I Went From Prison to Professor – Here’s Why Criminal Records Should Not Be Used to Keep People Out of College Stanley Andrisse was once branded a career criminal and served time in prison. Today, he is a professor at two medical schools and an advocate for higher education for those who’ve served time.

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Beginning next year, the Common Application – an online form that enables students to apply to the 800 or so colleges that use it – will no longer ask students about their criminal pasts.

As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions – Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine – I believe this move is a positive one. People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.

While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.

I make this argument not only as a formerly incarcerated person who now teaches aspiring medical doctors, but also as an advocate for people with criminal convictions. The organization I lead – From Prison Cells to PhD – helped push for the change on the Common Application.

My own story stands as a testament to the fact that today’s incarcerated person could become tomorrow’s professor. A person who once sold illegal drugs on the street could become tomorrow’s medical doctor. But this can only happen if such a person, and the many others in similar situations, are given the chance.

There was a time not so long ago when some in the legal system believed I did not deserve a chance. With three felony convictions, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking as a prior and persistent career criminal. My prosecuting attorney once stated that I had no hope for change.

Today, I am Dr. Stanley Andrisse. As a professor at Johns Hopkins and Howard University, I now help train students who want to be doctors. I’d say that I have changed. Education was transformative.

US incarceration rates the highest

The United States needs to have more of this transformative power of education. The country incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other nation in the world. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population but nearly 25 percent of the incarcerated population around the globe.

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Justice in America Episode 3: Who Built Mass Incarceration? Prosecutors

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Who has had the biggest impact on the growth of our incarceration system? It’s not the judge, the jury, or the legislator. It’s not the police, and it’s certainly not the President. It’s someone else—the prosecutor. Prosecutors are getting more attention now than ever, but many people still don’t know what they do.

Prosecutors don’t just play an important role at trial. It is prosecutors who recommend what bail a judge should set, prosecutors who decide whether a person should face criminal charges and what those charges should be, and prosecutors who control the plea deal process. Perhaps more than anyone else, prosecutors are responsible for our mass incarceration epidemic. On this episode, we’ll explore the impact prosecutors have and take a look at how they wield their power.

We’ll talk about the problems with prosecutors, and their excessive power, negative incentives, and almost total lack accountability. We’ll also talk to John Pfaff, a lawyer, economist, and prosecutor expert, whose book, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform, examines the power of prosecutors.

Justice in America is available on iTunes, Soundcloud, Sticher, GooglePlay Music, and LibSyn RSS. You can also check us out on Facebook and Twitter. Our email is justiceinamerica@theappeal.org.

For more on prosecutors, check out these resources:

This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver coincidentally did a segment on prosecutors. Check it out here.

Here’s an op-ed in the New York Times Josie published last fall on prosecutors that pretend to be reformers but fall short.

The Brooklyn Defenders made this awesome video on the power of prosecutors last year.

Radley Balko always publishes great work on criminal justice and law enforcement, particularly prosecutors. You can find his work at the Washington Post here.

Here’s a good piece on our guest John Pfaff’s book from the Marshall Project.

The Appeal’s other podcast, also called The Appeal, had Josie on for their first episode to talk about prosecutors. Check it out here.

And of course, we publish a lot of pieces on prosecutors at The Appeal. Here are some pieces from just the past few weeks: Amanda Sakuma wrote about a primary challenge to the St. Louis County Attorney who, in 2014, chose not to charge the cop that murdered Michael Brown. (The challenger, Wesley Bell,  subsequently won.) George Joseph and Simon Davis-Cohen investigated the Bronx DA’s office and the ways they intentionally drag cases out, improperly burdening defendants; and Jessica Brand and Ethan Brown wrote about the federal prosecutors that charged over 200 inauguration day protesters for rioting, and the history of misconduct in that particular office.

Transcript By Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith III./TheAppeal

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

NC Amendment would put voter ID in NC constitution

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Our dear General Assembly leaders(see below) here in North Carolina haven’t given up on voter ID, they recently filed a proposed constitutional amendment to ensconce a voter ID rule in the state constitution…Libergirl.

 

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and House Speaker Tim Moore during a May15, 2018, news conference.

Image: WRAL.com

The bill would ask voters to decide this November whether to add this paragraph to the constitution: “Photo identification for voting in person. Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law.”

Republicans have championed photo IDs as the best defense against voter fraud, but Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said instances of in-person voter fraud are “very minimal.”

