Systemic Lawyering Webinar Series

The Systemic Justice Project will be hosting a zoom webinar series on “Systemic Lawyering in Times of Crisis” on Tuesdays from 12-1pm EST.

Click here to join the webinar:

See below for more information – this post will be updated with details of the ongoing panels.

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The series will feature systemically oriented lawyers and activists in fields most affected by our latest crisis: housing, immigration, disability, employment, consumer/credit, incarceration, voting rights, climate, health care, and more.

Each session will examine the special challenges posed by the crisis, the revised priorities and strategies being adopted, and the new collaborations being forged. We will consider the pressing needs, the new opportunities, and the more general lessons for lawyers, law students, and others committed to promoting systemic change.

The first of the series takes place on March 31 at 12pm EST. The panelists will be:

  • Sabi Ardalan: Clinical Professor of Law and Director ofthe Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, Harvard Law School
  • Matthew Duffy: Justice Catalyst Legal Fellow, Voting Rights & Democracy at Center for Popular Democracy
  • Jane Flanagan: Leadership in Government Fellow, Open Society Foundations and Visiting Scholar, IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law
  • Andrea Sáenz: Supervising Attorney, Immigration Practice, Brooklyn Defender Services

Please click the following link to join the webinar via Zoom:

  • Or iPhone one-tap :   US: +13126266799,,770662864#  or +19294362866,,770662864#
  • Or Telephone: Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
  • US: +1 312 626 6799  or +1 929 436 2866  or +1 253 215 8782  or +1 301 715 8592  or +1 346 248 7799  or +1 669 900 6833
  • Webinar ID: 770 662 864
  • International numbers available:

Alec Karakatsanis Book Talk: Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System

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Leading civil rights lawyer Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps will give a book talk on Wednesday October 30th on his groundbreaking new book, Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System. Lunch provided, and books will be available for purchase and signing from 11:45am. See more at 

Full details:

Alec Karakatsanis Book Talk – Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System
Wednesday October 30th, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Austin Hall North, Harvard Law School

Cosponsored by:
Systemic Justice Project
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice
Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising (OPIA)
Criminal Justice Policy Program
Criminal Justice Institute
Supreme Torts

Hope to see you there!


Alec Karakatsanis on How Lawyers can Challenge the Criminal Injustice System

Please join OPIA for a talk with Alec Karakatsanis ’08, recipient of a 2013 Public Service Venture Fund Seed Grant from HLS and Founder & Executive Director of Civil Rights Corps, a non-profit organization dedicated to groundbreaking systemic litigation and advocacy challenging pervasive injustices in the American criminal legal system.

Alec’s talk will touch upon many topics, including:

  • The role of narrative to end mass human caging
  • Litigation strategies to challenge money bail, prosecutors, indigent defense systems, and the criminalization of poverty
  • Working with directly impacted people and community organizers
  • Confronting capitalism and white supremacy

Alec was named the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year by Public Justice for his role in bringing constitutional civil rights cases challenging the money bail system, and received the 2016 Stephen B. Bright Award for contributions to indigent defense in the South. His work to end modern debtors’ prisons was recently profiled in Harvard Magazine. Co-sponsored with ACS.

October 3 @ 5:15 pm – 6:15 pm, Hauser 102

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Justice Catalyst Fellowship

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Jacob Lipton will be hosting an info session tomorrow, Friday November 10th, at 12pm in HLS’s WCC 3007, about the Justice Catalyst’s Fellowship Program for graduating or post-clerkship law students. Learn more about the fellowship and our two-step application process – informal prospectus (optional but highly recommended) due November 15th, full application due January 10th – at

The Catalyst is looking for diverse, creative, self-starting fellows who will pursue year-long, project-based fellowships, with a possibility of renewal. The Catalyst prioritizes groundbreaking ideas, including early-stage projects that are boundary-pushing in the pursuit of systemic solutions to major injustices, whether at an established legal organization or an organization looking to hire its first lawyer.

