A critical part of criminal justice reform is making it easier for those with criminal records to reenter society. This means greater job training, more employment opportunities, affordable housing, and stronger laws prohibiting discrimination and facilitating the expungement of old convictions. Successful reentry into a free society, however, requires more than just the basic needs of life. It also requires the restoration of basic rights, and there is no more basic right in a democracy than the right to vote.
Earlier this year, New York passed legislation legalizing the adult use of cannabis. New Yorkers can now legally possess three ounces for any use, and can smoke marijuana in any publically-designed area where tobacco smoking is allowed, although home cultivation is still not permitted. Importantly, certain convictions – possessing up to 16 ounces or selling up to 25 grams of marijuana – will be automatically expunged from criminal records.
Not only does this law expand existing medical marijuana programs and create a licensing system for producers and distributors, but it also acts as an important step toward addressing the racial disparities in drug-related arrests. During the 1970s and 1980s, the so-called “War on Drugs” stigmatized drug use as a criminal and moral issue rather than treating it as a public health issue.
Have you read Caste? Partnership With Children featured the book’s author Isabel Wilkerson at the organization’s inaugural Women’s Leadership Breakfast on March 9. Proskauer was proud to be among the event underwriters, a collaboration made possible through the Firm’s corporate social responsibility program.
As part of Proskauer’s Women’s History Month celebration, colleagues in the Proskauer Women’s Alliance and the Black Lawyers Affinity Group, among others from Proskauer, had the chance to attend this remarkable event and hear insights from Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, and author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestsellers The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.
Recent studies show a great disparity in the number of U.S. patents issued to women and people of color. A 2020 report published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) found that, despite making up more than half of the U.S. population, women only represent 12.8% of United States inventor-patentees. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in 2016 that less than 8% of issued patents named women as the primary inventor. In 2018, researchers at Yale University found after examining the prosecution and maintenance histories of approximately 2.7 million U.S. patent applications that women patent applicants have less favorable outcomes than men – women’s patent applications are more likely to be rejected than those of men, and those rejections are less likely to be appealed. While the gender gap faced by women inventors is decreasing gradually, at the current rate it will take more than 100 years to reach gender parity in the U.S patenting process.
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.
As COVID-19 ravages communities across the United States, another serious public health crisis is also escalating: gun violence. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization and longtime Proskauer partner dedicated to ending gun violence, has been examining the impact of COVID-19 on the gun violence epidemic, as well as making important recommendations.
In a recent report, Everytown found that there was a major spike in gun sales between March and May of 2020 in comparison to previous years, as well as a corresponding rise in gun deaths. As a result of these sales, there has been a corresponding sharp increase in requests for background checks, which puts immense stress on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Everytown notes that the primary and most dangerous consequence of this strain on resources is the so-called “Charleston loophole.” While federal law mandates that licensed gun dealers run a background check on any prospective gun buyer, this loophole allows any purchaser, even one with an incomplete background check, to proceed by default with their gun purchase if three business days have elapsed since the background check request was submitted – the technicality through which Dylann Roof was able to secure a firearm to kill nine Black churchgoers in South Carolina. As a result, a significant number of gun sales (potentially over 90,000) have been processed during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far without complete background checks.