On the Hill Updates: Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Federal Courts

SCOTUS decides Edwards v. Vannoy



In April 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Ramos v. Louisiana that the Sixth Amendment establishes the right to a unanimous jury verdict in both federal and state court cases. Prior to this ruling, Louisiana was one of only two states that did not require unanimous jury verdicts for conviction. In 2010, Thedrick Edwards, an African American defendant, was sentenced to life in prison without parole even though the lone African American juror voted against conviction. It is noteworthy that the state used all of its juror challenges to exclude all but one African American individual from the jury. On appeal, the state court upheld his conviction and the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to review the case. After the Ramos decision, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear Mr. Edwards’ appeal to determine whether Ramos is retroactive to cases like his.

Oral Argument: December 2, 2020

Why We’re Watching: NCJW supports comprehensive, humane, and equitable criminal justice reform. This case has the potential to be a small step towards racial justice in a carceral system that disproportionately impacts Black and brown people.

President issues access to justice executive order 

On May 18, President Biden signed an executive order calling on the federal government to expand access to legal representation and the courts with a focus on ensuring access for lower-income individuals. The order directs the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to outline how it will expand access to justice and re-establishes the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to identify ways to address challenges facing legal services organizations and access.

Presidential Commission on Supreme Court holds first public meeting

The Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court, co-chaired by Bob Bauer, Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law and a former White House Counsel, as well as Cristina Rodriguez, Yale Law School Professor, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel at DOJ, held their first of six public meetings on May 19. Their work over the course of the president’s designated 180 days will include research on Supreme Court reform, the Court’s role in the constitutional system, length of service for Justices, membership and size of the Court, and case selection and review. 

  • Take Action! The Commission wants to hear from you! Submit your comments on Supreme Court modernization by August 15.


Additional Updates:

DOJ Civil Rights Division nominee moves forward

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines (11-11) on the nomination of Kristen Clarke to serve as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Department of Justice. On May 18, the Senate voted (50-48) to “discharge” Kristen Clarke’s nomination to the Senate floor (a procedural move required when there’s a tie vote in committee). Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) is expected to schedule a cloture vote (to end debate and move to a vote) and a final vote on Clarke’s nomination before Memorial Day recess.

NO HATE Act passes! Signed into law 5/20

Wear Orange for Gun Safety

The weekend of June 4-6, 2021 is Wear Orange Weekend. NCJW is proud, once again, to cosponsor National Gun Violence Awareness Day and the Wear Orange Weekend to honor survivors of gun violence and remember those who have senselessly lost their lives due to firearms. Orange is the color that Hadiya Pendleton’s friends wore in her honor when she was shot and killed in Chicago at the age of 15 — just one week after performing at President Obama’s 2nd inaugural parade in 2013. After her death, they asked us to stand up, speak out, and Wear Orange to raise awareness about gun violence. Learn more about how to participate virtually in your communities here.

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