Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin

  • A big loophole in Holder’s new racial profiling guidelines—the border

    Outgoing attorney general loses fight with DHS

    Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder expressed disappointment Monday that the U.S. border is exempt from his new racial profiling ban, after the Department of Homeland Security rejected his plan as too risky.

    The Justice Department’s new guidance, released Monday, forbids federal law enforcement officers from using race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity as a factor when deciding whom to stop or arrest and in FBI national security investigations — a significant expansion of the Bush-era ban on racial profiling and a keystone of Holder’s legacy.

    The broader protections against profiling have been in the works for five years, but were released amid protests over several racially charged, high-profile police killings. "Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we've seen at the local level, and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation, it's imperative that we take every possible

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  • New York cops test out body cameras as protests begin over Garner decision

    54 officers will begin wearing cameras this week

    Dozens of New York City police officers will wear body cameras to record their interactions with citizens beginning this week, city officials announced Wednesday. The small pilot program launches as the city is bracing itself for massive protests after a grand jury decided against charging a police officer in the death of an unarmed Staten Island man.

    Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced the body-camera pilot program Wednesday morning, just hours before a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a police officer who allegedly used a chokehold while arresting Eric Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes in July. Garner died after saying “I can’t breathe”; the confrontation was recorded by a bystander and sparked widespread outrage about the police’s use of force in response to a minor crime.

    The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, could still face federal charges or a civil suit. Bratton said Pantaleo is suspended from his duties until the NYPD’s internal

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  • President Obama to order more training, oversight for military gear to cops

    Will fund 50,000 body cameras for police officers.

    President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order to encourage more oversight of federal programs that dole out military gear to local police departments, senior administration officials said Monday.

    The executive order will direct agencies that distribute military-style equipment to local police to require training for cops that receive the gear. The president will also require officials to create a central database to track the supplies, as a significant number of weapons and vehicles previously allocated have gone missing. But the review also stressed that the programs provided "valuable" assistance to police departments and stopped short of criticizing the gear as promoting "militarization" of police.

    Obama ordered a review of Pentagon, Justice Department and Homeland Security programs that arm local police after a military-style response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri prompted outrage in August. 

    Local officers showed up to control protests sparked by the fatal

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  • Legal experts: How Congress can fight Obama’s immigration order

    If Republicans are willing to risk the political fallout, they could pass laws to tie the president’s hands and roll back his executive action

    House Speaker John Boehner at a news conference during the partial government shutdown last year. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)House Speaker John Boehner at a news conference during the partial government shutdown last year. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
    President Barack Obama announced Thursday night that he will protect millions of undocumented immigrants who have U.S. citizen children from deportation, prompting Republican lawmakers to scramble to find a way to fight back against the move, which they call an overreach of power.

    Nearly 60 House Republicans signed a letter to the president threatening to defund his efforts to executively offer relief to the immigrants. But the agency that would be in charge of the effort is self-funded, the House Appropriations Committee announced Thursday, making cutting off funding nearly impossible. A full government shutdown, meanwhile, would most likely blow up in Republicans’ faces, sparking charges of partisan bickering and raising economic anxieties right before the holidays. 

    Others, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have threatened to contest Obama’s move in the courts. But legal experts say any lawsuits against Obama will face an uphill battle in a court system that’s repeatedly backed

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  • A third of Fortune 500 companies now cover transgender health care

    A new report highlights dramatic changes in how corporations treat trans employees

    The number of Fortune 500 companies willing pay for sex reassignment surgeries and other transgender-related healthcare has gone from zero in 2002 to 169 this year, according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign.

    The report, which ranks corporations on their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans employees, also found that more than half of corporations with more than 500 employees that participated in the survey now cover the procedures. That’s 418 firms.

    Some of the biggest names in corporate America are among those who have signed up to cover the procedures, at up to $75,000 per employee. Facebook Inc., Visa, Starbucks Corp., CVS Health Corp. and Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. are just some of the firms that decided this year to begin covering the procedures for their workers for the first time.

