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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Call your senators and tell them: Do your job before leaving Washington!

The Senate is getting ready to leave on a three-week vacation.  But dozens of nominees to judicial and executive branch posts are still waiting to start the jobs for which they’ve been nominated.
It’s not right for senators to leave Washington for the year before their job is done.
With your help, we’ve been keeping the pressure on the Senate to do its job and confirm nominees.  Since the November election, the Senate has confirmed 15 judges.  But there still are at least a dozen more who can and should be confirmed this year.  And many executive branch nominees have been waiting months and even years for yes-or-no votes.
As AFJ President Nan Aron said: “When judgeships sit vacant, all Americans suffer. Judicial vacancies mean small businesses struggle with uncertainty, injured individuals drown under the weight of medical bills, and victims of discrimination must wait for justice.”
Please take a moment to call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.  Ask for your senators’ offices and tell them why it is so important to confirm these nominees.

Nan Aron: It’s time to stop tinkering with the machinery of death

Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron was among the speakers today at the launch of 90 Million Strong, a new campaign to abolish the death penalty.  She spoke at a news conference at the National Press Club.  These are her prepared remarks:

My name is Nan Aron.  I am President of Alliance for Justice. On behalf of the more than 100 groups that make up the Alliance, I would like to thank the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for organizing this campaign and this event and for inviting us to participate.
AFJ works to promote a fair and independent judiciary.  There can be no clearer reminder of the importance of who sits on our courts than that these jurists are called upon to make life and death decisions.  For decades the Supreme Court has tried to reconcile state-sanctioned killing with the Constitution of the United States.  That cannot be done.
Justice William Brennan wrote that
“moral concepts” require us to hold that the law has progressed to the point where we should declare that the punishment of death, like punishments on the rack, the screw, and the wheel, is no longer morally tolerable in our civilized society.  
Justice Thurgood Marshall, who believed most Americans were uninformed about the death penalty, wrote that
Assuming knowledge of all the facts presently available regarding capital punishment, the average citizen would, in my opinion, find it shocking to his conscience and sense of justice.
But today, instead of a Brennan or a Marshall, the life of an accused might be in the hands of a judge like Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Jones has said that capital defendants’ claims of racism, arbitrariness and even claims of innocence are nothing more than – her words – red herrings.
She also has declared that,
a killer is only likely to make peace with God and the victim’s family in that moment when the killer faces imminent execution, recognizing that he or she is about to face imminent judgment.          
I don’t know how one makes peace with upholding the execution of someone who may be innocent.  And I don’t know how one makes peace with using the mechanism of the state to punish people by taking their lives.
Justice Harry Blackmun struggled with the death penalty.  At first, he thought there might be some way to reconcile it with the Constitution.  But in 1994, he wrote:
“I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. …”
Declared Blackmun: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”
Alliance for Justice agrees: It is time to stop tinkering with the machinery of death.
We look forward to the day when we have a Supreme Court that will rule, once and for all, that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
We look forward to being a part of the 90 Million Strong campaign, and mobilizing our more than 100 members to act on this vital issue.

Thank you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Retailer tries to hold customer’s money hostage to forced arbitration

