Voting machines at PS101 in Forest Hills, NY (Photo: Andrea Renault / Polaris Images)
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. last week urged state and federal lawmakers to restore voting rights to felons who are no longer under supervision, calling restrictions in place now “profoundly outdated.”
Holder, speaking during a sentencing reform symposium at Georgetown University Law Center on Feb. 11, said laws that permanently disenfranchise former prisoners are “unjust” and “counterproductive.” At some point, Holder said, 95 percent of all the prisoners in the country will be released.
“By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes,” Holder said. “They undermine the re-entry process and defy the principles — of accountability and rehabilitation — that guide our criminal justice policies.”
There are 5.8 million felons who cannot vote now even though they have served their time and paid their fines, the attorney general said. One in 13 African-Americans in the country is blocked from voting for this reason, and in states such as Florida the number climbs to as high as one in five, he said.
“However well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be, the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated,” Holder said. “At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past — a time of post-Civil War discrimination.”
Holder said reforming criminal sentencing laws is not a partisan matters. Many of the reforms, he said, would have to be codified at the state level. — Todd Ruger
PETER KEISLER TO ARGUE GREENHOUSE-GAS CASE
Sidley Austin partner Peter Keisler will be an advocate with many masters before the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 24.
The multiple private parties challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from stationary sources gave Keisler the nod to argue on their behalf in five consolidated cases. The parties have “mutually inconsistent” positions on the hot-button question, Keisler, co-chairman of Sidley’s appellate practice, told the court in an earlier motion. But the justices are only allowing one lawyer to argue for industry, for 30 minutes. Harmonizing the different points of view will be a “challenge for him,” the Environmental Defense Fund’s lawyer, Sean Donahue , said. The court has also granted argument time to the states challenging the regulations; Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell will have 15 minutes to make his case. Defending the EPA rules for 45 minutes will be U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. — Tony Mauro
JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS SPAT
Senate Democrats have started a push for confirmation votes for stalled judicial nominees this year, but Republicans made it clear they won’t make it easy for President Obama’s picks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for the first time this year sought quick votes on four district court nominees, all of whom are uncontroversial. Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) objected to the once common move — still upset that Democrats changed Senate rules last year to strip the minority party of the ability to block judicial and executive branch nominees.
Of the 32 circuit and district court nominees awaiting confirmation, Reid on Feb. 12 filed cloture to start the procedure for four: Jeffrey Meyer for the District of Connecticut; James Moody Jr. for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and James Donato and Beth Freeman for the Northern District of California. A vote to start the floor procedures for Meyer is set for Feb. 24, when the Senate returns from a break. — Todd Ruger
SEC TRIAL WOES CONTINUE
After a string of recent courtroom defeats, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission declared victory following a two-week securities fraud trial in Minneapolis federal court.
But the jury’s findings on Feb. 11 weren’t as clear-cut as the SEC suggested, since the verdict was mixed on whether the defendant, fund manager Marlon Quan, intentionally committed fraud.
Quan’s lawyers from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr said the findings cannot be reconciled. Wilmer counsel Christopher Casamassima tried the case with of counsel Bruce Coolidge and senior associate Laura Schwalbe.
“The SEC brought two claims against Mr. Quan for securities fraud based on identical conduct under two different securities laws that are also identical in their application to this case,” Casamassima said in an interview. The jury found that the SEC had prevailed on one claim, and Quan came out on top on the other.
“Because these findings cannot be ­reconciled, they reflect a split, nonunanimous jury,” Casamassima said. “Since unanimity is required for liability, the effect of the two inconsistent findings is that the SEC has failed to sustain its claim of securities fraud against Mr. Quan.” — Jenna Greene
NO FEES IN FOIA LAWSUIT
Kelly McClanahan represented nonprofit National Security Counselors in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, but a Washington federal judge found last week that McClanahan and his client were actually one in the same — making the attorney ineligible for legal fees.
National Security Counselors, represented by McClanahan, sued the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense in 2011 over their responses to requests for information about declassification review procedures. McClanahan sought attorney fees, arguing his client was the winning party because the agencies processed and responded to requests for information as a result of the lawsuit.
On Feb. 12, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer denied his request, finding that National Security Counselors was essentially a “one-man operation” run by McClanahan, meaning there was no real attorney-client relationship. “[W]ithout a true client, the Government is under no obligation to subsidize self-serving activity,” Collyer wrote. McClanahan said in an email that “we believe that this ruling was an error, and we are currently evaluating our options going forward.” — Zoe Tillman
HONORS FOR LEGAL SERVICES
“Unsung hero” James Bishop, director of the Catholic Charities Legal Network of the Archdiocese of Washington, is the winner of this year’s Jerrold Scoutt Prize honoring D.C. legal services lawyers. Bishop has led the Legal Network for the past 20 years, coordinating pro bono legal help for hundreds of low-income individuals each year and providing training and other assistance to legal services organizations in the district and across the country.
“Bishop is an unsung hero of our pro bono community and a deserving recipient of the Scoutt Prize,” Fred Goldberg Jr., an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, said. Goldberg chairs the D.C. Bar Foundation committee that selects the Scoutt Prize winner. Bishop was “very thankful” to be this year’s honoree. The award gave him additional strength, he said, “to continue on helping.” He will formally receive the award on May 15 during the D.C. Bar’s judicial reception. — Zoe Tillman
WHO IS THOMAS CUBBAGE?
Following world politics and watching recorded episodes of “Jeopardy!” paid off for Covington & Burling partner Thomas Cubbage III, who edged out Californian contestants Bob Verini and Jerome Vered on an episode that aired on Feb. 7.
Cubbage won on the final night of the show’s “Battle of the Decades: 1980s Week” series. Host Alex Trebek pitched this Final Jeopardy question: “When these two men swapped jobs in 2012, their country’s media described the move as ‘castling.’ ” Cubbage knew it, but Verini did not. The answer? Who are Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. Prior to the airing, Cubbage’s friends and family hadn’t known whether he’d advanced in the tournament.
Cubbage — who goes by “Tom” on the show and “T.L.” day to day — has won a $136,600 in 10 “Jeopardy!” appearances. He was the first champion of the college tournament in 1989, when he was a first-year student at the University of Texas School of Law. The Washington lawyer will fly back to California in April to compete against winners from the 1990s and 2000s weeks’ battles. That show will broadcast in May as a quarter-final match of the “Battle of the Decades” tournament. — Katelyn Polantz
The Obama administration on Feb. 12 unveiled its much anticipated voluntary cybersecurity framework, giving U.S. companies a handbook on how they can try to fend off hackers. The 41-page Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, released by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, is intended to help banks, utilities, technology companies and other businesses that work with critical infrastructure better appraise their risks from hackers and fortify against cyberattacks.
The guidelines came one year after President Obama signed an executive order to provide companies with best practices to mitigate cyberrisk. Obama called the framework a “great example” of the government and private sector working together “to meet this shared challenge.” — Andrew Ramonas