(WASHINGTON) – Today, Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced six criteria the Department of Justice will consider when reviewing and expediting clemency applications - for President Obama’s review and approval- from a select group of non-violent individuals behind bars. These petitions will be prioritized for review over other clemency petitions that do not require all six criteria. In addition to announcing the new head of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intention to increase the numbers of attorneys, with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense, to aid the permanent staff of the Pardon Office during this initiative. After the public announcements, U.S. House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) issued the following statement:
U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr.
“For far too long, America’s criminal justice system and policies have tipped the scales of justice in favor of slogans and sound bites over common sense. This approach has locked away our youth and torn apart families; a disproportionate number of which are within minority communities. As a matter of civil rights and basic justice, the Obama Administration has decided to stem the tide on decades of this injustice. The Department of Justice’s decision to expand and expedite the clemency process has the potential to assist thousands of non-violent offenders serving lengthy sentences behind bars who would not be serving such lengthy terms under sentencing laws today. This action builds on the progress that the Judiciary Committee began, in the 111th Congress, in passing the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the arbitrary disparity in drug sentencing.”
“We commend President Obama for taking this historic first step, but in doing so we also call on Congress to lead the way for the United States to see lasting criminal justice reform. While clemency attempts to fix our broken system of mandatory sentencing on the back end - providing relief to a lucky individual plucked from the stack of petitions - it does not repair the unjust system that put thousands of individuals there in the first place. Congress must work to eliminate or greatly reduce mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, and enhance judge’s discretion to avoid disproportionate sentences when mandatory minimums are charged. Again and again studies show that mandatory sentences discriminate against minorities, are ineffective at preventing crime, are inefficient from a cost perspective, and often require judges to impose sentences that violate commonsense. For these reasons, we have a moral obligation to put an end to mandatory sentencing and pass laws with proportional penalties that make sense. Only then will justice truly be restored to an American criminal system gone awry.”
(DETROIT) – Today, the United States Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action,reversed the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s ruling and upheld Michigan Proposal 2 prohibiting affirmative action in public education, government contracting, and public employment. Today’s decision did not deal with the issue of race-conscious admissions generally, which have been previously upheld and which the court reiterated today.After the ruling, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) released this statement:
U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr.
“Today’s decision continues a troublingline of recent Supreme Court decisions that are hostile towards our history of civil rights and our struggle for equality. It is unfortunate that this Court allowed Proposal 2 to overrun the intent of the Constitution’s equal protection clause: protecting disadvantaged minorities from discrimination,” said Conyers.
“The blatant unfairness of this approach was highlighted by the Sixth Circuit in their opinion striking down Proposal 2 stating that, while ‘sons and daughters of alumni’ and children of big donors are afforded those non-merit considerations in the admissions process, Proposal 2 would require a minority student to ‘convince the Michigan electorate to amend its constitution - an extraordinary expensive process and the most arduous of all the possible channels for change.’ Similarly, as Justice Sotomayor eloquently stated in her dissent, ‘The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat. But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities.’ She wrote ‘the political process doctrine…ensure[s] that the Majority, when it wins, does so without rigging the rules of the game to ensure its success.’
Representative Conyers added, “Our nation has come a long way in seeking to end discrimination, but our work is far from complete at a time of continued under representation of minorities in higher education and many walks of life. One has to look no farther for evidence of this than the fact that there was a significant drop in minority enrollment after Proposal 2 was enacted - African-American enrollment declined by one third at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor between 2006 and 2012, at the same time overall enrollment expanded by one tenth. Now is not the time for the Court to blindly ignore the biases that continue to exist in our society.”
(DETROIT) – Today, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced that $50,000 in grant funding has been awarded to The Detroit Symphony Music Hall’s Tchaikovsky Festival for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s “Live from Orchestra Hall” webcast series. Additionally, the NEA awarded $40,000 to InsideOut Literary Arts Project, Inc.’s VOICES Amplified program. After the announcement, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) issued the following statement:
U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr.
"I am pleased to announce that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded $50,000 in grant funding to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. For over 125 years, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has brought outstanding music and cultural enrichment to the people of Michigan. This grant will enable the Symphony to impact individuals and communities on a global scale through a series of free webcasts broadcast live to more than 75 countries,” said Conyers.
