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Biden’s Promise to Diversify the Courts

Biden has pledged to nominate the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. These nominees are a good sign that he intends to keep that promise, too. 

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People who care about equal justice under the law should be very happy about President Joe Biden’s first set of judicial nominees.
I am especially excited about the three outstanding Black women that President Biden nominated to the circuit courts—the appeals court level just below the U.S. Supreme Court.
You will soon be hearing more about all these highly credentialed and accomplished women: Ketanji Brown Jackson, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, and Tiffany Cunningham.
Biden is fulfilling his promise to bring professional diversity to courts that are dominated by former prosecutors and corporate lawyers. Ketanji Brown Jackson and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi both have experience as public defenders. Jackson is now a federal district judge who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2013.
Biden has pledged to nominate the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. These nominees are a good sign that he intends to keep that promise, too.
It is shameful that the Seventh Circuit, which has jurisdiction over diverse cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis, currently has only white judges. The confirmation of Jackson-Akiwumi will change that. The confirmation of Tiffany Cunningham will make her the first Black judge ever to serve on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
These brilliant women will also bring other perspectives that are sorely lacking on the courts.
Judge Jackson was vice chair and commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she advocated for ending the brutally unjust and anti-Black discrepancy between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
As a public defender, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi represented more than 400 people who could not afford a lawyer.
Tiffany Cunningham has been nominated to the specialized federal circuit, which needs judges familiar with science and technology issues. Cunningham not only has a law degree from Harvard, but a degree in chemical engineering from MIT. She has been repeatedly named to legal publications’ lists of the country’s best lawyers. She is impressive.
This is history in the making, not just for these judges but for all the people who will be influenced by their decisions.
Legendary civil rights advocate Mary Frances Berry recently wrote, “When the American people voted in November, we chose a new Congress and administration that we believed would deliver change. That means passing legislation that actually helps everyday people, not just the rich and powerful. It also means having the right people in key positions to bring that ‘real people’ focus to policymaking and to upholding the law.” As Berry pointed out, the success of these trailblazing women will also create new opportunities for the women and girls who follow them.
Former President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees were overwhelmingly white—around four percent of his judges are Black —and mostly picked for their loyalty to a right-wing judicial ideology that sacrifices individual rights and the common good to states’ rights and the power of corporations. Trump appointed no Black women to the circuit courts.
Confirming Biden’s judicial nominees will begin the process of repairing the damage done to our courts during the Trump administration and restoring faith in our courts.
Unfortunately, we have seen that being extremely well qualified does not prevent women of color from being unfairly attacked. Right-wing groups have spent millions of dollars to smear women of color nominated to Biden’s cabinet and to high-level positions at the U.S. Justice Department.
People For the American Way has launched the Her Fight Our Fight campaign to support the women of color who are ready to help lead the way to a more just, more inclusive, multiethnic and multiracial democratic society.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.

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ILWU leads May Day Protest down Market Street in San Francisco

“The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia,” continued Davis. “Labor united will never be defeated.”

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    As participants assembled in front of the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, a group of wearing blue jackets and white painters hats could be seen moving to the front of the group.  

   The group, workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, were on hand to lead the May Day march and rally from the Ferry Building down Market Street to San Francisco City Hall. 

   “This is the real Labor Day and this day is celebrated all over the world, said Trent Willis, the head of the ILWUs Local 10 longshoremen’s union.  In 1886, the first fight for workers was for the eight-hour work day. 

    May Day is the celebration of labor and working classes, promoted by the international labor movement and occurs every year on May Day, May 1. The ILWU in San Francisco has spearheaded for the day in the Bay Area and it has been leading the rally and march for the past 15 years.    

   Political activist and college professor Dr. Angela Davis, was a keynote speaker at the rally and she marched along Market Street in between ILWU members. Willis led the march of over 5,000 people with the ILWU, the Teamsters Union, teachersunions and other unions from San Francisco. Adjoining streetswere blocked off to allow the crowd walk freely

    As they walked, the ILWU drill team yelled out chants.  They stopped in front of the Flood Building, where Willis said he,along with others from the labor movement, stand in solidarity with the Chilean Dock Workers Union, who are in the middle of a contract negotiations with the Chilean government for higher wages and better working conditions.  

    The marchers continued to San Francisco City Hall, where Willis, Davis and other labor union officials, got on the back of a flatbed truck and spoke to the crowd.   

    “We need to fight systematic racism,continued Willlis. If you don’t stand up against systematic racism and systematic oppression, racism keeps us from talking to each other.”

   Willis said that when people arent talking to each other, the differences they have cannot be understood or resolved. He said talking is needed in order for people to get along and resolve situations, working conditions and move society forward.        

   Davis,looked out on at the crowd, saying that she was proud to be a part of the march and rally. 