“It is not a widespread issue, despite what politicians say,” McLennan said.

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Huckabee Sanders Defends Ripping Children From Parents, Because It’s “Very Biblical to Enforce the Law”

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Asked to comment on remarks made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier in the day about how the Trump administration’s policy of ripping children out of the arms of their immigrant parents is somehow justified by the Christian Bible, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday afternoon said she could not respond specifically to the AG’s claims but said “it is very biblical to enforce the law.”

“That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” Huckabee Sanders said in response to the question by CNN’s Jim Acosta as she appeared to glance at notes on her podium.

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‘Everything’s on the line’: AT&T’s showdown with DOJ over Time Warner finally gets a decision today

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A federal judge is expected to rule Tuesday on whether to block AT&T’s $85 billion Time Warner merger, in what has become America’s most closely watched antitrust trial in decades.

The opinion by Judge Richard Leon could determine AT&T’s future in digital entertainment as the company seeks to go toe-to-toe with tech titans such as Facebook, Google and Netflix. But the stakes are equally high for the Justice Department, which has not litigated a case of this kind since the Nixon administration. A court victory for the government, analysts say, could symbolize the beginning of a tough new era in antitrust enforcement. But an AT&T win could give pause to regulators — and perhaps deter them from blocking mergers in the future that might otherwise be deemed anticompetitive.

Though the Justice Department has sought to tamp down concerns about the AT&T case being a bellwether, analysts widely anticipate more deals to be announced in the event of an AT&T court victory, particularly mergers involving corporations that primarily operate in different industries. These types of so-called vertical deals are becoming more popular. In recent months, Verizon has purchased the digital media companies AOL and Yahoo. Amazon.com expanded its grocery business by buying Whole Foods. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.) Comcast, meanwhile, is gearing up to fight Disney for control over 21st Century Fox.

“Everything’s on the line now for the Department of Justice,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former DOJ antitrust official who now leads the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. “They either come out as enormous victors … or they’ll face an avalanche of new transactions if they lose this case.”

Analysts predict a wide range of possible outcomes in the trial. Leon could determine the merger poses a competitive threat and block the deal outright, siding with the Justice Department. He could rule for AT&T and approve the entire acquisition without conditions, making it possible for the deal to close by June 18. Or he could strike a middle ground, imposing his own changes to the deal or asking the two sides to help him tweak it.

No matter how he rules, the full implications will take time to digest — and will likely hold implications for a string of other mergers and acquisitions on the horizon. Leon has previously said to expect at least a 200-page written opinion.

The lengthy decision reflects the grueling six-week legal assault that government lawyers mounted against AT&T and Time Warner this spring in a dim, windowless Washington courtroom. Both AT&T and the Justice Department declined to comment for this story.

The merged firm, prosecutors argued, would anticompetitively unite AT&T’s massive distribution infrastructure — its cellular and wired broadband networks — with Time Warner’s premium content including HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting, whose assets include the cable channels CNN, TBS and TNT.

AT&T executives defended the merger in court as a major strategic shift for the telecom giant, one that could prove as significant as the company’s decision more than a decade ago to enter the market for broadband and mobile data. In reinventing itself for an age of streaming media, AT&T aspires to deliver more television content over Internet connections to mobile and digital devices. With the viewing data it gathers from smart TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones, AT&T plans to build a targeted advertising empire resembling that of the Web’s biggest ad giants.

That effort could be aided by another major milestone this week: The official repeal on Monday of the federal government’s net neutrality rules. The rules, targeted for elimination by the Federal Communications Commission in a vote last year, had banned providers like AT&T or Verizon from prioritizing their own content over that of other websites. And they had laid the foundation for more stringent — though now also repealed — privacy regulations governing ISPs’ handling of customer data.

Winning the antitrust case could allow AT&T to capitalize on that deregulation, analysts say.

“Consumer groups are worried that the court will give AT&T powerful new content, and that the FCC will let them monetize it in anticompetitive ways,” said Paul Gallant, an industry analyst at Cowen & Co. “But investors are more sanguine. They like the hedge of AT&T owning content.”

Antitrust attorneys litigating the Time Warner case relied on complex economic models and testimony from AT&T’s competitors to outline a nightmare scenario in which AT&T could allegedly use its newfound control over Turner Broadcasting to unfairly benefit DirecTV, AT&T’s own subscription television service.

