Today, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg becomes the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, a fitting honor for a feminist icon who spent her life advocating for equal protection under the law. She passed away a week ago as Rosh Hashanah began, timing that in the Jewish faith is seen as a symbol of her place as a tzaddik, or “righteous person.” And by all accounts she was just that — in law and in life. The barriers she encountered along the way became the catalyst for her work to end legal discrimination. She spent her early career with the ACLU pursuing change one case at a time — peppering her arguments before the court she would later sit on with elegant and simple statements that may seem obvious to us now but were radical notions at the time. (“Men and women are persons of equal dignity, and they should count equally before the law,” and “The gender line helps to keep women not on a pedestal but in a cage.”) Her ascent to the high court led to groundbreaking cases and later blistering dissents, earning her the moniker “The Great Dissenter” — as well as the celebrity-making “Notorious RBG.”
Ginsburg gave people across the country a real-life superhero to admire and emulate, and she is the reason so many of us — men and women — have been able to pursue the lives and careers we wish. Even her 56-year marriage was an inspiring model for equality. Ginsburg said during her confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court: “I think generally in our society, real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” And so we march on, perhaps keeping in mind another sage nugget of RBG wisdom: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Related: Read Arnold Ventures' statement on the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Related: AV's Executive Vice President of Criminal Justice Jeremy Travis developed a friendship with Ginsburg when he clerked for her during her time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit. It was a connection that sustained through the years. In the video above, he reflects on their friendship, the gravity of her work, and what she meant to the country.
The Other Race to Watch
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
While the presidency may dominate the election headlines, California is on the verge of approving perhaps the single largest criminal justice reform ever put up for a popular vote. We’re talking about Proposition 25.
What it does: If it passes, Prop. 25 will officially replace California’s cash bail with a risk-based system in order to shrink jail populations and better protect individual liberty. The referendum actually began as a 2018 state law, SB 10, but the bail bond industry worked to repeal the new law at the ballot box.
Who’s for it: So far Prop. 25 has earned the support of major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Orange County Register, and also Gov. Gavin Newsom. A bipartisan coalition is lining up behind the referendum because they recognize the core problem with cash bail — it punishes people simply for being poor while also freeing wealthy people who may pose a legitimate danger to the public or of skipping court. “Poverty is not a crime, but for people who are arrested and can’t afford bail, it is punished as if it were,” the Register said in its endorsement.
Why it matters: The question isn’t just about criminal justice reform in California. A victory for Prop. 25 would be a sign that pretrial reform is a winning issue and potentially inspire similar efforts across the country. It would also undercut the cash bail industry, which funds opposition to criminal justice reform efforts nationwide.
Related: A report from the ACLU of Ohio finds bail reform measures could save the state more than $200 million per year.
Related: The Wisconsin Law Journal details arguments for bail reform from AV grantee APPR versus the bail industry. “What [reform] is really about is releasing people, not detaining people,” says APPR’s Alison Shames.
Related: Read an excellent op-ed by a high school student in Los Angeles calling for the passage of Prop. 25.
How Pharma 'Weaponizes'
Our Patent System
By Rhiannon Meyers Collette, Communications Manager
Through the manipulation of intellectual property laws and regulators, Big Pharma has been able to artificially sustain monopolies and keep drug prices high. Now, a new database exposes just how often this tactic — called "evergreening" — has been used by drug makers to block competition. Of the roughly 100 top-selling drugs, more than 70 percent have extended their protection from competition at least once (with more than half extending protection multiple times).
Why it matters: Evergreening is a known key driver of high drug prices, but this new comprehensive database — released by the Center for Innovation at the University of California Hastings College of Law (and supported by Arnold Ventures) — is the first of its kind to reveal the true scope of the practice. When companies engage in evergreening, they block generic competition, leaving consumers and taxpayers paying more for drugs. The database shows that this practice is common even among widely prescribed drugs, such as medicines for heartburn, HIV, and opioid addiction.
What's next: The database's lead creator, Professor Robin Feldman, said that it's clear from the data that pharma is weaponizing the U.S. patent and regulatory system; however, there are steps Congress can take to restore balance, including imposing restrictions on the number of patents drug manufacturers can defend in court, limiting the patentability of so-called secondary patents, and reforming the 180-day generic exclusivity.
