative currencies to retain community value, platform co-operatives for online sharing, multistakeholder co-ops, open design and manufacturing systems, land trusts, co-learning projects, and much else.

The People’s Lawyer Lynne Stewart Dies At 77: A Tribute

Popular Resistance, Revolution, Rebellion, Capitalism

By Gloria La Riva for the Central Committee of the PSL – Lynne Stewart, a revolutionary and people’s lawyer who fought for political defendants often persecuted by the system, and who herself was imprisoned for her principled advocacy of others, died on March 7. The Party for Socialism and Liberation extends our deepest solidarity and condolences to her lifelong partner Ralph Poynter and her entire family. Stewart was fervently dedicated to the cause of prisoners, both those behind bars for their political beliefs as well as the victims of mass incarceration and criminalization of the poor. Stewart gained the admiration and solidarity of many in the progressive and revolutionary movement because she not only fought valiantly in the courts but above all, was a true radical activist.

Nationwide Protests Continue, Now Targeting Lawmakers

Several people standing with “resist” signs in @RepMcClintock meeting. @KQEDnews – photo by Katie Orr KQED

By Dave Johnson for Our Future – The offices of other House Republicans who represent districts in southern California, like Mimi Walters of Irvine, Darrell Issa of Vista, Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach and Steve Knight of Santa Clarita, are regularly being swarmed with protesters. According to another Los Times Times article…About 200 people gathered outside the office of Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) last week and couldn’t get inside. Walters spokeswoman Abigail Sigler said that the congresswoman was in Washington at the time and that the office doors were locked because members of the group “have repeatedly harassed the congresswoman’s staff,” including on Twitter.

Defending Civil Resistance Under International Law

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By Editor of Counter Currents – Since the Reagan administration’s ascent to power in 1981, thousands of American citizens have engaged in various forms of non-violent civil resistance activities in order to protest against distinct elements of U.S. foreign policy that violate basic principles of international law. These citizen protests have led to numerous arrests and prosecutions by federal, state, and local governments around the country. The author has given advice, counsel and assistance to individuals and groups who have engaged in acts of non-violent civil resistance directed against several aspects of the U.S. government’s foreign policy: the Nuclear Freeze Movement, the Sanctuary Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Plowshares, and the Pledge of Resistance, among others

As Trump Takes Power, Politicians Around US Move To Make Protesting Illegal

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By Sarah Cronin for Activist Post – Indiana passed a bill on Wednesday that authorizes police officers to shut down highway protesting “by any means necessary.” S.B. 285, as it is known, obliges a public official to dispatch all available officers within 15 minutes of discovering any assembly of 10 or more people who are obstructing vehicle traffic. The bill then authorizes the responding officers to clear roads “by any means necessary.” Critics are calling it the “Block Traffic and You Die” bill, an apt name for a bill that has co-opted the phrase “any means necessary,” used famously in speech delivered by Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement, turning it into a threat against government dissent (with no apparent awareness of the irony).

The Rights Of Nature: Indigenous Philosophies Reframing Law

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By Kiana Herold for IC – Indigenous battles to defend nature have taken to the streets, leading to powerful mobilizations like the gathering at Standing Rock. They have also taken to the courts, through the development of innovative legal ways of protecting nature. In Ecuador, Bolivia and New Zealand, indigenous activism has helped spur the creation of a novel legal phenomenon—the idea that nature itself can have rights. The 2008 constitution of Ecuador was the first national constitution to establish rights of nature. In this legal paradigm shift, nature changed from being held as property to a rights-bearing entity. Rights are typically given to actors who can claim them—humans—but they have expanded especially in recent years to non-human entities such as corporations, animals and the natural environment.

Dakota Access Pipeline Company Intends To Break Law To Finish Project

A masked warrior woman raises her fist at a Dakota Access construction site./Photo by Doug Grandt

By John Zangas for DC Media Group – The Obama Administration is presently considering a reroute of the pipeline away from the planned pipeline tunnel under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Reservation. Obama spoke on November 2, saying the Army Corps of Engineers is considering a reroute because of the unrest. But Elders say the project route has already destroyed burial sites and whatever river crossing is chosen, it will still cross the Missouri upstream, potentially affecting the reservation and millions dependent on the river.