The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Confronting Racial Injustice: Felony Convictions and the Right to Vote

The idea that individuals with a felony conviction should be barred from voting for at least some period of time is widely accepted across the United States. But when you consider that current laws arose out of explicit racial animus following the Civil War and the end of slavery; when you look at the disproportionate effect the practice has had on people of color; and when you weigh the arguments in favor of disenfranchising millions of Americans – it becomes apparent that states should revisit this issue as part of broader criminal justice reform efforts and broader calls to address systemic racism.

Currently, over five million Americans who otherwise qualify to vote cannot do so as the result of a felony conviction. Continue Reading

Election Protection and the Need for Nationwide Voting Standards

Proskauer’s participation in Election Protection, through hosting a call center with Firm, client and alumni volunteers across the United States, provides an invaluable service to individual voters ensuring they have an equal opportunity to cast their ballot.  This volunteer experience also provides great insight into the current condition of democracy in America.  It lays bare some fundamental weaknesses in the US electoral systems of voting, but also suggests a potential roadmap for reform.

One thing becomes clear to anyone who takes part in this effort – the US does not have a system of voting but rather has many systems, each controlled on the local level.  From registering to vote to voting itself, including voter ID laws and the ability to vote by mail, elections vary widely from state to state.

Rules change as soon as one crosses state lines and even county lines in some instances, causing widespread voter confusion. The essential and what should be fairly straightforward act of voting in the US has become too complicated. Continue Reading

Proskauer Files Amicus Brief Urging Protection for Low-Income Tenants of Color Amidst COVID-19 and Impending Eviction Crisis

As documented in numerous studies, the brunt of COVID-19’s impact has fallen most heavily on racial and ethnic minorities who have suffered higher hospitalization and mortality rates as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment as a consequence of the virus and government efforts to contain it. As a result, many low-income tenants—Black and Latinx, disproportionately—are having difficulty paying their rent.

In New Jersey, hundreds of thousands of residents, including a disproportionate number of minorities, face this grim reality and may soon become at risk of eviction. One July 2020 study predicted that approximately 450,000 households—40% of all New Jersey renter households—would be unable pay rent in August, and that nearly half of Black New Jersey renter households would be unable to do so—a higher percentage than for any other race or ethnicity. It is estimated that between 400,000 and 560,000 New Jersey renter households are at risk of eviction, which is forecasted to culminate in New Jersey with an estimated 600% increase from pre-COVID-19 levels. Continue Reading

Election Protection 2020: Preparing Voters for Election Day

For the past 14 years, Proskauer has partnered with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in its Election Protection initiative, a nonpartisan project mobilizing law firms, law schools, in-house counsel, and other members of the legal community to ensure every vote is counted fairly and equally.  Proskauer will again host a national call center to provide comprehensive voting information, as well as monitor election-related issues.

Countdown to Election Day: Making Your Voting Plan

In the midst of a pandemic and with less than a month until Election Day, every American must have a plan to ensure their vote is cast.  If you choose to vote in person, locate your local polling place online or through the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, arrange for transportation, and no matter how long the wait may be: stay in line.  Make sure you know your polling place’s hours, and bring the documentation your state requires.  Review your employer’s policies regarding taking time off to vote, and arrange for childcare, if necessary. Continue Reading

Proskauer Ramps Up Election Protection Efforts

Election Protection is a nationwide nonpartisan coalition, spearheaded by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, working to ensure that every voter is able to exercise their right to vote. Election Protection runs a national call center where any voter in the United States can dial (866) OUR-VOTE to immediately be connected with a trained volunteer who can answer anything from questions about where to vote and what ID voters need to bring to the polls to how to address broken machines, voter intimidation or other issues arising at a voting location.

Since 2006 Proskauer has been participating in Election Protection running call centers and providing hundreds of volunteer lawyers from senior partners to first-year associates, and even in-house counsel from clients. Proskauer associates Jason Madden and Seth Fiur have been spearheading the Firm’s recent Election Protection efforts and we caught up with them recently to learn more about how the Firm is preparing to support Election Protection leading up to and including Election Day this November:

Continue Reading

Advocating for Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Nonconforming People’s Equal Access to Homeless Shelters

Nearly one-third of transgender individuals experience homelessness at some point in their life, and 70% of those who have stayed in a homeless shelter have reported some form of mistreatment, including harassment and refusal of service, due to their gender identity.  Transgender individuals are significantly more likely to end up homeless than the general population because they often face rejection by their family members and discrimination in employment and housing.  The levels of discrimination and income inequality are even higher for transgender women of color, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness among the transgender population.

On September 22, 2020, Proskauer pro bono attorneys filed a public comment letter on behalf of The National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation urging the withdrawal of a Proposed Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would severely harm homeless transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals by allowing federally funded homeless shelters to discriminate against them on the basis of their gender identity.  The Proposed Rule would eliminate key non-discrimination protections previously afforded to transgender shelter-seekers under HUD’s 2016 Equal Access Rule and would permit single-sex shelters to turn away transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals if the shelter operator determines that the individual is not of the same “biological sex” as the other shelter residents. Continue Reading

Ten Years for a Second Chance? New York’s Sealing Statute Lags Behind Other States

In 2018, Proskauer highlighted the importance of a New York law that gives those with criminal convictions an opportunity to build a better life. New York Crim. Proc. Law § 160.59 (“CPL 160.59”) allows persons convicted of certain crimes to apply for their criminal record to be sealed upon meeting two requirements: (1) at least ten years have passed since their release from prison; and (2) a record of two or fewer criminal convictions only one of which can be a felony.  Once sealed, these records are inaccessible to the public and through routine background checks, such as those used by landlords and employers. Though CPL 160.59 has provided some with a needed second chance, it has excluded far too many people.

Many other states have implemented their own laws permitting criminal records to be sealed — in 2019 alone, 31 states and D.C. enacted bills creating, expanding, or streamlining conviction record sealing, set-asides, or expungement. New York was one of those states, reforming the system by automatically sealing drug convictions for now decriminalized offenses, as well as sealing certain pending matters where there has been no activity in the past five years.  Nevertheless, New York did not take the opportunity to expand the scope of CPL 160.59 and thus it remains severely underused compared to original estimates. Continue Reading

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