Related: The latest Tradeoffs podcast breaks down where Trump and Biden stand on health policy, including Trump’s record on drug pricing.
Do the Right Thing
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
When Congress took swift action this year to help business owners and employees survive the economic fallout from COVID-19, it left out hundreds of thousands of people simply because they had prior criminal records.
A bipartisan group of senators has lined up behind a bill to open the Paycheck Protection Program to people who had been involved with the criminal justice system, and the House already passed similar language in its latest COVID relief package. While all action in the Senate is currently focused on the Supreme Court, there’s still hope — however fleeting — that Congress can do the right thing.
What We're Reading
The grand jury decision not to charge officers in the killing of Breonna Taylor — and like so many others, we’re struggling to reconcile this decision with the concept of justice. “It is important to take action on broad reforms so tragedies like this are not repeated,” says Kentuckian Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network. We agree.
Related: More polling data showing that Americans are not as divided on issues related to policing and law and order as you might think. “Voters have emerged after months of social unrest with a clear sense of what they want: to maintain police funding but overhaul police practices.”
A court ruling this week that would make Maine the first state to allow ranked-choice voting in a presidential election.
Important research from RAND’s Gun Policy in America, including a data viz on three firearm restrictions that could help reduce gun deaths in your state and a gun policy unit plan for teachers.
A long read in the Texas Observer on the decades-long trend to criminalize homelessness. It’s focused on Austin, Texas, which sparked a firestorm when it tried to reverse the trend.
Related: Five charts that explain the homelessness-jail cycle — and how to break it — via Urban Institute.
Houston-area companies that purchase health insurance for their employees are paying more than twice the rate of Medicare for the same medical treatments, according to a new RAND Corporation study in the Houston Chronicle.
A new data viz from Reason on the all-time low 10-year Treasury rate yield, a reminder of the “new normal” in institutional investing. Public pensions could feel the squeeze.
How Families Against Mandatory Minimums is giving federal inmates some hope with petitions for the seldom-used compassionate release in the time of COVID-19, via CBS News.
A lobbying strategy to target Black and Hispanic lawmakers whose constituencies are among those preyed upon by disreputable for-profit colleges, via U.S. News & World Report.
The New York Times reporting on a Data Collaborative for Justice’s report showing Black neighborhoods in New York City continue to be policed at a higher rate than white ones. “Despite significant efforts to shrink the footprint of the criminal justice system, we still see these racial disparities,” said Erica Bond, the center’s Policy Director.
What We're Watching
“A Love Song for Latasha,” a brief but powerful tribute to the life of Latasha Harlins, who was 15 when she was shot and killed by convenience store owner Soon Ja Du as she tried to pay for a $1.79 bottle of orange juice. Du was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served no prison time, sparking outrage that laid the foundation for the 1992 Los Angeles riots. But this quiet film by director Sophia Nahli Allison is about Latasha’s life and the generational trauma that remains today, weaving together thoughtful narratives from her loved ones and ethereal imagery that evokes the time and space in which she existed. It leaves you wanting more of Latasha and her story — wanting desperately to know where her young life would have led.
What we will be watching: Six pharmaceutical executives testifying next week before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on pricing and competition in the drug industry. Drug pricing is unsustainable; we look forward to learning more about the Committee’s ongoing investigation.
What We're Listening To
Slate’s Amicus podcast, to learn about the other nine women in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Harvard Law class of ’59. Hear from them and feel like you’re in the room with RBG as she recalls memories of her trailblazing peers and what they were up against (including a cooking contest and that famous dinner, which is not identically retold). And this is just Part 1.
Some Final Inspiration
This uplifting story of second chances that led a woman from sleeping in her car outside a grocery story to working in that store.
Three cheers for this hero teenager in Connecticut who saved a mother and her three children from a burning car.
This story will give any former college newspaper nerd all the fuzzies.
For parents, a very accurate depiction of remote learning, in comic form. I take comfort in knowing I'm not alone. (H/T to my colleague Stuart Buck.)
Oh, and take some time his weekend to watch (or rewatch) the “RBG” documentary if you really want to get inspired.
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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