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The Community Service Society (CSS), National Employment Lawyers Association/New York (NELA/NY) and the law firm Skadden, Arps Slate, Meagher and Flom filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in the case Doe v. USA on Friday afternoon. The brief, co-signed by an additional 21 reentry-focused legal and advocacy groups from across the nation, supports appellant Jane Doe’s petition for a writ of certiorari.
The case, which concerns a federal trial court’s right to expunge a criminal conviction, seeks Supreme Court review of an order overturning a 2015 federal District Court ruling that granted her request to expunge her 2001 criminal conviction because it had barred her from finding and keeping a job. Hon. John Gleeson of the EDNY issued the expungement ruling after a painstaking review of more than a thousand pages documenting the many barriers Ms. Doe faced in her thirteen years of relentlessly searching for stable work, noting in his decision that he had “sentenced her to five years’ probation supervision, not to a lifetime of unemployment.”
Amici groups ask the Supreme Court to review the appellate ruling overturning Judge Gleeson’s decision. They point to the many individuals like Ms. Doe who face steep barriers to jobs, employment clearance and licensing on the basis of their conviction history. In an era of easy access to criminal record information and almost universal pre-employment background checking, it has become nearly impossible for individuals to move past their conviction history despite their efforts to make changes in their lives and give back to society, amici note. Discrimination against people with conviction histories runs deep, they note, with the result that a criminal conviction, no matter how old, can essentially work as a life sentence.
“Ms. Doe and many like her try valiantly to get back to work and become productive members of society, but stale criminal convictions stop them at every turn,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of CSS. “For many employers, reading a background check is like opening Pandora’s Box, and once they see criminal convictions they cease to see the person in front of them. Discrimination – whether intentional or not – takes over, with the result that qualified people are denied the chance to work, support themselves, their families and the economy. Expungement of stale criminal records is key to changing this reality, contributing to increased public safety in the process. We all benefit.”
"National Employment Lawyers Association/New York (NELA/NY) is committed to protecting and advancing the workplace rights of persons with conviction histories. NELA/NY is proud to have collaborated with CSS and Skadden Arps in advocating for fair judicial remedies to alleviate the overwhelming obstacles to employment and economic security faced by these individuals," said Deborah H. Karpatkin, NELA/NY board member and co-author of the brief.
“In the 50 years since the founding of The Fortune Society, we have served hundreds of thousands of men and women who are striving to rebuild their lives after criminal justice involvement,” said JoAnne Page, President and CEO of The Fortune Society. “Obtaining employment is pivotal to building a constructive life in the community. It is pivotal to supporting one's family and to making communities safer. When discrimination based on past history hurts a willing and qualified individual’s ability to obtain employment, our whole society loses. We have signed on to this amicus brief because we want to see men and women with past criminal justice involvement given a chance to contribute to their families and to society.”
“Over 70 million Americans, nearly a third of the entire civilian workforce have some form of criminal history record today,” notes Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Excessive policing and policies that focus on minor nonviolent offenses have exacerbated this problem especially for black and Latino communities but in all marginalized communities of the country. Best practices show that this focus does not promote public safety and the consequences in the labor market are devastating because of employment background checks. Judge Gleeson’s decision to order the expungement in this case is an important judicial check on abuse of authority in the co-branches of government.”
“Our organization works with court involved youth 24 and under helping them overcome the legal barriers to the very cornerstones of stability that many of us take for granted, a job, a home, an education,” said Laurie Parise, Executive Director of Youth Represent. “New York State criminalizes those 16 and older as adults leaving them to face a lifetime of discrimination based on a mistake they made at a very young age. The way to protect public safety is to ensure that these young men and woman can find meaningful employment. Only then will we benefit from the much needed diversity of thought and talent that these young people bring to the workforce.”
“Employers have long used old and minor convictions as barriers to deny New Yorkers access to meaningful employment opportunities and a better quality of life,” said Melissa Ader, Staff Attorney at The Legal Aid Society in New York City. “Expungement of criminal records will help correct this injustice, and allow our clients to be judged on their qualifications and have a meaningful second chance.”
C. Turney-Lewis, Senior Staff Attorney with A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Los Angeles, California, said “In states that have expungement or clean slate remedies for state convictions, federal cases remain a devastating sticking point for many of our clients. With no avenue for relief at the federal level, regardless of how much work someone puts into building their life and clearing past state cases, that federal record will always expose them to lifelong discrimination.”
"In over a decade of assisting thousands of clients with criminal records, East Bay Community Law Center has learned from our clients that when they are able to work, to find safe and stable housing, and to have a public voice, they are able to support themselves, their families, and their communities, which is a foundation of public safety and personal dignity," says Sarah Crowley, Director of the Clean Slate Practice at East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, California. "The opportunity to expunge criminal records after demonstrated rehabilitation is critical for empowering people with criminal records to find work and escape cycles of recidivism and poverty."
Ms. Doe’s petition to the Supreme Court was brought by attorneys Noam Biale and Michael Tremonte of the firm Sher Tremonte, attorneys David Boies and Joanna Wright of the firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, and attorney Bernard H. Udell. CSS General Counsel Judith Whiting, Senior Staff Attorney Estee Konor, and Staff Attorney Emily Hoffman drafted the amicus brief, along with attorney Deborah Karpatkin, who joined on behalf of NELA/NY, and attorneys from the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Boris Bershteyn of Skadden Arps is counsel of record for the amicus brief.
Read the full brief here.