“In addition, a $40,000 grant awarded to the InsideOut Literary Arts Project’s VOICES Amplified program will allow Detroit’s youth to pursue literacy at a higher level by assisting InsideOut in supplying professional writers to teach in Detroit classrooms. The future of Michigan, and the nation, is held in the hands of our youth. It is our duty to ensure they have the opportunity to succeed in creative endeavors. I applaud NEA for recognizing this valuable organization.
“In a time when arts funding is too often relegated to the backburner, it is encouraging to see national investments in Detroit’s artistic programs. I am grateful to the NEA for their commitment to the arts in Michigan and across the country.”
(WASHINGTON) – One year ago today, eight members of the U.S. Senate - Senators Schumer, Durbin, McCain, Rubio, Bennet, Menendez, Flake and Graham - introduced S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” This comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system would bring millions of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, strengthen American businesses, families, and communities, and spur much-needed economic growth. While the U.S. Senate passed S. 744 on a bipartisan vote of 68-32, the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to take any action on comprehensive immigration reform legislation. To mark the anniversary of the legislative introduction, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), the Ranking Member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, released the following statement:
U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr.
Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich): “Exactly one year ago, eight Senators - four Republicans and four Democrats - came together and introduced legislation to reform our country’s immigration laws. This bipartisan spirit was animated by a singular reality: our immigration system is fundamentally broken and must be reformed in order to benefit American families, communities, and businesses. Yet, while the Senate worked in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion at every step of the legislative process - ultimately passing comprehensive immigration reform with the support of a supermajority of Senators - the path pursued by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has been unashamedly partisan. Congressional support exists to bring millions of individuals out of the shadows, reunite immigrant families, and boost the economy; all that is lacking is a sense of political courage. In marking the one year anniversary of the Senate’s legislative work, we are acknowledging a year of missed opportunities and inaction by House Republicans. To hold reform up any longer would be more than pure negligence, it would be an act of callousness.”
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.): "One year ago a bipartisan group of Senators stepped forward to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform proposal. While not perfect, they had found common ground and their bill attracted broad support in the U.S. Senate. Americans hoped it would start a process in Congress of examining, debating and giving immigration reform a fair vote to finally fix our broken immigration system. That's because top-to-bottom immigration reform would grow our economy and create jobs, reduce the debt, make our country safer, energize innovation and competitiveness, and tame illegal immigration. Even today a majority of Members of the House say that they favor immigration reform, which isn't surprising because reform is overwhelmingly supported by a majority of Americans from across the political spectrum. That support is one of the reasons why a movement has started to give immigration reform a fair up or down vote in the House. But the Republican-controlled House continues to stall on immigration reform, and as they continue to run out the clock, the window of opportunity to pass reform narrows."
(DETROIT) – Today, on Tax Day, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) called on Congress to restore fairness to the nation’s tax code by reducing rates for working Americans, ensuring that the nation’s wealthiest pay their fair share, and eliminating incentives for corporations to move jobs overseas. On the filing deadline, Representative Conyers issued the following statement:
U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr.
“For too long, our tax code has disproportionately benefited the wealthiest one-percent of Americans, while doing too little to promote job-creation. On this Tax Day, I urge my colleagues in Congress to close tax loopholes, end special interest tax breaks, and reform the tax code to support the creation and retention of high-wage jobs in the United States," said Conyers.
“Instead of promoting a fairer and simpler tax code, the Republicans’ Ryan budget threatens to increase taxes on working families with children by more than $2,000 per year in order to pay for additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and for large corporations. As a matter of social and economic fairness, this is simply unacceptable.
“I am proud to support the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget, which would create needed revenue for jobs programs by taxing income from investments the same as taxes from wages, while ending deductions for yachts, corporate jets, and business entertainment expenses. I am also proud of President Obama’s legacy in cutting taxes for working people and small businesses while allowing the fiscally-irresponsible Bush tax cuts to expire. By closing loopholes to ensure that corporations pay their fair share and stop shipping jobs overseas, we can responsibly invest in modernizing our infrastructure, ensuring that every child has access to high-quality pre-school, and strengthening our nation’s safety net. A fair tax code can help America get back to full employment.”
