Ban the Box in the News

April 21, 2013

Over the past two months public dialogue about Ban the Box has increased, spurred on by the Charlotte City Council’s decision to send the issue to the Economic Development Committee.  Several local media outlets exposed the issue to a wider audience, and helped Charlotteans begin to understand the importance and details of the proposed ordinance.

Creative Loafing highlighted the contributions of Councilwoman Mayfield and the Civil Right Clinic in getting the City Council to consider the needs of the thousands of Charlotteans who have conviction histories and are looking for work.  Councilwoman champions ‘Banning the Box:’ Spearheaded by LaWana Mayfield, job application question regarding prior convictions debated in city committee.

The Charlotte Observer ran an editorial by Civil Rights Clinic member Cleat Walters III, which highlighted the benefits of the ordinance to the City.  Banning ‘the box’ eliminates unfair obstacle to jobs

Unfortunately, not all of the stories in the media were accurate.  While we all have sympathy for the family and fiance of murder victim Danielle Watson, who was killed during a robbery inside the Flying Biscuit, WBTV’s story highlighting his opposition to Ban the Box “Murder victim’s fiance outraged over bill to remove “felon” question from job application” fails to identify the fact that the ordinance does not prohibit criminal background checks for job applicants.

Hopefully, Charlotte will follow cities like Richmond that recently enacted a similar ordinance as reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Richmond City Council unanimously passes ‘ban the box’ ordinance.

Ban the Box is slated for discussion during the May 2nd meeting of the Charlotte City Council’s Economic Development Committee.  The coalition hopes the  meeting room CH-14 in the Government Center will be packed when they consider this important measure at 12pm that day.

The Legal Dose- Citizens Review Board

April 18, 2013

Clinic Members Emily Ray, Isabel Carson, and Daniel Melo sit down to discuss the recent proposed changes to Charlotte’s Citizen’s Review Board and what lies ahead.

Release-Dismissal Update: Advocates Propose Changes to NC Bar’s Proposed Formal Ethics Opinion

April 14, 2013

In response to the North Carolina State Bar’s Ethics Committee’s Proposed Formal Ethics Opinion banning the use of release-dismissal agreements by state prosecutors, the Civil Rights Clinic, North Carolina Advocates for Justice, North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence, and the Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic submitted letters to the Committee with proposed changes to the language of the Opinion.  You can see the letters here:

The letters submitted by these organizations collectively ask for the Opinion to apply equally against federal prosecutors as against state prosecutors.  The reasoning provided by the NCAJ and the Civil Rights Clinic is found in federal law.  Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 530B(a), government attorneys are required to follow the laws and rules of the state in which they practice as they are applied to attorneys practicing in that state.  Additionally, the federal district court rules for the Western, Middle, and Eastern Districts of North Carolina state that lawyers must be members in good standing with the North Carolina Bar before being admitted to the federal bar.  According to Burton Craige of NCAJ, not applying the Opinion against federal prosecutors would be “unwarranted and unprecedented” because the “North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct apply equally to all prosecutors licensed by the State Bar.”

Additionally, the Clinic proposed changing the one sentence of the opinion from “When new evidence clearly demonstrates that a convicted person should be released from prison … .” to “When new evidence demonstrates … .”  While removing one word from the Opinion appears to be trivial, the use of the word “clearly” creates an ambiguity that may open the door to the use of release-dismissal agreements based on a prosecutor’s subjective belief that new evidence is not clear to him that a convicted person should be released.

NCAJ and the Clinic also proposed that the Committee add language to the Opinion referencing the clear conflict of interest that exists when a prosecutor seeks a release-dismissal agreement:

A prosecutor who presents a release/dismissal agreement to a convicted person is representing the civil interests of the public officials or entities who will presumably benefit from such an agreement.  That role is in conflict with his role as a representative of the sovereign and a minister of justice.  Under Rule 1.7(a), it is a conflict of interest that cannot be resolved by consent.

Finally, the Clinic proposed that the Opinion should apply to all phases of criminal investigation and prosecution because the concerns that serve as the foundation of the proposed opinion also apply in a pre-conviction context.

By: Jordan Dupuis

CSL Students Hear Supreme Court Oral Arguments During Spring Break

April 11, 2013

This year the Supreme Court oral arguments for the California “Prop 8” case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, and the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, coincided with Charlotte School of Law’s Spring Break.  Caleb Newman, a 2L, and Adria R. Crannell, a 3L, had the rare opportunity to attend the oral arguments in Washington, D.C.

Witnessing History Evolve, Maybe

By: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Last week, I was one of ten fortunate students from our school to travel to the Supreme Court of the United States to observe oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Proposition 8 case, and United States v. Windsor, the DOMA case. The issues in these two cases have been discussed and belabored by the news media on television and the internet, pastors in the pulpit and during prayer sessions, students in classrooms and symposiums and forums, politicians on the campaign trail and during press conferences, and social activists on television shows and social media websites. But at the end of the day (or, rather more appropriately, at the end of the Court’s term), the Justices will have the final word.

There has been much speculation regarding the anticipated outcome of Prop 8 and DOMA. Will the Justices even reach the merits of Hollingsworth, instead kicking the case on Article III standing grounds? Will the Justices find that the petitioners have Article III standing and find that there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage? Will the Justices employ a rational basis review, or some sort of heightened scrutiny? Has DOMA met its end?

