Essential role of private lawyers in defending the poor

On September 17, USA Today reported that “[t]he budget crunch took its latest toll on the federal judiciary … when money to pay court-appointed lawyers for indigent defendants ran out.”  This is part of a series of devastating cuts in recent months affecting the two components of the federal public defender program – salaried full-time federal public defenders and private criminal defense lawyers who are appointed to cases for an hourly fee.


Considering comprehensive federal judgeships legislation

Today, the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts will conduct a hearing on Senate Bill 1385.  If passed, the Federal Judgeships Act of 2013 would authorize the establishment of 70 new federal appeals and district court judgeships.


Time to end the dangerous shell game

Iran heads the list of countries the United States and other nations have targeted for sanctions because of its believed nuclear weapons goal and its support of terrorist groups. There are few governments that elicit more concern among Americans than the one in Tehran.


Collection attorneys and the credit system

It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without credit. Major purchases like a home, car, college education, and vacations would be difficult even for the wealthy and virtually impossible for everyone else.  So many things that make our life comfortable can be attributed to our ability to obtain credit. Consumer spending makes up over 70 percent of the U.S. economy and is driven by the availability of credit.


Holder’s new sentencing policy means Congress must act

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Monday announcement that the Justice Department will change its approach to punishing federal drug offenders is a pivotal step in criminal justice reform. But unless Congress implements legislation consistent with these policy shifts, they could end the moment he leaves his office for the last time. Holder’s new policy is only discretionary, and could be reversed by a new administration.


Trayvon Martin, Edward Snowden and fear

Edward Snowden is a white adult who had access to government secrets and was willing to be exiled and risk prosecution to reveal them.

Trayvon Martin was a black minor who didn’t choose to get killed and certainly cannot flee to a safe haven now.

Despite these differences, a common thread links these two Americans. They are both victims of a national approach to public safety that’s driven by fear. In recent decades, policymakers have become so committed to constraining, supervising, and punishing Americans in the name of security they’ve built the world’s largest system of surveillance and punishment. And now those systems are engulfing the likes of Snowden and Martin alike.


The SEC’s power grab threatens to distort the US justice system

The American legal system is based on the fundamental distinction between criminal and civil proceedings.  Criminal justice agencies have awesome powers – to wiretap our phones, to read our mail, to search our homes – but they are also subject to extra-strength due process protections, including the probable cause standard for searches, the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and a suppression rule to exclude improperly obtained evidence. Civil regulators, by contrast, operate under looser standards, with fewer procedural protections.


Overcriminalization Task Force should focus on reducing prison populations

The House Judiciary Committee’s new Over-Criminalization Task Force held its second hearing last week. Like the first hearing, the second, focused on one narrow aspect of overcriminalization: the need for a clear intent to commit a crime requirement in federal criminal regulations. While certainly an important subject, focusing on intent requirements will not end overcriminalization. The task force, led by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R–Wis.) and Bobby Scott, (D-Va.), should use future hearings to examine the broader ills of the criminal justice system and begin to reverse policies that have made the United States the world’s largest jailer.


Need for copyright protection hits home

In the world of theatre, the people working backstage sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve for making sure the show runs smoothly. The same could be said for the creative fields in general. For every talented professional in the spotlight, there are scores of talented professionals working behind the scenes, and it is paramount that we make sure their creativity and labor is afforded the protection it deserves.

Like many creative people who work in the arts for a living, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about copyright law. However a recent experience brought to my attention how important its protections can be for an independent author and artist like myself.


House Judiciary To examine copyright, technology roles In economy

Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee begins the first of two hearings on the roles of copyright and technology in the economy.

These hearings can highlight the need for objective, empirical data in our copyright policymaking, which the National Academy of Sciences recently announced is in short supply.  The hearings also laudably acknowledge the need to consider how copyright policy may affect our world-class technology sector and the Internet at large.  The unfortunate ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ (SOPA) controversy resulted from just such an oversight, fueled by bad data, including studies and figures whose legitimacy had been questioned by the Government Accountability Office.  Consulting all stakeholders will help avoid future debacles.