Latest News: Curbing Filibuster Abuse, Brennan Legacy Awards, and more
Welcome to the Brennan Center’s newsletter, a comprehensive digest of the latest news and developments involving the Center’s programmatic work and staff. See all these stories in full on the Brennan Center’s website and stay informed by signing up for other Center updates.
A new Brennan Center report details the sharp rise in legislative obstruction in the Senate and offers a blueprint for reform. Our data shows that Senate paralysis, due to the filibuster, is a major factor crippling Congress, which has had one of the least productive sessions in history. The proposal to curb filibuster abuse comes amid serious discussions on the subject by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is seeking to change the rules when the new Senate convenes in January. Watch Diana Kasdan discuss filibuster reform on The New York Times’ politics podcast.
The Brennan Center held its 2012 annual Brennan Legacy Awards Dinner on December 4th. We were proud to honor Michael S. Solender, Americas Vice-Chair and General Counsel of Ernst & Young LLP, for his outstanding commitment to public service and leadership in the legal community, and the Hon. Judith S. Kaye, former Chief Judge of New York Court of Appeals and Of Counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, in recognition of her illustrious judicial career and deep commitment to juvenile justice and court reform. New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo introduced Solender and Judge Kaye, respectively, both of whom spoke about the importance of the Center’s work on democracy and justice.
And in Center President Michael Waldman’s remarks, he announced: “We will open a ‘second front’ with a reinvigorated Justice Program and a new focus on mass incarceration. When the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population, that’s a scandal — and we’re going to do something about it.” (Pictured from left: Judge Kaye, Brennan Center President Michael Waldman, Michael Solender, and Robert Abrams).
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated his support for campaign finance reform in an Albany Times Union op-ed last week. The co-chairs of New York Leadership for Accountable Government (NY LEAD) — a bipartisan group of 90-plus New York business, civic, and philanthropic leaders brought together by the Brennan Center — urged Cuomo to end the cycle of corruption brought on by big money in politics and support a campaign finance system that matches funds for small donations and encourages voluntary contribution limits. According to a recent Zogby Analytics poll, more than 80 percent of the 300 New York business leaders surveyed support such a program.
Why vote? Author Victoria Bassetti and journalist Kevin Baker (right) debated that question at the Brennan Center on Nov. 29, discussing the recent rollback in voting rights and possible post-election reforms. The Center also hosted Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman to discuss his book, Kill or Capture, and the current national security climate. He discussed President Obama’s national security policies, explaining that “he has this image of being decisive on the military side. But in terms of these issues that we’re interested in, in terms of the balance between law and liberty and security, he was not terribly decisive. He was caught between his impulses.” See photos from both events here.
- The recent vote in California to retain the death penalty — and other unsuccessful efforts to reform the broken criminal justice system — demonstrates that the public must be educated that serving justice in the criminal context must include more than merely dispensing punishment.
- Texas’ voter registration drive restrictions are under fire in a federal appeals court. This entire fight could be avoided if we modernized registration.
Student Location Tracking Has Troubling Implications – Rachel Levinson-Waldman
- Some schools are tracking students’ precise locations on school grounds by using name badges embedded with Radio Frequency Identification chips. While sophisticated technology can present enticing solutions to problems such as school security, it is critical that citizens demand to know exactly how information is housed, kept, and shared whenever authorities expand surveillance.
- The GOP likely won six more seats overall in the 2012 election than they would have won under the old district lines, largely due to incumbents who were protected by redistricting.
Three Ways to Fix Our Democracy – Erik Opsal
- America is the world’s leading democracy, but that doesn’t mean there is no need for improvement. By modernizing voter registration, ending government dysfunction with sound filibuster reform, and combating Citizens United with a transparent public financing system, we can put the people back in charge of our democracy.
Dec. 12 – The Brennan Center will co-sponsor a symposium with the League of Women Voters to discuss fair elections in New York State. Lawrence Norden will join a panel discussion featuring Barbara Bartoletti (New York State League of Women Voters), Michael Malbin (Campaign Finance Institute), Miles Rapoport (Demos), and Sean Eldridge (Protect Our Democracy).
- Faiza Patel was quoted in a front-page Metro story about the Brennan Center’s proposal for an NYPD Inspector General. While NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne called the idea “wasteful and duplicative,” Patel responded that “an inspector general would be uniquely positioned to study these policies from inside the police department and provide a neutral evaluation of their effectiveness and legality.”
- The Los Angeles Times made the case for filibuster reform, citing the latest Brennan Center report, Curbing Filibuster Abuse. “The modern filibuster has gone from being extraordinary — think of ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ — to routine,” the editorial said. “And the predictable consequence is that very, very little gets done.”
- Michael Waldman also discussed the possibility of filibuster reform with Viewpoint host Eliot Spitzer and former Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Edgar, explaining that current filibuster rules have “become a tool for a complete minority veto of all legislation.” For more on filibuster reform, read stories from USA Today, NPR, and Roll Call.
- Inimai Chettiar contributed to The New York Times “Sunday Dialogue,” offering ideas for alternatives for prison reform. The system needs more than simple cost-cutting, she explained, “[w]hat is needed instead is a re-examination of what constitutes a crime and the appropriate punishment.”
- In his latest blog post, The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin wrote of the problems of voter registration and election administration. He cited the Brennan Center as one of the groups “making admirable attempts” to fix these broken systems.
- Liza Goitein praised a federal advisory board’s plan to reduce government classification, but said it does not go far enough to hold “bureaucrats accountable for unnecessarily classifying information.” Goitein was among the outside experts the board consulted. Read her report, Reducing Overclassification Through Accountability.
- “The dominant role played by special-interest money—including money from super PACs financed by undisclosed donors—has severely weakened the principle of fair and impartial courts,” wrote The New York Times in an editorial citing the Brennan Center’s research on TV ad spending in judicial elections.
- In The Atlantic, Harvard Law Prof. Lawrence Lessig cited the Center’s small donor public financing proposal as one of a series of reforms to help fix government corruption.
- A New York Times editorial urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to enact a state-wide campaign financing system modeled after the current New York City system, citing the Brennan Center as one of the “traditional public interest organizations” that are “gearing up for a full-fledged campaign on this issue beginning next year.”
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