Justice Department Will Pause A Legal Advice Program For Detained Immigrants

The Department of Justice will temporarily suspend funding for a legal-advice program for detained immigrants as well as a telephone help line at the end of the month, according to officials.

On Tuesday, the department alerted the Vera Institute of Justice, an immigrants rights organization that runs the Legal Orientation Program and the Immigration Court Helpdesk, that the government needs time to review the effectiveness of the program.

The most recent review occurred in 2012. According to public statements, the annual price tag of the program is about $6 million.

The Justice Department declined to explain why it has chosen to review the program when the contract expires on April 30. Officials also declined to provide a timeline for the review.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the program serves more than 50,000 people per year in 38 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers across the country. The nonprofit works with a network of 18 legal aid organizations to provide information in multiple languages about immigrant rights and how the legal system operates.

“Without this program immigrants are effectively being stripped of access to even the most basic information,” Claudia Cubas, the litigation director for Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, told NPR.

Cubas’ Washington, D.C.-based group provides services for undocumented immigrants in six detention centers in Maryland and Virginia. In addition to an orientation session explaining terminology and the processes of immigration cases, the nonprofit groups also try to pair individuals with pro bono attorneys who can then represent them in immigration court, Cubas said. In instances where staff members take on cases, Cubas said, the lawyers are not paid through the government program.

The program was created in 2003 under President George W. Bush.

“Without this funding, we don’t know if we’ll be able to respond to the growing detention population that we’re seeing at a local level. And given concerns about the immigration court backlog this is an incongruous decision because studies show people who get legal help can more quickly make decisions about their case,” she said.

A 2012 cost analysis by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review concluded that 94 percent of detained migrants who were provided services on or before the day of their first immigration court hearing spent 11 fewer days in ICE detention and completed their immigration proceedings 16 days faster than those who did not.

The same study found that the program created a net savings for the government of nearly $18 million.

In recent months, the Justice Department has made several changes to the nation’s immigration courts intended to clear a vast backlog, now estimated to be about 685,000 cases, according to Syracuse University.

The Department of Justice also announced last week that immigration judges’ job performance will be evaluated by how quickly they close cases.

[NPR]

Trump considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosen

President Donald Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the aftermath of the FBI raid on his personal attorney Michael Cohen’s office and residence. The move would be done to “check” special counsel Robert Mueller, CNN’s sources say.

CNN reported that firing Rosenstein is “one of several options — including going so far as to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions — Trump is weighing” since Cohen’s raid.

[Raw Story]

Trump Slams His Own DOJ Over Response to Document Requests: ‘An Embarrassment To Our Country!’

President Donald Trump has his daggers out, getting this week off to a rollicking start.

Today’s targets: DACA, the Democrats, and yes, of course, the DOJ.

Trump is going after his own Justice Department once again in his crusade to turn the tides of public opinion in his favor.

The Commander in Chief this morning shot off a tweet slamming the DOJ and FBI for not giving Congress the “unredacted documents” they requested:

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte recently subpoenaed the DOJ for documents regarding the Hillary Clinton investigation and potential FISA abuses.

[Mediaite]

‘DISGRACEFUL!’ Trump rage tweets at Jeff Sessions for not doing enough to investigate Obama

President Donald Trump on Wednesday once again publicly attacked his own attorney general for not doing enough to investigate former President Barack Obama.

“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse,” the president asked on Twitter Wednesday morning. “Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy?”

Trump then trashed Sessions for not directing his own attorneys at the Department of Justice to investigate Obama themselves.

“Why not use Justice Department lawyers?” he asked. “DISGRACEFUL!”

Trump has not been shy about ripping into his own attorney general for not doing enough to investigate his political foes. Last week, Trump on Twitter told his followers to ask Sessions — whose name the president initially misspelled as “Jeff Session” — why Democrats weren’t being investigated for “crimes” related to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

And last summer, Trump called Sessions “beleaguered” and “weak” because he was not sufficiently investigating former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

Trump has also raged against Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election after it was revealed that Sessions falsely told the Senate during his confirmation hearing that he had never met with any Russian government officials during the campaign.

[Raw Story]

Jeff Sessions strays from prepared remarks to praise ‘Anglo-American heritage’ of sheriffs

Update

Jeff Sessions was using a legal technical term “Anglo-American” law, which is a reference to the legal tradition of common law that the American sheriff’s system shares with England.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions strayed from his prepared remarks to comment on the “Anglo-American” historical origins of the sheriff.

Sessions spoke Monday to a the National Sheriffs Association, which represents about 20,000 law enforcement officials across the U.S., but video recordings show an apparent improvisation from the prepared remarks distributed ahead of time to reporters, according to Splinter News.