By Trevor Boeckmann
AFJ Dorot Fellow
As we detail in our short documentary Lost in the Fine Print, forced arbitration clauses have become omnipresent in American society.  They’re used by companies to prevent consumers from having the chance to stand up for their rights in court when they’re harmed.  Yet most of these clauses are buried deep in the fine print of contracts and terms of service.
Now Walmart, already a corporate bad actor in so many ways, has taken this strategy to a whole new level.  They found a way to hold a customer’s money hostage until she agreed to forced arbitration.
KTRK-TV in Houston reports thaWalmart_Store_Signt on Black Friday, local shopper Maria Selva tried to buy a new TV at the big-box retailer. Walmart had sold out of the TV by the time Selva came to purchase it, but employees gave her a coupon, and had her pay in full.
She thought she could just pick up the TV at a later date.  But after she’d already paid, she was given a notice telling her she had to register online.  When she went online, she found that registering the coupon meant agreeing to forced arbitration.  She refused to accept the terms, and contacted Walmart to ask for a refund.
Walmart said no.
Instead, the company told her she would have to agree to forced arbitration, receive the TV, and return the TV.  Only then could she receive a refund.
It wasn’t until KTRK contacted the company that Walmart finally relented and issued a refund.
The consequences of forced arbitration can be great.  In Lost in the Fine Print we document the stories of Nicole Mitchell and Debbie Brenner, victims of discrimination and fraud who were never allowed to defend their rights in court.
Walmart isn’t the only company that has tried to find creative ways to impose forced arbitration.
Take General Mills, for example.  Last spring, we told you about their new arbitration policy, which purported to force consumers into arbitration if they entered a company contest, printed a General Mills coupon, or even “liked” Cheerios on Facebook.
But public pressure forced General Mills to back down.  Now we’re putting the pressure on other companies.  Join our campaign to end forced arbitration and protect everyday Americans.
Watch one consumer’s battle against Walmart and forced arbitration

Friday, November 14, 2014

Scalia on retirees losing their health insurance: “I can’t feel bad about it.”

By Trevor Boeckmann

AFJ Dorot Fellow

It’s no surprise to see the majority on the United States Supreme Court siding against consumers, employees, and everyday Americans. In the past, we’ve told you about the Court upholding forced arbitration clauses that keep those harmed by big businesses out of court, preventing women from banding together to stop employment discrimination, and allowing employers to impose their religious views on employees.

At some point, one would think the majority would start to feel bad about how their actions affect us. Apparently not.

This week, the Court heard oral arguments in a case involving health insurance for retirees.
 M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett involves a chemical company in West Virginia that had a series of collective bargaining agreements with its employees’ union. At issue was a clause in the agreement that said retired employees “will receive a full company contribution towards the cost of [health] benefits.” The union argued the benefits were guaranteed for life. The company argued it could take away these benefits whenever it chose—which it did in 2007.

As Professors Susan Cancelosi and Charlotte Garden wrote in a previous post: “The equitable case for retirees is compelling: they devoted their working lives to their employer with the expectation that they would then have health insurance to see them through their retirement.” Compelling, unless you’re Justice Antonin Scalia.

During oral argument, Justice Scalia mused:
 You know, the nice thing about a contract case of this sort is you can’t feel bad about it.  Whoever loses deserves to lose. I mean, this thing [the duration of the health benefits] is obviously an important feature.  Both sides knew it was left unaddressed, so, you know, whoever loses deserves to lose for casting this upon us when it could have been said very clearly in the contract.  Such an important feature.  So I hope we’ll get it right, but, you know, I can’t feel bad about it.

 Justice Stephen Breyer was quick to disagree:

Well, you know, the workers who discover they’ve been retired for five years and don’t have any health benefits might feel a little bad about it.

Listen to the comments of Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer:

This is nothing new for Justice Scalia.  Last year, he compared the LGBT community to “child abusers” and referred to the Voting Rights Acts as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
And if the majority sides with the chemical company, that won’t be anything new either.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Nan Aron in The Huffington Post: Supreme Court to women: Father knows best

From AFJ President Nan Aron's latest column in The Huffington Post:

This is a very bad time for American women in the Supreme Court.

Three big cases were decided right at the end of its term that will profoundly affect women’s lives, subject them to conditions that are never applied to men, and damage their ability to control their own lives and health.

In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court in a “faux-nanimous” decision in which the four moderate-liberals clearly played defense, found that a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrance to abortion clinics in Massachusetts was a violation of the First Amendment. The Commonwealth had established the zones in reaction to the brutal murder of two people at a Boston clinic in 1994 and the endless harassment of women and their families attempting to enter reproductive health clinics.

But Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court, swept aside reality, superimposed his own view of what happens outside clinics, and somehow found that so-called “sidewalk counselors” need to be protected more than the people who work at or make use of the clinics.