    “The jump in terms of employers adopting transgender benefits has been the most dramatic of any single aspect of the Corporate Equality Index in its entire history,” said

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  • Justice Department prods Ferguson police to improve

    The feds are playing an unusually hands-on role in preparing for grand jury protests

    Attorney General Eric Holder greets Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Click photo for slideshow of protests in FergusonAttorney General Eric Holder greets Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Click photo for slideshow of protests in FergusonA small corner of the Justice Department led by a gregarious former police chief has spent months prodding local police in St. Louis and Ferguson, Mo., to change the way they view their citizens and to respond to protests with the intention of upholding people’s First Amendment rights, not shutting them down. 

    The effort is just one prong of an unusually involved response from the Justice Department to the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black teen named Michael Brown, which sparked weeks of occasionally violent protests in the area. A county grand jury is expected to decide any day now whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in Brown’s death, and initial leaks from the proceedings suggest Wilson may not be charged.

    Protesters have vowed to shut down the town of Clayton, where the grand jury meets, when the decision is announced, and local and federal officials are bracing for the possibility of violence.

    Ronald Davis, a former Oakland and East Palo

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  • How the Koch brothers became criminal justice reformers

    When Koch employees were charged with environmental crimes, the brothers teamed up with defense lawyers

    Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have used their fortune to back Republican candidates who support rolling back corporate regulations, slashing taxes and shrinking government.

    But the tea party benefactors have another cause close to their heart, one that’s shared with many tree-hugging liberals who vilify the brothers’ politics and business practices. They want to reform the U.S. criminal justice system, which locks away a higher percentage of citizens than any other country in the world at a staggering cost.

    Since 2004, the Kochs have quietly made substantial six-figure donations every year to a group representing criminal defense lawyers. The money has gone to training programs for court-appointed defenders, who predominantly represent poor and minority people who can’t afford their own lawyer, campaigns to reform the grand jury system and other causes. The Kochs haven’t attached strings to how the money must be used or sought recognition for the donations.

    “They have

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  • Marijuana legalization movement declares Election Day victory

    Oregon, D.C. voters decide in favor of legal pot

    Oregon became the third state to fully legalize marijuana Tuesday, while Washington, D.C., residents will soon be allowed to grow and possess pot without fear of legal repercussions. Despite a loss in Florida for medical marijuana, the twin victories prompted pot boosters to celebrate.

     “It’s always an uphill battle to win a marijuana legalization initiative in a year like this when young people are so much less likely to vote, which makes today’s victory all the sweeter,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said. Pro-marijuana lobby groups significantly outspent opponents in Oregon, helping them win over voters who rejected a similar proposal in 2012.

    The pro-pot lobby even celebrated a victory in the unlikely tropical locale of Guam, a U.S. territory that voted to allow medical marijuana on Tuesday. And a legalization measure in Alaska similar to Oregon's looked likely to pass as of Wednesday morning.

    Oregon joins Washington and Colorado in permitting the

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  • Scott Brown jokes his daughter got 'soft'

    Senate candidate teases daughter on trail

    New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown joked at a last-minute campaign event Tuesday that his daughter, Ayla, has put on weight. "She's gotten a little soft," he said of the former "American Idol" contestant, and appeared to pat her belly. "She's still got sharp elbows." The video was taken by Guardian reporter Jon Swaine.

    Brown is neck-and-neck with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the Granite State. Brown's daughters are used to their dad teasing them on the campaign trail. In 2010, before he won the Massachusetts Senate seat in an upset, Brown joked in front of a political rally that both of his daughters were "available" in case anyone wanted to date them.
  • Marijuana legalization and minimum wage hikes: The election’s liberal ballot propositions

    4 red states may raise hourly pay; Oregon and Alaska weigh legal pot

    While many pollsters are predicting Tuesday will be a big night for Republicans, some of the most high-profile ballot initiatives voters will weigh in on are decidedly liberal. Among the 146 ballot proposals and initiatives voters in 41 states will consider Tuesday are nine that would legalize marijuana and raise the minimum wage.

    Four red states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — have measures on the ballot to lift their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25, a key priority of President Barack Obama's that he has failed to push through Congress. In Illinois, a nonbinding ballot initiative will solicit voters’ opinions on raising the minimum wage to $10.

    Earlier this year, Obama lifted the minimum wage for all federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, hoping to build momentum for a national law. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia raised their minimum wage in the past two years, but the national rate remains at $7.25, where it’s been since 2009. Someone

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