“The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” Sessions said. “We must never erode this historic office.”

The remarks quickly raised eyebrows on social media, where commenters perceived the reference as racist in light of the attorney general’s racially problematic history.

The sheriff indeed originated in medieval England, and the name derives from Anglo-Saxon words for the guardian, or reeve, of a county, or shire.

English colonists brought the tradition to America and elected their own sheriffs in the 1600s, and various right-wing fringe movements promote the legal fallacy that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the United States.

[RawStory]

Media

FBI director Chris Wray replaces Comey holdover with Trump loyalist amid pressure from AG Sessions to ‘clean house’

FBI Director Christopher Wray has announced the replacements for two top FBI jobs that worked under ex-director James Comey, amid pressure from the attorney general and White House to “clean house” during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

As The Washington Post reported Tuesday, Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was named as the replacement for former FBI general counsel James Baker, who “was reassigned late last year.” He also appointed Zachary J. Harmon, a colleague from the law firm he worked for prior to taking the helm of the bureau, as his new chief of staff after his old one, Jim Rybicki, left to take a private sector job.

Baker’s reassignment in December came amid right-wing media speculation that he “leaked” information from the bureau and was an ally to Comey, who defended him on Twitter in the days after he was moved to a different position.

Boente, the Post noted, may be seen as a loyalist for President Donald Trump despite being appointed to his U.S. attorney position President Barack Obama. After acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to back Trump’s travel ban, Boente stepped forward to defend it.

The announcement of the filled positions came after reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been pressuring Wray to reshuffle positions in the bureau. Yesterday, Axios reported that Wray threatened to quit if he were forced to fired Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a foe of the Trump administration despite being appointed as acting director of the bureau following Comey’s firing.

[Raw Story]

Sessions Made What Might be His Most Racially Discriminatory Decision Yet and Barely Anyone Noticed

In an extraordinary move that is not getting nearly enough attention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Justice Department letter that warned state courts about the unlawful practice of forcing low income defendants to pay fines or face jail. Courts across the country were (and many still are) enforcing these type of fees in order to generate revenue. When people fail to pay the fees typically imposed for minor traffic infractions or city code violations, courts will issue arrest warrants, send people to jail or take away their driving licenses.  The problem with all that? In America, we don’t believe in debtor’s prisons. Oh, and the practice is unconstitutional. That means illegal. The U.S. outlawed debtor’s prisons in 1833. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that jailing indigent debtors was illegal under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause

“The idea that the Department of Justice doesn’t care about the United States Constitution in courts is so wrong, and really unfortunate. It is a message that should not be sent, and has practical implications,” the Honorable Lisa Foster, who served as the Director of the Office for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice said to Law&Crime.  Foster authored the “Dear Colleague” letter that was sent out in March 2016, and was rescinded by Sessions on Thursday.

Maybe the worst part of all about this decision? The fines and fees disproportionately impact minorities who can’t afford to pay fines right away and often find themselves in jail. It’s not just me saying this, there is study after study proving this.

Imagine getting pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign. You get a $100 ticket. You can’t pay it right away, so your license gets suspended. Then you have to drive to work to support your family but get pulled over and thrown in jail for having a suspended license. Don’t believe me? The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 alleging that the small town of Alexander City, Alabama (population 15,000) was running a “modern-day debtor’s prison” where poor people who couldn’t pay city fines were forced to sit in jail instead. 

The stories go on and on.

Now to be clear, the “Dear Colleague” that was sent last year under the Obama administration was not some kind of earth shattering, super left-wing mandate. The letter was literally just guidance notifying local judges, prosecutors, attorneys and advocates about the law. It was a letter that state municpalities had asked for. Here are some examples of what the letter instructed:

 (1)Courts must not incarcerate a person for nonpayment of fines or fees without first
conducting an indigency determination and establishing that the failure to pay was
willful;
(2) Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants unable to
pay fines and fees;
(3) Courts must not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fines or
fees;
(4) Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel, when
enforcing fines and fees

The DOJ attorneys go on to cite very well-established Supreme Court opinions like Bearden v. Georgia (1983) to back up their guidelines.  The SCOTUS opinion found that the due process and equal protection principles of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit “punishing a person for his poverty.”  In fact, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held tha tthe government can’t jail someone for failure to pay a fine.  The strange thing about all of this is that until Attorney General Sessions came along, this was a pretty non-partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats agreed there was a problem here.

In fact, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which is a well-known conservative non-profit organization for state legislators, was also opposed to these type of excessive fees and fines. In their resolution against the practice they wrote: “excessive criminal justice financial obligations can contribute to unnecessary incarceration as some studies have found 20 percent of those in local jails are incarcerated because of failure to pay a fine or fee, which can make it even harder for the person to obtain employment and add to the burden on taxpayers.”

