The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War, abolished slavery across the United States with one notable exception. According to the amendment, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (emphasis added). In other words, slavery and involuntary servitude remain constitutionally acceptable forms of punishment for individuals who are convicted of crimes. This loophole has a disturbing history of being used to target Black Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War, with local authorities imprisoning thousands of formerly enslaved people on faulty charges and exploiting their labor. In upholding the legality of forced prison labor, the Virginia Supreme Court even went so far as to describe a prisoner who challenged the practice as a “slave of the State.” Ruffin v. Commonwealth (1871).
Last week, Proskauer hosted a panel discussion focusing on the recent influx of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border and the urgent need for pro bono legal services. According to The New York Times, this past fiscal year nearly 2.5 million migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, which is two and a half times greater than the number from four years ago. The large number of recent arrivals has overwhelmed an already strained system, as demonstrated by the current backlog of three million immigration cases — which has doubled since 2021 — pending before just 800 judges.
Proskauer and co-counsel Center for Reproductive Rights (“the Center”) submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in United States v. Rahimi. The brief, filed on behalf of the Center in support of the United States, urged the Supreme Court to reverse the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision finding 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), a federal law prohibiting people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms, unconstitutional. Oral argument took place on November 7, 2023.
On December 7, 2023, a team of Proskauer attorneys joined the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”), the ACLU of Delaware, and attorneys from Shaw Keller LLP in filing a complaint against the state of Delaware on behalf of the Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network (“PLAN”) to protect the Constitutional right to vote for incarcerated individuals.
Proskauer teams recently submitted amicus briefs in two critical voting rights cases, which are becoming increasingly important in the runup to the 2024 U.S. elections. On August 18, 2023, Proskauer submitted an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of 30 historians and legal scholars specializing in the history of the Southern U.S. with a focus on South Carolina, race relations and election laws. The brief was submitted in support of appellees in Alexander v. The South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. Then, on September 25, 2023, Proskauer filed— on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Florida, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund— an amicus brief in the Third District Court of Appeal of Florida in support of the appellee in the case of State of Florida v. Miller.
On October 23, 2023, Proskauer attorneys submitted an amicus brief in connection with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Moore v. United States on behalf of the American College of Tax Counsel—a nonprofit professional association of tax lawyers in private practice, law school teaching positions and government that is widely recognized for its excellence in, and substantive contributions to, the tax profession. Moore is widely viewed as a significant case, as it represents the first time in decades in which the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of a federal income tax statute. Furthermore, the Court’s decision has the potential to upend years of well-settled tax law and planning principles, introduce unprecedented uncertainty into the Code and spawn voluminous litigation.
Proskauer, along with local counsel Canfield Law LLC, recently submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College (“IIP”) in support of Georgia prosecutors who are challenging the constitutionality of a new prosecutorial oversight commission. The lawsuit, filed by four Georgia prosecutors and led by DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, seeks to invalidate Georgia Senate Bill 92 (“SB 92”) and its creation of a Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (“PAQC”), which has the authority to investigate and remove local prosecutors and whose members are appointed by the Governor and other elected officials. Plaintiffs assert the legislature passed SB 92 in a transparent attempt to undermine the power of certain district attorneys to implement reform-minded agendas for which they were elected.
In April 2022, Proskauer, with co-counsel Public Counsel and Squire Patton Boggs, filed suit in Arizona federal court on behalf of a Guatemalan mother and daughter who were forcibly separated by border patrol agents in 2018. Earlier this summer, the Court denied a motion to dismiss brought by the federal government. The separation at issue in this case was among the thousands that occurred due to prior administration’s family separation policy. Five years later, many of the issues impacting these families are still unresolved, and, despite publicly denouncing the policy, the government continues to defend family separation in federal lawsuits filed across the nation.