Turner’s control over live sports, news and other desirable programming would encourage AT&T to seek more money for that content when licensing it to competing TV services, the Justice Department argued. Those higher prices would allegedly be passed along to consumers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Meanwhile, the attorneys said, DirecTV would reap rewards by luring away any customers dissatisfied with the price hikes at other cable companies.

“AT&T would not want Time Warner content distributed in ways that increase competitive pressure on DirecTV,” the government wrote in its closing brief to the court.

Attorneys for AT&T and Time Warner lashed out at the government’s antitrust claims, calling them “preposterous.” Thanks to new targeted advertising revenue, AT&T argued, the deal would lead to price decreases for TV viewers, not increases. And to highlight its good faith in content negotiations, AT&T pointed to 1,000 letters it sent to rival TV services last year committing to an arbitration process after the merger, in the event those competitors felt they were being overcharged for Time Warner content. Opponents of the deal said the arbitration offer was insufficient, though in his questioning in court, Leon expressed significant interest in it.

AT&T’s legal team sought to dismantle the Justice Department’s economic analysis of the deal, poking holes in research done by the agency’s star witness, a University of California economist named Carl Shapiro. Shapiro’s analysis failed to consider enough real-world examples of programming disputes, AT&T argued, instead drawing on surveys and long-term projections to arrive at the conclusion that consumers will be harmed by the merger.

Hanging over the trial was also the political shadow of President Trump, who has publicly and repeatedly criticized the merger as concentrating too much power “in the hands of too few.” Arguing that it was being unfairly singled out for punishment, AT&T briefly demanded that the Justice Department hand over White House communications logs that could prove whether Trump inappropriately directed the agency to block AT&T’s merger. But Leon denied that request, focusing narrowly instead on the core antitrust arguments in the case.

The high-profile case is widely viewed as a bellwether for other mergers waiting in the wings. Should AT&T be allowed to buy Time Warner, analysts say an arms race will follow in which companies of all stripes will seek to consolidate with other businesses. An acquisition involving 21st Century Fox is already in the works, with Comcast and Disney poised for a bidding war over Fox’s lucrative film and TV studios, cable networks and other assets. Meanwhile, T-Mobile and Sprint have announced a merger of their own.

Wall Street will be looking for clues in the AT&T decision as to whether the government is likely to challenge those deals.

“At the simplest level, the market will draw a conclusion as to whether this administration is laissez faire or interventionist when it comes to big deals,” he said.

By Brian Fung/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

‘Back to the Dark Ages’: Sessions’s asylum ruling reverses decades of women’s rights progress, critics say

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Aminta Cifuentes suffered weekly beatings at the hands of her husband. He broke her nose, burned her with paint thinner and raped her.

She called the police in her native Guatemala several times but was told they could not interfere in a domestic matter, according to a court ruling. When Cifuentes’s husband hit her in the head, leaving her bloody, police came to the home but refused to arrest him. He threatened to kill her if she called authorities again.

So in 2005, Cifuentes fled to the United States. “If I had stayed there, he would have killed me,” she told the Arizona Republic.

And after nearly a decade of waiting on an appeal, Cifuentes was granted asylum. The 2014 landmark decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals set the precedent that women fleeing domestic violence were eligible to apply for asylum. It established clarity in a long-running debate over whether asylum can be granted on the basis of violence perpetrated in the “private” sphere, according to Karen Musalo, director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

But on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the precedent set in Cifuentes’s case, deciding that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law. (Unlike the federal courts established under Article III of the Constitution, the immigration court system is part of the Justice Department.)

For critics, including former immigration judges, the unilateral decision undoes decades of carefully deliberated legal progress. For gender studies experts, such as Musalo, the move “basically throws us back to the Dark Ages, when we didn’t recognize that women’s rights were human rights.”

“If we say in the year 2018 that a woman has been beaten almost to death in a country that accepts that as almost the norm, and that we as a civilized society can deny her protection and send her to her death?” Musalo said. “I don’t see this as just an immigration issue … I see this as a women’s rights issue.”

Sessions’s decision reversed a 2016 ruling by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, the body responsible for interpreting U.S. asylum law, granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she was abused by her husband. Musalo is co-counsel in the case.

Sessions’s reasoning hinged on the argument that domestic violence victims generally are not persecuted as members of a “particular social group,” according to his ruling. Under federal law, asylum applicants must show that either “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion … was or will be at least one central reason” for their persecution.

