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(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

Things at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a bit quiet right now, with conferences and oral arguments not scheduled to start up again until later in the month, but don’t let that lull you into a sense of calm.

Once the justices reconvene, all hell could break loose, with same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection and redistricting among the issues being reviewed.

“The term went from being one of the more uneventful terms in recent years to potentially one of the biggest ones in a generation,” SCOTUSblog editor Amy Howe said.

For a look at what big issues have been argued and decided as well as what’s in queue, read the update by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue here.

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Loretta Lynch, the North Carolina native who made her way from Durham to Brooklyn and became the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, will face a trial by fire of her own tomorrow as confirmation hearings open for her nomination to be the nation’s next Attorney General.

If confirmed, Lynch — the daughter of a black Baptist minister and a school librarian who once picked cotton in the eastern part of this state — will become the first African-American woman to serve in that role.

“She will face an exceptional amount of her time responding to Congress,” Robert Raben, a consultant and the former assistant attorney general for legislative affairs in the Clinton administration, said in this Washington Post profile. “And a big chunk of the time is partisan and political shenanigans. With the complete control of Congress by another party, there’s maximum possibility that there’s going to be an onslaught of oversight to tie up the leadership of the department and humiliate the president.”

Certainly by all accounts in the Post piece, Lynch will weather the hearings in typical “unflappable” style.

Her former Harvard Law School classmate and colleague at New York’s Cahill Gordon & Reindel,  Annette Gordon-Reed, called her “a Southern steel-magnolia-type person — very, very strong. But she’s also one of the funniest people I know.”

Lynch lived through vestiges of the Jim Crow South through her parents’ experiences and also had a share of her own. Per the Post:

Loretta E. Lynch grew up in a different time. But she, too, experienced remnants of the old South. She did so well on a standardized test in her mostly white elementary school that she was asked to take it again. (She scored even higher the second time.)

And in 1977, although she was the top student in her senior class, the administrators of Durham High School asked her to share the honor with two others, including a white student, to avoid the controversy they feared would follow having the first lone black valedictorian.

Lynch will testify on Wednesday, followed by nine witnesses invited by the Judiciary Committee to appear on Thursday.

Those witnesses include a journalist and two professors — Republican invitees — who oppose most of what the Justice Department has done under the Obama administration, as well as a former U.S. Attorney who supports Lynch, a former FBI agent who worked closely with her, and a professor who supports Obama immigration policies.

Legal Times has more on the witnesses here.

Read more on the Lynch nomination here and here.

 

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The exoneration of Joseph Sledge last week by a three-judge panel in Bladen County led many of us to wonder just how many others had been wrongfully convicted and remain imprisoned in North Carolina.

Sledge, convicted in 1978 of the murders of two eastern North Carolina women, became the first person freed here this year and follows the exonerations of four in 2014 –Michael Parker, Henry McCollum, Leon Brown, and Willie Womble.

The good news, per this post from Marcia Coyle at the National Law Journal, is that more prosecutors across the country are identifying and investigating claims of innocence — a trend that led to 125 exonerations in 2014, a record number.

That number — from a new report by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project at the University of Michigan Law School — is a 37 percent increase over 2012 and 2013.

The authors of the report attribute that growth to the work of Conviction Integrity Units in several states as well as to an expanded view of crimes worthy of investigation and evidence to be reviewed:

[T]he legal system is increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored: those without biological evidence or with no perpetrator who can be identified because in fact no crime was committed; cases with comparatively light sentences; and judgments based on guilty pleas by defendants who accepted plea bargains to avoid pre-trial detention and the risk of harsher punishment after trial.

Some of the other trends from the report, as noted by Coyle:

  • Among the 15 conviction integrity units now operating, seven produced exonerations. Three-quarters of the units’ exonerations through 2014 (68 out of 90) came in three offices: Dallas and Harris counties, Texas; and Kings County, N.Y.
  • Forty-seven of the 125 exonerees in 2014—or 38 percent—had pleaded guilty to the crimes. And almost all drug crime exonerations (36 of 39) were for convictions based on guilty pleas.
  • A total of 67 of the 2014 exonerations—54 percent—were initiated by law enforcement or obtained with law enforcement cooperation—the highest annual total.
  • The number of non-DNA exonerations rose to an all-time high of 103, more than all exonerations DNA and non-DNA combined, in any single previous year.
  • Six death-sentenced prisoners were exonerated in 2014, the most since 2009. Each had been imprisoned for 30 years or more.
  • Almost three-quarters of exonerations since 1989 (1,124 of 1,535) were for homicides or sex crimes including child sex abuse. But the proportion of exonerations that did not involve those crimes has been growing steadily, from 25 percent of all cases between 1989 and the end of 1993 (the earliest five-year period covered by the registry) to 34 percent for 2010 through 2014 (the most recent five-year period).

 

 

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P

A college education for free.

That’s the response heard most often from those asked what elite Division 1 athletes are getting in exchange for working full-time for their schools.

That includes the schools and the NCAA, who make millions in some cases off the backs of these players.

The players get no part of those earnings and, as we’ve learned in recent years, often have barely enough money to buy a meal.

When challenged, those institutions are quick to emphasize the “student” part of the student-athlete experience.

“Student-athlete success on the field, in the classroom and in life is at the heart of our mission,”  the NCAA says on the front page of its website

The athletes toppled the money part of that myth this past summer when, in a lawsuit filed on behalf of former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and others, they convinced a judge that the NCAA had violated antitrust laws and won an injunction allowing schools to share a limited amount of revenues with players.

And now the academic piece is about to fall.

Yesterday, in a 100-page class action complaint filed in Durham County Superior Court, two former UNC-Chapel Hill athletes sued both the university and the NCAA,  alleging that both failed to ensure that athletes got the education they were promised.

The lawsuit is the latest offshoot of the academic scandal that has rocked UNC, arising out of no-show paper classes into which athletes were pushed for years. Read More

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Joseph Sledge, convicted in 1978 of the murders of two eastern North Carolina women and in jail since, may now be just a few short days to freedom.

The 70-year-old Georgia native, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, has a court date this Friday with three judges who have the authority to exonerate him, according to this report in the News & Observer.

The hearing follows a December finding by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission that Sledge’s case warranted further judicial review. As the N&O noted:

Investigators from the innocence commission found no physical evidence tying Sledge to the slayings. A hair left on one of the victim’s exposed torso revealed a partial DNA profile that does not belong to Sledge. Investigators have yet to identify another possible killer.

The prosecutor on the case, Columbus County District Attorney Jon David, has yet to say what his position is on Sledge’s fate, but can consent to his exoneration, as other prosecutors have done in recent innocence proceedings involving other wrongfully convicted men.

Read more about Sledge’s case here.