The initial “Dear Colleague” letter, which has now been rescinded, was in response, in part, to the DOJ’s Ferguson Report which found that police were unfairly targeting minorities, and saddling residents with fines. For example, a Ferguson woman parked her car illegally in 2007, and somehow ended up having to pay $1,000 and serve 6 days in jail. That’s insane.

“It is tragic for the Department of Justice to retreat from concerns about and constitutional commitments to equal and fair treatment,” Judith Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School, said in an email to Law&Crime.

“I think it shocking and unfortunate,” Judge Foster said.

[Law and Crime]

Trump reverts to campaign-trail name-calling in Twitter rant calling for probe of DNC

President Trump issued a flurry of tweets over a five-hour span Friday urging the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee over a joint fundraising agreement they signed in August 2015.

Trump’s accusations follow publication by Politico of an excerpt from former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s upcoming book. Brazile alleges she found “proof” that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged in Clinton’s favor.

Previous presidents have avoided even seeming to direct the Justice Department on whom to investigate — but not Trump.

Trump reverted to his campaign-trail name-calling of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), again referring to her as “Pocahontas.”

He also in one post called Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “Crazy Bernie.” Trump has described this kind of rhetoric as “modern day presidential.”

Trump’s epic Twitter rant took place in the hours and minutes before he was set to depart the South Lawn via Marine One for his Air Force One flight to Hawaii to kick off his 12-day swing through Asia.

Implicit in the messages was more criticism of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, though Trump did not mention the nation’s top prosecutor by name.

Asked later Friday if he would fire the attorney general if he doesn’t investigate Trump’s Democratic political rivals, the president said, “I don’t know.”

Two White House officials quickly cautioned against reading too much into Trump’s comments, reiterating that he has no plans to fire Sessions. And although the White House maintains that Trump’s tweets are “official record,” it says Trump has not ordered Sessions or the FBI to do anything related to Democrats.

The aides said the tweets were a media savvy way to deflect attention from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This week, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, were indicted on 12 counts, and former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying about his dealings with Russians who were offering “dirt” on Clinton.

[Los Angeles Times]

The Justice Department Declares War on Attorneys Who Dare to Oppose the Trump Administration

On Friday, the Department of Justice filed an astonishing appeal with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to intervene in the Jane Doe case that seemed to have ended last week. Doe, an undocumented 17-year-old in a federally funded Texas shelter, was denied abortion access by the Trump administration, which argues that it can force undocumented minors to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. On Oct. 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Doe must be allowed to terminate her pregnancy, which she did the next day. Now the DOJ is urging the Supreme Court to vacate that decision—and punish the ACLU attorneys who represented Doe.

Make no mistake: With this filing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has declared war on attorneys and groups who dare to oppose it in court.

Because Doe obtained her abortion, Friday’s appeal might seem pointless, presenting no live controversy for the justices to adjudicate. But the DOJ has three goals here. First, it wants the Supreme Court to punish the D.C. Circuit for issuing a decision that it believes to be egregiously wrong by wiping the entire ruling off the books. Second, the DOJ wants to eradicate a decision that sets a legal precedent it despises. Doe’s lawsuit was initially brought as part of a class action, and the ACLU will continue to litigate its broader claim against the Trump administration’s absolute bar on abortion access for undocumented minors. As long as the D.C. Circuit’s decision remains on the books, those lawsuits are almost guaranteed to succeed. The Justice Department wants it gone so that it can litigate this issue anew.

Third, and most importantly, Friday’s appeal is a flagrant effort to crucify the individual attorneys who represented Doe, and to terrify likeminded lawyers into acquiescence. The DOJ thus asks the Supreme Court to force Doe’s lawyers to “show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken” against the ACLU—either by the court itself or by state bars—for “material misrepresentations and omissions” designed to thwart an appeal.

In other words, the DOJ is using the full weight of a government agency to threaten professional ruin upon the lawyers who defended Jane Doe’s constitutional right to abortion access.

The DOJ claims that after the D.C. Circuit ruled in Doe’s favor on Oct. 24, government attorneys believed they had until Oct. 26 until Doe got her abortion. Under Texas law, women must obtain “counseling” at least 24 hours before terminating her pregnancy, and this counseling must be performed by the same physician who performs the procedure. Doe had already received this counseling from a Texas doctor when the D.C. Circuit issued its decision. According to the DOJ, ACLU lawyers told the government that this physician would not be working and that Doe would receive another counseling appointment on the morning of October 25, and get the abortion to October 26. Government lawyers asked to be kept informed of the timing of the procedure, and they claim that ACLU lawyers agreed to comply with their request. They also say that the DOJ planned to ask for a stay on Oct. 25—but on that same morning, ACLU attorneys arranged for Doe to visit the doctor who had already counseled her, allowing him to perform the procedure.