The Catalyst’s philosophy is problem-centric. Successful projects start with a problem in the world and identify the best way to attack it. While the Catalyst’s core programmatic work is focused on litigation as a tool, fellowship project proposals need not be. Every problem has multiple possible solutions, and tailoring your project proposal to your understanding of the problem is key. While direct representation can be a major component of your project, the Catalyst is interested in projects that build towards broad scale change, including projects that fall outside traditional conceptions of legal work.

Full details at or contact for more information.


CHRGJ Summer Legal Internship: Call for Applications

The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law is currently accepting applications for its full-time 10-week summer legal internship program, which will run from June 4, 2018 to August 10, 2018.

Applications are due November 1, 2017.

The Center houses the Global Justice Clinic, the Just Security online forum, and two UN experts and their research staff: the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence (transitional justice). Center faculty and staff will be working across a diverse range of issues, including:

  • Access to justice and legal empowerment
  • American poverty and human rights
  • Artificial intelligence and its impact on the human rights of the poor
  • Arts and human rights
  • Community-based human rights monitoring and data analysis
  • Corporate accountability and remedies for human rights violations by corporate actors
  • Data visualization and human rights
  • Human rights methodology
  • Legal empowerment
  • National security law and international law involving use of force and armed conflict
  • Rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to free, prior, and informed consent
  • Tax policy and human rights
  • Transitional justice
  • Trauma and resilience among human rights defenders

For additional information on CHRGJ’s current research, please visit our website and subscribe to our mailing list to receive announcements regarding new projects.

Interns’ work will include legal research, writing, and advocacy support. They will be expected to work well independently and as a team, and will be encouraged to engage with CHRGJ staff and visiting scholars as active colleagues. Interns will also participate in a series of educational seminars held every two weeks. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone seeking to enhance their knowledge of human rights law and practice and/or to pursue a career in public interest and social justice.

Application instructions

Please send the following to Brianne Cuffe at with the subject: 2018 Summer Legal Internship:

  1. application form
  2. cover letter tailored to the area(s) of CHRGJ you are most interested in working
  3. current CV
  4. names and contact information of two references
  5. unofficial law school transcript
  6. writing sample (English-language, 10 pages maximum, excerpts acceptable)

Application materials should be consolidated into a single PDF file in the order listed above and received by November 1, 2017 at 5:00pm.


Due to limited resources, candidates are strongly encouraged to seek other funding sources, such as their law school’s public interest law centers, local bar foundations and Equal Justice America.



  • Current or recent enrollment in a law degree program (JD, LLM, or equivalent)
  • Eligibility to intern in the United States
  • Excellent analytical, research and writing skills as demonstrated by academic record and/or writing sample(s)
  • Demonstrated commitment to human rights and social justice
  • Knowledge of the international legal system
  • Strong capacity to work independently and with people from diverse backgrounds, including partner organizations


  • Work experience prior to law school

Not required but will be considered assets for some positions:

  • Fluency and/or ability to conduct legal and human rights research in another language-particularly Spanish, French, Haitian Kreyol, Swahili, and/or Arabic
  • Experience with litigation in national, regional, or international bodies
  • Quantitative research skills
  • Systematic qualitative research skills, e.g., content coding, focus groups
  • Training or experience in psychology or mental health
  • Training or experience in journalism
  • Knowledge of earth sciences, especially hydrology or geology
  • Knowledge of extractive industries (oil, mining, and gas)
  • Knowledge of international financial institutions
  • Interest in corporate accountability or business and human rights

Applications from persons of color, LGBTQI persons, women, and persons with disabilities are strongly encouraged.

Justice Works: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Community Justice

The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice is hosting a public convening called Justice Works: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Community Justice on Tuesday October 3rd from 5-7pm in Milstein East C. Details in the poster below.



Community justice is the process of building public policy by incorporating the voices, knowledge and aspirations of individuals living and working in communities decimated by decades of disinvestment, neglect over-policing and prosecutorial excess.

This event marks the Houston Institute’s first dedicated public convening specifically addressing the practice of community justice. The panel is organized around a report by the Oregon Justice Resource Center entitled, “Disrupting Mass Incarceration at the Local Level.”

We expect this to be a wide-ranging, informative discussion and hope you can join us.