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Listening to the Justice’s questions and the points they were trying to make during oral arguments last week, it was clear how some Justices are likely to stand on some of the issues: Justice Kagan’s reading of the House Committee Report quoting “moral disapproval” of homosexuality; Justice Kennedy’s thoughts on the Prop case being improvidently granted; Justice Ginsburg’s dismissal of the theory that children “do best” with heterosexual parents; Justice Alito’s statement that same-sex marriage and civil unions are “newer than cell phones and the internet;” and Justice Scalia’s assertion that in order to find a law unconstitutional there must be some sort of “start date” for the unconstitutional law.

I am in no position to predict an outcome of these cases nor will I attempt to answer the questions above. However, standing outside of the Court on Tuesday and Wednesday made me realize that there are millions of Americans who have a deep, personal stake in the Court’s outcome. Seeing the hundreds of people waving signs, locking arms, engaging in dialogue, and marching down the street chanting and singing caused me to develop a deeper appreciation and respect for the Court.

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

Photo Credit: Caleb Newman

I think our founding fathers would have been proud to see the peaceful yet powerful demonstrations on First Street last week. And until the end of June, when the Court is likely to announce its opinion in these two landmark cases, Americans will continue the debate that has raged on for decades. But as one commentator remarked, “The right to same-sex marriage will not be achieved by amicus briefs or court opinions, but rather by time that will pass by allowing Americans to see that this fundamental right is not destructive as some believe.”

Hoping to Witness History

By: Adria R. Crannell

Last Tuesday, I was lucky enough to gain entrance to the Supreme Court during oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry, also known as “Prop 8.” I was spending my spring break in Washington, D.C. for an internship at the National Legal Aid and Defender’s Association and was encouraged to spend the morning at the Court. I heard that people were lined up as early as Saturday afternoon for Tuesday’s arguments, so I feared I would not be able to get in. Walking from the metro stop just before 8am, I could see the line already formed down the block. There was a group offering coffee, bagels, and signs, I grabbed a bagel and a bright yellow sign with three “stick-figure” couples; two men, two women, and one man, one woman. I made pleasant conversation with the folks in line around me, including a man from Utah who helped write one of the amicus briefs for the case, a mother from Michigan whose son just graduated from Cooley Law School, and a lesbian couple, one of whom was attending law school in Rhode Island. A separate line for Wednesday’s arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had already formed.

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

As we speculated on the outcomes of the cases, a parade of ministers and congregants came through singing “This Little Light of Mine,” passing out PRIDE flags, and carrying signs encouraging the Court to rule in favor of gay marriage. With the exception of the Westboro Baptist Church, there was nary a dry eye in line. Although there were many clever and powerful signs, my favorite was the one that said “Mawage is what bwings us togeva today,” in a nod to the classic 80’s film, The Princess Bride.

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

As I was handed a little yellow ticket granting me three minutes of viewing time in the back of the Supreme Court, I was filled with excitement like a child on Christmas morning. I couldn’t believe I was one of the lucky ones. I was positively beaming at having the opportunity to be present, even for a short time, in the Court for what, I hope, turns out to be one of two landmark decisions. My mind was racing, trying to take everything in; I had turned my Facebook newsfeed into Twitter, posting near-constant updates, both so I could share one of lifetime’s greatest privileges with friends and family, and also so I wouldn’t forget anything. Around 10:45 a.m., midway into the day’s two-hour arguments, after going through security, twice, we were led to a small section in the back of the Court, behind red velvet curtains.

Due to the curtains, I was not able to see every Justice and wasn’t always sure who was speaking, but I was able to see Justice Scalia as he repeatedly hounded Theodore Olsen, the attorney challenging Prop 8, with the question of “when did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage?” The two bantered back and forth with Olsen attempting every maneuver the English language allowed to avoid putting a designation on when, ultimately stating he didn’t know. With that, my time was up and I was escorted out of the back room.

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

Photo Credit: Adria Crannell

My thoughts still swirling, in awe that I was able to be present for an argument in front of the Supreme Court, to see some of the Justice’s whose words I have spent the last three years reading, to hear the questions and answers that will later become another decision read by future students, to take in as much as possible while trying to apply what we discussed in Constitutional Law just the week before, feeling my law school career boiled down to three minutes in which I hope to have witnessed history.

Charlotte School of Law Makes the National Honor Roll for Community Service

April 6, 2013

Congratulations Charlotte School of Law students and faculty on being recognized for all of your service to the community!

Read more here:

Civil Rights Clinic members speak to City Council about reforming Citizens Review Board

April 2, 2013

On Monday evening, April 1, 2013, the Charlotte City Council heard Civil Rights Clinic members Isabel Carson and Daniel Melo advocate for the reform of the city’s Citizens Review Board. Isabel and Daniel were two of a series of eight speakers to the City Council about the Citizen’s Review Board and the need for change. Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board is the forum for appeals for citizens who have complained about police misconduct. After an informational presentation by the city’s stakeholders and then public input during the Citizens’ Forum, the City Council decided to (1) have the City Manager develop a stakeholder process within the next 90 days and (2) send the ordinance, City Ordinance 849, to the Council Manager Relations Committee for review. Changing the standard of review and the need for transparency were recognized as primary areas in need of reform. The Council asked for further data collection, analysis, and possible reform of those issues.



Pictures by Katie Webb

Please stay tuned to the Civil Rights Blog for more updates and information in the following weeks!

For further information, please read:

Observer article April 1st Council Meeting: After scrutiny, council votes to examine review board

February Observer Article: The real story on the Citizens Review Board

By Lindsey Engels

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