Laurence Tribe, the Harvard University law professor who took leave of absence to become senior counselor at the Department of Justice focusing on indigent defendant issues, made his public debut on Monday at the National Institute for Justice conference in Arlington, Va.
Tribe — whose students have included President Barack Obama, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski — announced that the initiative would be partnering with the NIJ to issue a new grant solicitation for access to justice related research.
Tribe joined the Justice Department in March to focus on the issue of access to counsel for the poor, which Attorney General Eric Holder had called a “very serious problem.” But The New York Times reported that he had been given a “small staff, a limited budget, little concrete authority and a portfolio far less sweeping than the one he told friends he had hoped to take on in Washington.”
But during his speech on Monday, Tribe said the Access to Justice initiative, if backed by proper research, “could potentially transform the entire field and help narrow the gap between our aspirations of justice and the justice we actually deliver to our citizens. Narrow the gap between rhetoric and reality. There are truly endless opportunities.”
Tribe said he was happy to be working for an administration that had respect for scientific inquiry.
“I believe one of the greatest threats to progress is the casual, even contemptuous attitude towards evidence and reality that some people in positions of power have at times displayed,” Tribe said. “An attitude that has spread a brazen sense of willingness to censor and manipulate evidence for political gains. I am deeply grateful to serve for a president and in an administration that has respect for evidence-based reality.”
He encouraged the crowd to explore through research the potential for providing adequate defense services to the lower and middle-class.
“As many of you know, reforming indigent defense is a top priority for Attorney General Eric Holder and for the Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson,” Tribe said. “Currently, public defenders are hamstrung by a lack of research that shows not only that court defenders are necessary to guard and enhance justice, but also to examine what we strongly suspect is true: that good defenders appointed early in the case can create significant savings in the criminal justice system, often resulting in a net negative cost rather than a net positive cost.”
The 2010 National Institute for Justice Conference continues through Wednesday.
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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Wednesday urged the Senate to confirm several nominees approved by his committee, including five Justice Department officials and two prospective U.S. Attorneys.
The nominees are:
- Dawn Johnsen, who was approved by his committee on March 19, for head of the Office of Legal Counsel.
- Mary L. Smith, who was reported out of the committee June 11, for head of the Tax Division.
- Christopher Schroeder, who was reported by the Judiciary panel July 28, for head of the Office of Legal Policy.
- Susan B. Carbon, who was reported out of committee Dec. 3, for head of the Violence Against Women Office.
- John Laub, who was reported out of committee Dec. 3, for head of the National Institute of Justice.
- Sanford Coats, who was reported out of committee Dec. 3, for U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
- Mary Elizabeth Phillips, who was reported out of committee Dec. 3, for U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.
In a press release, Leahy said, “This year we have witnessed unprecedented delays in the consideration of qualified and noncontroversial nominations,” adding, “We have had to waste weeks seeking time agreements in order to consider nominations that were then confirmed unanimously. I hope that instead of withholding consent and threatening filibusters of President Obama’s judicial nominees, Senate Republicans will treat the nominees of President Obama fairly.”
He continued, “During President Bush’s last year in office, we reduced judicial vacancies to as low as 34, even though it was a presidential election year. Judicial vacancies have now spiked. There are currently 97 vacancies on our federal circuit and district courts, and 23 more have already been announced. This is approaching record levels. I know we can do better. Justice should not be delayed or denied to any American because of overburdened courts and the lack of federal judges.”
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Lester Shubin, a former Justice Department researcher who first thought to use Kevlar in bullet-resistant vests, died after a heart attack at his Fairfax County home last week at the age of 84, reports the Washington Post.
Shubin was working for the National Institute for Justice, the research and development branch of the Justice Department, in the early 1970s when DuPont came out with what he called a “funny yellow fabric” intended to replace steel belting on high-speed tires.
“We folded it over a couple of times and shot at it. The bullets didn’t go through,” Shubin was quoted as saying in a Justice Department report on the National Institute for Justice’s accomplishments.
Shubin obtained $5 million in research money from the Justice Department as his fellow researcher began developing tests. Kevlar vests have been credited with saving the lives of more than 3,000 law enforcement officers since 1975.
In his capacity as a researcher, Shubin was one of the first to recommend that dogs be used to find bombs.
“We learned that basically any dog could find explosives or drugs, even very small dogs like Chihuahuas, whose size could be an advantage,” Shubin said. “Who is going to look twice at someone in a fur coat carrying a dog? But that dog could smell a bomb as well as a German shepherd.”
Shubin was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, 1925 and served in the Army in France and Germany. He was among the troops that liberated the Dachau concentration camp, his son, Harry Shubin, told the Washington Post.