(WASHINGTON) – Today, four House Committee and Subcommittee Ranking Members sent a letter to John S. Pistole, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), questioning the expanded use of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) through the Targeted Conversation program, which is part of TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. Under the expanded program, passengers who refuse to answer intrusive questions posed by BDOs at airport security checkpoints will undergo secondary screening. The Ranking Members are concerned that TSA is expanding behavior detection programs despite a lack of scientific validation for these methods.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Subcommittee wrote Administrator Pistole that:
“This [Targeted Conversation Proof of Concept] represents an intrusion into the privacy of the flying public through a process TSA has not scientifically validated.”
The Members added: “The expanded use of BDOs subsequent to GAO’s recommendation that TSA limit funding for SPOT until it can provide scientifically validated evidence that behavioral indicators can be used to identify threats to aviation security raises serious concerns.”
Background on Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT):
ØOver $1 billion has been spent since 2007.
ØZero terrorists have been identified, apprehended, referred to law enforcement or prevented from boarding an aircraft as a result of the program.
ØKnown or suspected terrorists have passed through screening on 23 different occasions in airports where BDOs were present.
ØTSA has not provided any scientific validation for the program.
In 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended Congress consider whether to continue to fund SPOT after TSA disagreed with the recommendation that it limit future funding of the program.
The United States is the only country that still regularly sentences children to life without parole.
Children who are sentenced to life without parole grow up, grow older and then die behind bars.
We should not be treating children in the criminal justice system as if they were adults. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that irrespective of the severity of the crime, children simply do not have the same level of culpability as adults. Their physical, mental and emotional development is not the same. In addition, research shows that children possess a greater capacity for rehabilitation, change, and growth than adults.
For this reason, children require individualized treatment in the criminal justice system that is appropriate to their age and level of development. But mandatory life without parole prevents such an individualized approach — even if rehabilitation would have been feasible — and forces a child to spend his or her life and final moments behind bars.
In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Miller v. Alabama. It held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and is unconstitutional.” In holding this practice unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court researched the laws of other countries in addition to international norms, treaties and conventions.
Regrettably, Michigan is among the states with the largest populations of inmates serving life sentences for crimes committed as children.
A recent study from Second Chances 4 Youth and the ACLU of Michigan shows that, overall in Michigan, youth of color comprise only 29% of the youth population but represent 73% of those serving juvenile life sentences without parole. In Wayne County, according to a 2007 study, they represent 94% of the juveniles serving life without parole.
To look at these figures as only a criminal justice issue ignores the fact that this is also a civil rights crisis based on racial injustice. This, along with other criminal laws, operates as a new system of Jim Crow in this country.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the news media painted the face of the upcoming wave of violent, depraved and dangerous “super-predator children” as that of children of color. In the wake of that hysteria, Michigan passed some of the toughest juvenile justice laws in the country, which it still has — and still applies.
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, the Michigan courts continue to refuse to grant retroactive relief to juvenile offenders living out mandatory life sentences without parole. This means that more than 360 juvenile offenders who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole are being denied a chance — even though that sentence would be illegal if imposed today. It also means that Michigan continues to violate the Eighth Amendment and international human rights standards.
I recognize that Michigan is not the only state facing this problem, but I believe that Michigan can lead the way to the solution.
Further, I call upon the Michigan Legislature to reexamine penalty provisions that allow for juvenile sentences of either discretionary life without parole or de-facto life without parole, that is, those numeric sentences that lock juveniles away for several decades of their life, effectively robbing them of their chance to be rehabilitated and get their young lives back on track.
Finally, I recommend that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette exercise considerable discretion with youth sentencing, to return a degree of flexibility, pragmatism and proportionality to each individual case. Specifically, I call upon Schuette to, as a policy matter, decline to seek discretionary life without parole or de facto life without parole sentences for juveniles. We can hold children accountable without warehousing them behind bars for the remainder of their lives.
For all of these proposals, I hope that other states follow Michigan’s lead in working to restore fairness to our juvenile justice system.