  • Aramis AyalaState Attorney, 9thJudicial Court for the State of Florida
  • Lillie A. EstesCommunity Strategist, ALO Community Strategy, RePHRAME and Community Justice Film Series
  • Kate GonsalvesPolitical Director, Oregon Justice Resource Center
  • Katherine StantonAmherst College ‘18; CHHIRJ Intern

Free and open to the public
Please RSVP at 

Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

Exciting event/webcast at the Berkman Klein Center tomorrow, connected to the Justice Lab paper on the American Student Debt Crisis, with a focus on for-profit colleges:


More than two million students are enrolled in for-profit colleges, from the small family-run operations to the behemoths brandished on billboards, subway ads, and late-night commercials. In Lower Ed Tressie McMillan Cottom parses the fraught dynamics of this big-money industry to show how it is part and parcel of the growing inequality plaguing the country today. McMillan Cottom discloses the shrewd recruitment and marketing strategies that these schools deploy and explains how, despite the well-documented predatory practices of some and the campus closings of others, ending for-profit colleges won’t end the vulnerabilities that made them the fastest growing sector of higher education at the turn of the twenty-first century. 

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with students, employees, executives, and activists, Lower Ed tells the story of the benefits, pitfalls, and real costs of a for-profit education. It is a story about broken social contracts; about education transforming from a public interest to a private gain; and about all Americans and the challenges we face in our divided, unequal society.

Friday, June 23, 2016 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Harvard Law School campus
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1010
RSVP required to attend in person
Event will be live webcast at 12:00 pm


Historic Harris County Decision

On April 28th, Judge Lee H. Rosenthal issued an unprecedented 193-page ruling, holding that the Harris County money bail system is unconstitutional. The judge considered hundreds of exhibits, thousands of videos, hundreds of thousands of records, and numerous live expert and factual witnesses over an eight-day trial. She concluded that the Harris County’s bail system unfairly punishes the poor by ignoring individuals’ ability to pay bail. The court would arbitrarily set bail based and often ignored recommendations to release non-violent people on personal bonds.

In closing, Judge Rosenthal wrote, “In Harris County, they may be homeless. They may lack family, friends, and [people in their lives willing to bail them out]. Some are, no doubt, of bad reputation and present a risk of nonappearance or of new criminal activity. But they are not without constitutional rights to due process and the equal protection of the law.”

Going forward, Harris County will have to ask all those arrested on misdemeanor charges about their financial situation. If a person is eligible for release, they must be released on unsecured money bond. The decision will apply to over 50,000 misdemeanor arrestees in Harris County every year.

“The opinion destroys the supposed justifications of the American wealth-based pretrial detention system in devastating factual and legal detail,” stated Alex Karakatsanis, the lead attorney for Civil Rights Corps, which represents one of the plaintiffs. “In my view, it is a turning point for our criminal legal system.”

Arkansas Executions

Arkansas’ attempt to execute eight death row inmates prior to April 30th, when their supply of midazolam expires, stands in stark contrast to the declining trend of execution by lethal injection and opens a new front in the culture wars.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, execution by lethal injection has fallen significantly since the turn of the century. At its peak in 1999, 98 people were executed; that number dropped to 35 in 2014. While this stems from many factors, part of the change is from the three drugs involved in the process: midazolam, which is used to render the individual unconscious; vecuronium bromide, which is used to halt their breathing; and potassium chloride, which stops their heart. Controversy has surrounded the drugs’ use as many producers sought to distance themselves and their products from lethal injections. For instance, several European drug companies began banning exports of these types of drugs, notably sodium thiopental the precursor to midazolam, to the U.S. starting in 2010. Shortly afterward, Hospira, based out in Illinois, stopped making the drug as well. The culmination occurred in 2012 when the EU created export controls over these products.

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Given the new restrictions, states looking to execute prisoners sought out new, and arguably less effective, alternatives such as midazolam. In one such case that went to the Supreme Court, Joseph R. Wood III suffered for two hours after receiving a lethal injection. With the introduction of the new drugs, there has been an increased number of lawsuits for injunctions and stays of execution. The main argument of these cases revolves around midazolam’s inability to work as an effective sedative and the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners, specifically regarding the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.

