Monday, March 14, 2016
Makes you wonder what Eric Holder did for 6 years
Since Loretta Lynch has been the Attorney General, the Department of Justice has stirred to life and actually performed some of the duties that people expect of it. The latest action is to read the riot act to state judges across the land about unconstitutional abuse of fines and fees for poor people in their court systems.
The Justice Department on Monday called on state judges across the country to root out unconstitutional policies that have locked poor people in a cycle of fines, debt and jail. It was the Obama administration’s latest effort to take its civil rights agenda to the states, which have become a frontier in the fight over the rights of the poor and the disabled, the transgender and the homeless.An abusive system used to keep taxes down for rich white folks by milking the poor for every last penny. This letter is a warning to states that the DoJ stands opposed to this kind of action and will act as needed.
In a letter to chief judges and court administrators, Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, and Lisa Foster, who leads a program on court access, warned against operating courthouses as for-profit ventures. It chastised judges and court staff members for using arrest warrants as a way to collect fees. Such policies, the letter said, made it more likely that poor people would be arrested, jailed and fined anew — all for being unable to pay in the first place.
It is unusual for the Justice Department to write such a letter. It last did so in 2010, when the department told judges that they were obligated to provide translators for people who could not speak English. The letters do not have the force of law, but they declare the federal government’s position and put local officials on notice about its priorities.
Ms. Gupta said that in some cities, hefty fines served as a sort of bureaucratic cover charge for the right to seek justice. People cannot even start the process of defending themselves until they have settled their debts.
“This unconstitutional practice is often framed as a routine administrative matter,” Ms. Gupta wrote. “For example, a motorist who is arrested for driving with a suspended license may be told that the penalty for the citation is $300 and that a court date will be scheduled only upon the completion of a $300 payment.”
The letter echoes the conclusions of the Justice Department’s investigation of the Police Department and court in Ferguson, Mo. Investigators there concluded that the court was a moneymaking venture, not an independent branch of government. Ms. Gupta, who oversaw that investigation, has often cited Ferguson as a cautionary tale in her speeches, describing how fines for minor offenses like jaywalking pulled people into the criminal justice system and made it impossible to escape.
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