ABA urges U.S. Supreme Court to review constitutionality of structured bail systems

Jail

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that the Calhoun, Ga., bail system, which ties pretrial release directly to a fixed-payment schedule of offenses, violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

“A money bail system that deprives defendants of their liberty without individualized assessments of their personal and financial circumstances violates the Constitution,” the ABA brief said.

The brief, in support of a group of defendants in Calhoun, asks the high court to grant certiorari to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upholding Calhoun’s revised bail system. Scores of jurisdictions nationwide use similar inflexible money-bail systems in their criminal justice proceedings although many states and local entities have discarded their use in recent years.

The Calhoun case, as well as others before other circuit courts, have been moving through the federal court system for several years, with the Eleventh Circuit challenge giving the Supreme Court a chance to consider the constitutionality of a system that detains poor defendants, regardless of the offense, solely because they were unable to pay pre-set bail.

The ABA brief cites long-standing ABA policies and ABA Criminal Justice Standards that encourage release on recognizance and notes that “pretrial release conditions should be imposed only as necessary to serve their legitimate purposes of ensuring defendants’ reappearance and protecting the public.

“Because poverty strongly correlates with race, cash bail tends to result in the pretrial incarceration of racial minority groups, exacerbating pre-existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” the ABA brief said.

The amicus brief in Maurice Walker v. City of Calhoun, Ga., is available here. The ABA has also filed amicus briefs in similar cases arising out of Rutherford County, Tenn. and Harris County, Texas. These and other amicus briefs can be found on the ABA Standing Committee on Amicus Curiae Briefs’ website.

ABA Legal Fact Check explores the legal basis for saying, ‘A president is not above the law’

The American Bar Association has posted a new ABA Legal Fact Check that explores the legal precedents related to whether a U.S. president can act “above the law.”

Political conversation turned to this question in the past few days when Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, suggested a sitting president could not be indicted. Trump himself fueled the conversation a day later when he tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to pardon himself if necessary.

The new fact check explores the relevant parts of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving then-Presidents Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1997 and how they might pertain to legal situations today. It also analyzes the Supreme Court’s assertion in the Nixon case that a president does not have “unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.”

ABA Legal Fact Check seeks to help the media and public find dependable answers and explanations to sometimes confusing legal questions and issues. The URL for the site is www.abalegalfactcheck.com. Follow us on Twitter @ABAFactCheck.

ABA President Criticizes Funding Cut to Legal Services Corporation

Statement of Linda A. Klein, president, American Bar Association

Re: Eliminated Funding for the Legal Services Corporation

WASHINGTON, March, 16, 2017 – The American Bar Association is outraged that the administration proposes to eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation in its budget and calls on every member of Congress to restore full funding. LSC provides civil legal aid to people who desperately need help to navigate the legal process. Without this assistance, court house doors will slam in the faces of millions of Americans, denying them equal access to justice.
Some of the worthy services the LSC provides include securing housing for veterans, protecting seniors from scams, delivering legal services to rural areas, protecting victims of domestic abuse and helping disaster survivors. Their offices are in every congressional district and they help almost 1.9 million people annually.
More than 30 cost-benefit studies all show that legal aid delivers far more in benefits than it costs. If veterans become homeless, or disaster victims cannot rebuild, their costs to society are significantly more.

LSC has had bipartisan support in Congress since its inception in 1974 because it embodies the principles that for two centuries have defined us as Americans – fairness and equal access to justice. These principles should be for all people regardless of economic status. As the budget process proceeds, the ABA will be working to ensure that Congress provides adequate funding for LSC. It is cost-effective, beneficial to millions of Americans and the right thing to do for our country.