As part of its mission to raise awareness about the impact and importance of The Legal Aid Society, Proskauer’s Associates’ Campaign for Legal Aid organized a special event on wrongful convictions featuring Elizabeth Felber from Legal Aid’s Wrongful Conviction Unit, Jason Flom, a renowned criminal justice reform advocate, and Jimmy Dennis, an exoneree who served 25 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Proskauer hosted actor and activist Ashley Judd and author and activist Ruchira Gupta for a discussion last week that addressed the issue of human trafficking.
I had the honor of introducing the conversation between Judd, well known for her global activism centered on gender equality, and Gupta, an Emmy Award-winning journalist who founded Apne Aap, a non-governmental organization in India that has helped thousands of women and girls exit prostitution.
Proskauer and co-counsel Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), a nationwide nonprofit disability rights legal center, triumphed in a Chicago court this month, obtaining a ruling that will lead to historic accessibility improvements for the more than 65,000 people with vision difficulties who live in Chicago. The Court granted summary judgment on claims that the City of Chicago discriminated against blind and low vision pedestrians under federal disability rights laws by failing to install accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at signalized intersections. American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago, et al. v. City of Chicago, No. 1:19-cv-06322 (N.D. Ill.).
In 2014, I had the privilege of representing two extraordinary young asylum seekers who had fled from Macedonia, where, because they are a gay couple, they had suffered extreme homophobic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of civilians and police officers. In 2021, I had the honor of helping them become U.S. citizens.
In reflecting on my clients’ seven-year journey to United States citizenship, I am reminded of how much has changed, but also how much has unfortunately remained the same and how far we have yet to go in the pursuit of LGBTQ human rights both at home and abroad.
The first of my two Macedonian clients arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and the second client joined him here in May 2013, just one month before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013). In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), through which Congress had sought to define “marriage” and “spouse” in more than 1,000 federal laws and federal regulations in a way that excluded same-sex spouses, thereby depriving them of the benefits that would come with federal recognition of their marriages and imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter same-sex marriages.” Id. at 770. The Supreme Court found that DOMA deprived gay and lesbian married couples of equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment because it interfered with the equal dignity of marriages under State laws recognizing marriage between same-sex spouses.
An anxious mother, detained in a separate facility from her son, is informed that authorities had lost track of him. A devastated father is deported without his child. A crying child is ripped from his father’s arms and put into a cage-like metal cell. These Proskauer clients – all escaping violence in Central America – suffered those horrors not in their home countries but in the country where they sought asylum, in the United States.
Beginning in 2017 as a pilot project, the U.S. government began splitting thousands of families in an effort to deter immigration across the southern border. The practice became official in 2018 through the government’s “zero tolerance” policy which called for the detention and prosecution of all individuals – including those seeking asylum – who crossed the border anywhere other than an official port of entry.
While national outrage prompted an official end to the policy, the government did not stop, and to this day continues to separate families. In total, over 5,500 children have been separated from their parents since 2017, at least 1,100 of whom were separated after the policy officially ended. Tragically, the parents of 666 separated children still have not been found.
Pervasive anti-LGBTQ violence around the world causes many individuals to flee their countries of origin in search of safety. The past few years have been tremendously difficult for immigrants of all walks of life, but especially so for LGBTQ and HIV-affected asylum applicants who have fled to the United States…
Working alongside Freedom Now, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy for prisoners of conscience around the world, Proskauer obtained a victory before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (the “Working Group”) for our client, Shakthika Sathkumara, an award-winning author who had been detained by Sri Lankan authorities for the publication of a fictional short story.
Our petition to the Working Group alleged that Mr. Sathkumara’s detention was arbitrary and therefore impermissible under international law. As such, we requested that the Working Group direct the Sri Lankan government to cease its prosecution of Mr. Sathkumara’s case and end all restrictions imposed upon Mr. Sathkumara’s freedom of movement.
With the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) finally receiving its 38th affirmative vote in January from the Virginia General Assembly and the resulting litigation to have the amendment added to the Constitution, it is worth revisiting the question that proponents and opponents alike have asked for nearly 100 years: why do we need the ERA?
To discuss the importance of and challenges to its passage, Proskauer partnered with the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York to host a panel discussion moderated by the Honorable Betty Weinberg Ellerin, retired New York Appellate Division Judge. Panelists included Maria Vullo, adjunct professor of law at Fordham University and co-founder of the ERA Coalition, Katharine Bodde, Senior Policy Counsel, NYCLU, and Wendy J. Murphy, adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law, Boston.