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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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Don't let Microsoft clip our rights

 The computer giant is trying to force us into forced arbitration

Clippy Shareable

Microsoft, the company that gave us Vista, Ctrl-Alt-Delete and Clippy, has something in store for us that’s even worse.  The company has been phasing in forced arbitration clauses in its “services agreement.”

That means if you are harmed by a Microsoft product or service, you can’t stand up for your rights in court.  Instead, you have to take your case to an arbitrator hired by Microsoft.  Arbitrators do not need to be lawyers or follow precedent, yet their word is nearly always final and unappealable.  One study found that such arbitrators rule for the businesses that hire them 94 percent of the time.

Microsoft also won’t let you band together with others the company has wronged and bring a class-action suit – often the only way to stop a corporation from cheating millions of consumers.  The latest version of the services agreement makes this ban even more strict.

One can see why Microsoft might be fond of forced arbitration.  In a 2003 e-mail, company founder Bill Gates used the following terms to describe what it was like to use one of his own products:
 disappointed, backwards, unusable, totally confusing, strange, pathetic, completely odd, weird, scary, crazy, slow, garbage, not usable, crapped up, crap, absolute mess, craziness, terrible.
Microsoft joins a lengthening list of big businesses that are taking away our rights when we’re harmed by their products and services.  Public outrage forced General Mills to back down.  But odds are you’ve clicked through at least one contract with a forced arbitration clause in the fine print. They are showing up everywhere, from credit card contracts to the Instagram terms of use.  And in the case of Microsoft, using one of the affected products means you’ve consented to surrendering your rights.

Perhaps the best indicator of just how bad a deal forced arbitration is for consumers is the sneaky way big businesses force it on us.

Take Microsoft’s latest email announcing the changes.  “Our users' needs are at the center of everything we do,” says the happy little email. “That's why we are updating the Microsoft Services Agreement.”  But there’s no mention of forced arbitration in the email itself.  And there’s no mention of it in the FAQ that supposedly offers the “highlights.”

No, you have to click on the link to the fine print and scroll down to Section 10 before you find out what Microsoft is taking away.  If forced arbitration is so great, why does it have to be forced?  Why not offer it on a voluntary basis?  And why aren’t companies bragging about it instead of tucking it away in those long, long “agreements” that few of us have the time to read?

There is a solution.  The Arbitration Fairness Act would put an end to these outrages.  If you don’t want your rights “clipped” by the company that gave us Clippy – or by all the other corporations on the forced arbitration bandwagon – tell your Members of Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act.

Friday, June 13, 2014

AFJ to host reception for filmmaker Abby Ginzberg

Join us to preview the new film, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa

By Julius Goldberg-Lewis, AFJ Outreach Intern

 “All revolutions are impossible until they happen.  Then they become inevitable.”
--Albie Sachs
On Friday, June 20th, Alliance for Justice will host a reception for Abby Ginzberg.  During the reception Abby will present clips of her new film, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa. The film chronicles the extraordinary story of Albie Sachs’ journey through imprisonment, assassination attempts, his place on the South African Constitutional Court, and his authorship of a new South African Constitution. RSVP here.

 The story of Albie Sachsis one of struggle and triumph against Apartheid South Africa, where violence, oppression and injustice were a daily reality. A lawyer by trade, Sachs defended his clients against the racial laws that existed at the time. He continuously fought against apartheid and because of this, was tortured, imprisoned in solitary confinement, and eventually exiled. During his exile in Mozambique,  South African security forces planted a bomb in his car.  He survived, but lost  an eye and an arm.

There were those who promised vengeance against the perpetrators of the attack, but Sachs had a different end in mind. After the release of Nelson Mandela, Sachs was able to return to South Africa and exact his ‘soft vengeance.’ The vengeance that Albie Sachs sought was not harm to those who tried to kill him, but a new constitution enshrining the egalitarian values, which apartheid  sought to destroy. Sachs was nominated by Mandela to be one of the first 11 justices on the South African Constitutional court.  Serving on that  Court for 15 years, Sachs had the opportunity to continue to shape the constitution and direction of South Africa.

SoftVengenceIn telling the story of Albie Sachs, award-winning filmmaker Abby Ginzberg presents not only the story of Sachs’ fight for justice and equality, but also a personal narrative of how Sachs viewed his work as a form of art. 

Ginzberg highlights Sachs’ lifelong love of art and music, which drove him to be the Chief Curator for the Constitutional Court and dramatically influenced what he hoped to see in the new South Africa. For Sachs, human dignity, equality, art and music all come from the same wellspring, and Ginzberg’s film presents a unique picture of how that philosophy was able to shape the future of South Africa.

Ginzberg will be screening Soft Vengance at AFI Docs in Silver Spring, MD on June 10.  Afterwards she will screen excerpts  at Alliance for Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., during a reception cosponsored by The Institute for Policy Studies and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.  Refreshments will be served during the reception and guests will have a special opportunity to chat with the filmmaker.   The reception is free and open to the public, but guests are asked to rsvp.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

AFJ report: Bold action by Senate Democrats reduces number of judicial vacancies to lowest in five years

But early stage Republican obstruction still delays justice as scores of judgeships remain vacant

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 10, 2014: Bold action by Senate Democrats has reduced the number of judicial vacancies to a five-year low, according to a new report from Alliance for Justice.  But even as President Obama has picked up the pace of nominations, and Senate rules reform and a commitment to moving confirmations have significantly reduced the backlog of nominees on the Senate floor, Republican obstruction continues at earlier stages in the process often hidden from public view, the report said.

AFJ’s State of the Judiciary report also found significant improvement in the professional diversity of judicial nominees sent to the Senate by President Obama in the months since AFJ issued a report and hosted a Capitol Hill forum on the topic.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

AFJ commends Senate for changing rules

So many people wanted to know our take on this that it crashed our website for awhile, so we posted our statement on today's rules reform victory here.  But the site is back up and you can find out more about Senate rules reform and the D.C. Circuit at www.afj.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 21, 2013 – Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron issued the following statement in response to today’s vote to change the rules of the Senate: 

Alliance for Justice commends Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senators who voted to change Senate rules today for their courageous decision to end the unprecedented abuse of Senate rules by a Republican minority dedicated to obstruction-at-all-costs.

This was not a decision made easily or taken lightly. There was no choice. The Republican minority had turned the existing rules into weapons of mass obstruction. Most recently, they acknowledged that they had no grounds to oppose on the merits President Obama’s supremely-qualified nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. But they filibustered those nominees anyway.

This change in the rules is the only way to return the Senate to its place as the world’s greatest deliberative body; it is the only way to ensure that the Senate can put the well-being of the American people ahead of the political interests of an extremist minority.

Now that the rules have changed, the Senate must move quickly to confirm President Obama’s D.C. Circuit nominees, and all of the other nominees that, until now, have been held hostage to obstruction. Those nominees include 14 more nominees for judgeships who are currently awaiting Senate floor votes, and executive branch nominees such as Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., whose nomination to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency was filibustered last month.