In the months since Proskauer hosted its immigration panel discussion in partnership with Sanctuary for Families this past January, the influx of migrants across the U.S. southern border has continued. So has the dire need for pro bono legal services for these new arrivals along with it. Recent U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Data indicates that the U.S. Border Patrol had almost 140,000 encounters with migrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in March 2024, down from a record high of nearly 250,000 in December 2023. According to the Wilson Center, 2023 marked the first year that more than half of the people reaching the border originated beyond Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. From our own recent experience, we have seen this trend continue.

Since 2020, Proskauer has acted as pro bono legal counsel representing an inmate in the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) in connection with his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Plaintiff brought the action against several defendants for their failure to provide appropriate care for his serious medical needs.

Last week, the Proskauer community gathered for the 16th Annual Golden Gavel Awards ceremony to celebrate and honor those lawyers and staff members who went far above and beyond to contribute to the Firm’s pro bono, corporate social responsibility and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts in 2023. Congratulations and thanks to the following colleagues for their extraordinary commitment to public service.

Proskauer recently prevailed at the Second Circuit on behalf of our incarcerated pro bono client, James Thomas, in an appeal that determined that Mr. Thomas was not provided adequate notice before the district court entered summary judgment against him. Proceeding pro se, Mr. Thomas brought claims for civil rights violations under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments against prison officials related to multiple searches. Defendants moved for summary judgment and provided Mr. Thomas with a short and plain statement providing an overview of summary judgment procedure. Under the district court’s local rules, however, represented parties moving for summary judgment against pro se litigants must also provide the full text of the applicable rules governing summary judgment procedure to ensure adequate understanding of the complicated nature and serious consequences of the motion. Despite this requirement, the district court excused defendants’ failure to provide documentation of the rules because, in its view, the plain statement they provided sufficiently advised Mr. Thomas of his obligation to submit evidence in opposition to summary judgment. The district court then entered summary judgment against Mr. Thomas, in part because he failed to adduce evidence specifically controverting defendants’ factual assertions, as the rules require.

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.