In the precedent-setting Cifuentes case, the Board of Immigration Appeals held that an applicant can qualify for asylum as a member of a particular social group of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.” To support its ruling, the board noted that Guatemala has a culture of “machismo and family violence.” Spousal rape is common and local police often fail to enforce domestic violence laws.

Sessions rejected that reasoning. “When private actors inflict violence based on a personal relationship with a victim,” Sessions wrote, “then the victim’s membership in a larger group may well not be ‘one central reason’ for the abuse.”

“The prototypical refugee flees her home country because the government has persecuted her,” Sessions wrote. “An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family, or other personal circumstances. Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

As Kara Lynum, an immigration lawyer in Minnesota, tweeted, “Sessions thinks these women aren’t eligible for asylum because their husbands are only violent to them — not all women.”

A group of 15 retired immigration judges and former members of the Board of Immigration Appeals wrote a letter in response to Sessions’s decision, calling it an “affront to the rule of law.”

The Cifuentes case, they wrote, “was the culmination of a 15 year process” through the immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals. The issue was certified by three attorneys general, one Democrat and two Republican. The private bar and law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, agreed with the final determination, the former judges wrote. The decision was also supported by asylum protections under international refugee treaties, they said.

“For reasons understood only by himself, the Attorney General today erased an important legal development that was universally agreed to be correct,” the former judges wrote.

Courts and attorneys general have debated the definition of a “particular social group” since the mid-1990s, according to Musalo.

“It took the refugee area a while to catch up with the human rights area of law,” Musalo said.

A series of cases led up to the Cifuentes decision. In 1996, the Board of Immigration Appeals established that women fleeing gender-based persecution could be eligible for asylum in the United States. The case, known as Matter of Kasinga, centered on a teenager who fled her home in Togo to escape female genital cutting and a forced polygamous marriage. Musalo was lead attorney in the case, which held that fear of female genital cutting could be used as a basis for asylum.

“Fundamentally the principle was the same,” as the one at stake in Sessions’s ruling, Musalo said. Female genital cutting, like domestic violence in the broader sense, generally takes place in the “private” sphere, inflicted behind closed doors by relatives of victims.

Musalo also represented Rody Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who fled extreme domestic abuse and, in 2009, won an important asylum case after a 14-year legal fight. Her victory broke ground for other women seeking asylum on the basis of domestic violence.

Then, after years of incremental decisions, the Board of Immigration Appeals published its first precedent-setting opinion in the 2014 Cifuentes case, known as Matter of A-R-C-G.

“I actually thought that finally we had made some progress,” Musalo said. Although the impact wasn’t quite as pronounced as many experts had hoped, it was a step for women fleeing gender-based violence in Latin America and other parts of the world.

Now, Musalo says, Sessions is trying to undo all that and is doing so at a particularly monumental time for gender equality in the United States and worldwide.

“We’ve gone too far in society with the MeToo movement and all of the other advances in women’s rights to accept this principle,” Musalo said.

“It shows that there are these deeply entrenched attitudes toward gender and gender equality,” she added. “There are always those forces that are sort of the dying gasp of wanting to hold on to the way things were.”

Sessions assigned the 2016 case to himself under his power as attorney general and said the move will help reduce the growing backlog of 700,000 court cases.

He concluded his ruling by saying he does not intend to “minimize the vile abuse” that the Salvadoran woman suffered or the “harrowing experiences of many other victims of domestic violence around the world.” But the “asylum statute is not a general hardship statute,” Sessions wrote.

Relatively few refugees are granted asylum annually. In 2016, for example, nearly 62 percent of applicants were denied asylum, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired immigration judge and former chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals, wrote on his blog that Sessions sought to encourage immigration judges to “just find a way to say no as quickly as possible.” (Schmidt authored the decision in the Kasinga case extending asylum protection to victims of female genital mutilation.)

Sessions’s ruling is “likely to speed up the ‘deportation railway,’ ” Schmidt wrote. But it will also encourage immigration judges to “cut corners, and avoid having to analyze the entire case,” he argued.

“Sessions is likely to end up with sloppy work and lots of Circuit Court remands for ‘do overs,’ ” Schmidt wrote. “At a minimum, that’s going to add to the already out of control Immigration Court backlog.”

By Samantha Schmidt/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Justices side with Colorado baker on same-sex wedding cake

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The Supreme Court ruled Monday for a Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

The justices’ decision turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the larger issue “must await further elaboration” in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn’t want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

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