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Until recently, Arkansas seemed to be following the national trend, having not executed an inmate since 2005. However, on February 27th, Governor Hutchinson set the execution dates of eight men, and on April 20th, the state carried out its first execution in over a decade. Ledell Lee was executed by lethal injection moments before his death warrant was to expire. This was quickly followed by the double execution of Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Wayne Williams on April 25th. This double execution was the first of its kind since 2000. Finally, Kenneth Williams was executed on April 27th.

The executions speak to a larger political sea change. Justice Gorsuch was nominated to the Supreme Court on January 31st, and confirmed on April 7th. Now on the bench, Gorsuch will break the 4 – 4 splits of the previous few months, moving the Court in a conservative direction. This was the case with Ledell Lee who appealed his case to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled the execution could move ahead minutes before his death warrant expired, with Gorsuch placing the tiebreaking vote.

The ruling on Lee came after injunctions from the Fifth Circuit Court and Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the executions because of issues surrounding the drugs midazolam and vecuronium bromide. The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals cited several previous ineffective uses of midazolam and the prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights in issuing its April 15th injunction. As the court stated, “The threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs is significant: If midazolam does not adequately anesthetize plaintiffs, or if their executions are ‘botched,’ they will suffer severe pain before they die.”

The Fifth Circuit Court ordered a separate temporary injunction based on a lawsuit filed by McKesson, the company that distributes vecuronium bromide. The company claimed the state misled them about the use of the drug. However, this injunction was vacated after Arkansas appealed it in the State Supreme Court—a ruling that clears the way for the drug to be used in future executions.

In his dissent to the Lee case, Justice Breyer wrote:

The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating behavior. It has nothing to do with their mental state. It has nothing to do with the need for speedy punishment. Four have been on death row for over 20 years. All have been housed in solitary confinement for at least 10 years. Apparently the reason the State decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the ‘use by’ date of the State’s execution drug is about to expire. In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random.

It is becoming clear that, in the current political environment, the Eighth Amendment has less traction than it ought when determining death penalty cases. Whether it is an emphasis of market factors over individual lives or a lack of concern about the pain an inmate suffers, courts are becoming more stringent about what “cruel and unusual” means. As such, lawyers will need to take new approaches to defend their clients.

Four of the executions have been blocked. Stacey E. Johnson received a stay to allow for new forensic evidence. Working in coordination with the Innocence Project, lawyers successfully argued for a stay of execution, stating “newer methods of DNA testing that have never been performed in the case could provide compelling proof that Johnson didn’t commit the crime.”

Don William Davis and Bruce Earl Ward were granted stays based on their mental health. The attorney for Davis and Ward claims they were denied access to independent mental health experts. They are currently waiting on a ruling from the Supreme Court regarding defendant access to independent mental health experts.

Finally, Jason Farrell McGehee received a preliminary stay based on the state parole board’s suggestion that Governor Hutchinson grant him clemency. This puts his potential execution date after the drugs have expired and would require another order.

The four stays granted reflect narrow arguments tailored to the specific merits of each case and rely heavily on developments in the legal field. Two are waiting on a new ruling from the Supreme Court and one is attempting to bring new DNA evidence to bear, underscoring the changing legal landscape.

This change will have several implications. First, as courts have shown their reluctance to moderate how lethal drugs are acquired and their efficacy in executing prisoners, there will be increased use of lethal injections across the United States. Second, there will be less use of the Eighth Amendment as a strategy as the courts seem far less sympathetic to the pain prisoners may suffer during execution. Finally, the debate between pro- and anti-death penalty advocates will intensify as the number of executions increases and reignites the death penalty as a new front in the culture wars.

— Zachary Leibman is a Systemic Justice Fellow for the 2016 – 2017 academic year

Capital Punishment and Ineffective Representation

From one of our systemic justice students, here is an illuminating website briefly describing capital punishment in America, focusing in particular in how inadequate representation disadvantages a large number of capital defendants and skews the system against them.  Included is an overview of several inmates in Arkansas who are currently scheduled for execution beginning April 17th and who received wholly ineffective representation.