Put differently, the government argues that the ACLU owed government lawyers a notification of when Doe’s legal abortion would occur. The end goal here seems to have been to try to continue to block the abortion until it would be illegal to terminate, even though she had secured an unqualified right to do so. (Doe was 16 weeks pregnant by that point; Texas bans abortion after 20 weeks, and the government had already delayed the abortion by a month.) The DOJ also claims that Doe’s lawyers had the responsibility to keep answering their phone calls to update them on her status: “Efforts to reach respondent’s counsel were met with silence, until approximately 10 a.m. EST, when one of her lawyers told the government that Ms. Does had undergone an abortion.”

What really seems to enrage the DOJ, however, is that Doe didn’t attend a second counseling session—which would have been duplicative and wasteful, and caused her yet more needless delay—because the physician who counseled her the first time later agreed to perform the procedure. If ever there were an indicator of the un-distilled bad faith at work here, it’s government lawyers insisting that a non-person with no rights undergo a second round of the same counseling, not for the purposes of medical advice, but so that they would have more time to thwart her choice.

These allegations of wrongdoing are laughably flimsy and outwardly vindictive. Even under the DOJ’s contorted narrative, it’s obvious that the ACLU simply acted efficiently, and the Trump administration is bitter and embarrassed that it lost. The government argues that the ACLU “at least arguably had an obligation to notify the government” that Doe would terminate on Oct. 25—an “incredibly significant development.” But that’s just not how this works. The government had sufficient time to ask the Supreme Court to stay the D.C. Circuit’s decision before Doe terminated. In fact, Texas was already prepared with its own amicus brief backing the DOJ. But the government didn’t act in time. And it’s not the ACLU’s fault that its client secured her constitutional rights while the government dallied in its efforts to exert control of her reproductive capacities. This week-late effort to blame the ACLU for its “arguable” responsibility to ensure that the government could continue to harm their client is not just an effort to save face, but also an attempt to warn attorneys that zealous effectuation of their duties to the clients will now be punished.

The Justice Department’s crusade against the ACLU is especially galling in light of the fact that there was sanctionable misconduct here—on the part of the government itself. Scott Lloyd, the official who blocked Doe and other minors from abortion access, likely violated a long-standing federal settlement agreement in his anti-abortion crusade. Under this agreement, undocumented minors like Doe must be allowed access to family planning services, which Lloyd intentionally and repeatedly withheld. He even instituted his anti-abortion views as official government policy in obvious violation of the federal settlement.

If anyone deserves to be punished here, it is surely Lloyd, who flouted the law for purely ideological purposes. But instead of investigating its own employee for potential misconduct, the government is going after Doe’s ACLU attorneys for defending her constitutional rights. This is a shocking assault on the nation’s civil rights attorneys, and an unprecedented effort by the DOJ to slander and shame those attorneys who defend their clients’ rights against the government’s abuse of the law. After today, lawyers who question the Trump administration’s legal views should be aware that they have targets on their backs.

[Slate]

Sessions’ DOJ reverses transgender workplace protections

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed an Obama-era policy explicitly defining transgender workers as protected under employment discrimination laws, CBS News’ Paula Reid reports.

The Wednesday policy reversal of what qualifies as employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act comes down to an idealogical disagreement over whether “sex” is decided by a person’s birth certificate, or whether sexual discrimination includes broader gender identity. Title VII prohibits any employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014 interpreted “sex” discrimination to apply to discrimination based on gender identity, while Sessions’ DOJ interprets that it only applies to discrimination between men and women.

Sessions’ DOJ argues Holder went beyond the definition of the 1964 law by including transgender discrimination.

“The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided,” DOJ spokesperson Devin O’Malley said. Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today’s action. This Department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals, and will continue to enforce the numerous laws that Congress has enacted that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The move comes after President Trump has announced he will prohibit transgender individuals from serving in the military, a decision that shocked his own party and caused backlash from Democrats and civil liberties groups.

Sessions’ latest policy shift could very well could end up in court, Reid reports. Already, it’s under fire from civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Today marks another low point for a Department of Justice, which has been cruelly consistent in its hostility towards the LGBT community and in particular its inability to treat transgender people with basic dignity and respect,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement.

“This Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions has time and time again made it clear that its explicit agenda is to attack and undermine the civil rights of our most vulnerable communities, rather than standing up for them as they should be doing,” Esseks continued. “Discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination, just as DOJ recognized years ago. We are confident that the courts will continue to agree and will reject the politically driven decision by Attorney General Sessions.”

[CBS News]

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