    “There is no place I would rather be then to be standing up for the rights of workers, said Davis.  In solidarity with workers from all over the world.

    Davis said that workers need to stand up and fight so there will not be any more George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, Stephen Clarks, Oscar Grants and Sean Monterrosa. Monterrosa was the San  Francisco man who was killed by police in Vallejo last year. His family was on hand, holding a banner with his name.  

    “The best way to protect worker unity is to protest racism, patriarchy and xenophobia, continued Davis. Labor united will never be defeated.

   Willis said he will make Davis an honorary member of the ILWU, which is an honor that has only been bestowed on Paul Robeson and Dr. Martin Luther King.  He said the struggle for workers continues across the world and within the United States, but it will be a push the ILWU will be vigilant in fighting for to improve working conditions for working people.    

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Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

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The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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Sen. Steven Bradford Brings Strength and Reason to Police Reform Fight

SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations.

California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), admits that he will meet challenges along the way as he fights for police reform in California. 

     Last week, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he defended a bill he introduced in the Legislature that, if passed, would decertify cops for inappropriate behavior. During that appearance, Bradford made a persuasive case for police reform that was, at turns, forceful and thoughtful, bringing a cool head but passionate voice to a topic that has created a bitter divide in the California electorate, pitting advocates of police reform violently against people who support law enforcement. 

      “This is a tough issue but it’s a righteous issue,” Bradford told his colleagues. 

      “And we want to be intentional about what we are doing here in California when it comes to police reform,” he continued during his passionate closing argument for police reform on April 27. “That’s what this bill does. It’s intentional in what we are trying to achieve. This is a fair measure and far better than any that exist today.”

     Co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), Senate Bill (SB) 2 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote that same day. Also known as the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021, the legislation aims to increase accountability for law enforcement officers that commit serious misconduct and illegally violate a person’s civil rights.

     SB 2 will create a statewide process to revoke the certification of a peace officer following the conviction of serious crimes or termination from employment due to misconduct.

      Bradford praised the judiciary committee’s majority vote, describing it as progress that would put California on the “right side of history.”

     Atkins agrees. 

     “The passage of SB 2 (April 27) is another step toward the goal of achieving much-needed accountability in policing, and I thank Senator Bradford for his steadfast commitment to achieving critical and necessary reforms,” said Atkins. “As with anything this big, there is a lot of work ahead, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to get this bill in the position to cross the finish line.”

     The California Peace Officer Association (CPOA) believes that Bradford’s bill would turn the California Committee on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) into an investigative agency. A sticking point for the group is that the people who would be given the authority to probe police misconduct would primarily be non-peace officers. 

     “We, of course, know that not all reform is a good reform, and CPOA among others is open to ‘reimagining public safety in California,” Shaun Rundle, CPOA’s deputy director said in a written statement about several police reform and public safety bills scheduled for hearings. “What we didn’t imagine, however, was the continued attacks against a noble profession who have proven to improve and drive down crime in this state year after year.”

     With the passage of SB 2 out of committee, the legislation will move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. If it advances out of that committee, SB 2 could head to a Senate floor vote. 

    During the Judiciary Committee hearing, which lasted for nearly three hours, a few senators expressed their support but asked Bradford to modify language pertaining to the Bane Act. 

     SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations. Authored by California State Assemblymember Tom Bane, the legislation was created to allow victims to seek compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

    Supporters of police reform in California say the Bane Act has been undercut by bad court decisions over the years. They argue that it was once an effective law intended to protect the civil rights of people in the state but has since been weakened as an effective check against police excessive use of force. 

     The California State Sheriffs’ Association views SB 2 as problematic, in terms of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining employees. 

    “We are concerned that the language removing employee immunity from state civil liability will result in individual peace officers hesitating or failing to act out of fear that actions they believe to be lawful may result in litigation and damages. In so doing, SB 2 will very likely jeopardize public safety and diminish our ability to recruit, hire, and retain qualified individuals,” the California State Sheriffs’ Association said in a written statement.

 

    But Bradford says his bill essentially addresses rogue policing and hinders the ability of fired officers to find employment at other agencies even when they have a record of misconduct that got them terminated. 

    Among states that do not have a process to decertify cops for criminal behavior are Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California. 

    “We lead in technology, we lead in the environment, we lead in all those things that are important except for criminal justice reform,” Bradford said, referring to California’s reputation as a political trailblazer on several fronts. 

     People of color live in the communities where the majority of police misconduct incidents take place, Bradford said, adding that SB 2 will save Black and Brown lives. 

     “How many more people, regardless of color need to lose their lives because of the callous acts of law enforcement?” Bradford asked his colleagues. “There are two systems of justice in this country. But you’ll never know, and really understand. Its far different than anything any of you guys have encountered or will encounter.”

 

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