Category: News

On March 13, 2020, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an African American EMT, was shot and killed by police carrying out a no-knock warrant on her Louisville, Kentucky apartment. The killing sparked months of nationwide outrage, Black Lives Matter protests, and calls for police reform, which resulted in the passing of Breonna’s Law, effectively banning no-knock warrants in Louisville and increasing the requirements for body camera footage for all warrants. 

However, at the heart of these protests were calls for the three officers involved in the shooting, Johnathan Mattingly, Brett Hankinson, and Myles Cosgrove, to be arrested and charged with murder. Accordingly, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron summoned a grand jury of 12 Louisville residents, to whom he would present evidence in this matter. The grand jury, then, would decide whether or not probable cause existed to charge the officers.

Finding Released

On September 23, 2020, the grand jury’s findings were released. Brett Hankinson, who had been fired from the force in June, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment because of bullets that went into the neighboring apartments. Neither Officer Mattingly nor Officer Cosgrove were charged at all. 

Coming more than six months following Taylor’s killing, the decision recharged outrage across the country. In a press conference, AG Daniel Cameron explained that the officers were justified in using deadly force because they were fired upon first by Taylor’s boyfriend. The latter used a legally owned firearm to defend himself against what he believed to be intruders in his home after police forcefully entered in the night without announcing themselves. 

Jurors Seek Legal Counsel

Now, the situation has become mired in even more controversy. An unnamed juror has argued, via a legal motion, that AG Cameron did not, as he claims, present the totality of evidence to the grand jury. This juror alleges that the AG used the grand jury to “deflect accountability and responsibility” and that he planted “more seeds of doubt in the process.” 

Another unnamed juror has begun seeking legal counsel to come out and speak against the grand jury proceedings as well. Grand jury proceedings are generally kept secret to protect the reputation of those accused but not indicted of a crime, as well as to shield jurors from criticism or harm. Only in extreme cases do grand jury proceedings get released, like when a grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in 2014. On Friday, October 2, 2020, AG Cameron released about 15 hours of tapes of the grand jury proceedings.

This myriad of controversy and confusion has called into question the practice of keeping grand juries secret. Regardless of this debate, however, it is crucial that everyone understands their roles and rights on a grand jury, should they be called to serve on one. 

Grand Jury Trials in DC

In the District of Columbia, to be eligible to serve on a grand jury, you must be a United States citizen, a resident of the District of Columbia, 18 years or older, and able to read, speak, and understand the English language. Disqualifying factors include physical or mental incapability, having a felony conviction or be pending a felony or misdemeanor conviction, or selecting certain answers on jury qualification forms, as each case dictates. 

DC also codifies that jurors on a grand jury will receive fees and expenses for their time served, which shall be set by the Board of Judges of the Superior Court and will not exceed those awarded in Federal court. Similarly, DC Code stipulates that individuals receiving benefits, such as unemployment, will not have those benefits affected by jury duty. Additionally, an employer may not punish, terminate, or threaten to terminate an employee who must take time from work to serve on a jury.

            

           

 

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.

It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” -RBG

 

On September 18th, 2020, the country mourned the loss of cultural and political icon, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg was only the second woman to serve on America’s highest court. One of the nation’s strongest advocates for a variety of issues, from women’s rights to same-sex marriages to abortion rights, Justice Ginsburg was a titan for equality. Since her appointment to the court by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, Justice Ginsburg has written powerful decisions for landmark cases, while often writing equally poignant dissents.

Ginsburg played a significant role in the fight for gender equality long before her appointment to the Supreme Court. In 1972, she began working at the ACLU and helped create the Woman’s Rights Project. Ginsburg played an integral part in arguing cases such as General Electric Co. v. Gilbert (1976), which led to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and Frontiero v. Richardson (1973), which created a heightened level of scrutiny to be applied to gender discrimination cases.

Three years following her appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg wrote the decision in United States v. Virginia. This case struck down the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admission policy through the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and is perhaps Justice Ginsburg’s most famous decision for the advancement of gender equality.

One of her most scathing dissents came in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), in which a Goodyear employee sued the company, alleging that she was receiving a lower wage because of her gender. Offering a harsh rebuke of the court on an all-male 5-4 split, Justice Ginsburg showed powerful support for the end of the gender pay gap. Justice Ginsburg penned an equally compelling dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2015). In another 5-4 split, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require certain for-profit corporations to pay for contraceptives for their employees. Justice Ginsburg’s dissent outlines the consequences of woman being discriminated against because they have different religious views than their employer.

Ginsburg was, importantly, part of a 5-4 majority in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in a huge victory for the LGBTQ+ community. “We have changed our idea about marriage,” Ginsberg said during oral arguments. “Marriage today is not what it was under the common law tradition, under the civil law tradition.”

While her passing is devastating, it comes just two months before one of the most contested presidential elections in history. The vacancy on the Supreme Court will present a deeply polarizing issue, providing Republicans a chance to have six conservative Justices on the court. President Trump has already shown his eagerness to replace Justice Ginsburg with a more conservative Justice, which would tilt the ideological balance of the court for years to come. Trump has already had the opportunity to install two conservative judges to the court.

Much is at stake with the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice, including reproductive rights, voting rights, criminal justice reform, immigration, and healthcare. In any event, the legal community and beyond are mourning the loss of an incredible jurist, a powerful leader in the fight for gender equality, and an inspiration to many.

 

 

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