Brooksley Born, former Chair of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission; Former Chair of the National Women’s Law Center Board; and retired Partner at Arnold & Porter, delivered the Annual Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture on Women and the Law on February 8th.

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In letters sent to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health, and to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the New York City Bar Association urges that action be taken to give oral contraceptives over-the-counter (OTC) status. “We urge you to support this policy – which strengthens both gender equality and women’s healthcare – through legislation and policy initiatives to make oral contraception more readily accessible in New York State and across the country.”

Prepared by the City Bar’s Committees on Science & Law and Sex & Law, the identical letters note that beyond the “critical role that contraception plays in women’s lives and ability to participate equally in the social, political and economic life of our nation,” efforts to increase access to oral contraception by allowing OTC availability are supported by “compelling scientific and medical evidence” and are in line with “smart public health policy”:

  • First, professional supervision of oral contraceptive use does not change health outcomes or screening; thus, “while it is important for women to discuss their reproductive and sexual health with health care providers, monitoring and limiting oral contraceptive use is not necessary to achieve these ends.”
  • Second, oral contraceptives already meet the FDA’s criteria for OTC status.
  • Third, the current prescription status for oral contraception bars access to these medications for many women, putting those women at greater risk of unintended pregnancies and poor health outcomes.
  • Fourth, some states have already taken steps to improve access to oral contraception through OTC initiatives, demonstrating the “political momentum and clear science” behind better and easier access to oral contraception for women throughout the country.

As the letters conclude, “This urgent matter affects the daily lives of over 50% of your constituents. The United States has always been a leader in science and medicine, and making oral contraceptives available OTC would continue this tradition.”

The letter to Governor Cuomo is available here:

The letter to the FDA is available here:

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In a report urging New York’s Legislature to accept the Judiciary’s request of a 2.4% increase to its 2016-2017 Budget, the New York City Bar Association paints a troubling picture of courts already operating in austere conditions around the five boroughs.

At Housing Court, the report states, “a shortage of clerks leads to lengthy delays in filing papers, particularly in Brooklyn, where it is not uncommon for attorneys to wait in line for over an hour. Unrepresented tenants wait for hours in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens in the clerks’ offices to file answers….In Bronx Housing Court, litigants are told that they cannot adjourn their cases because the dockets are too full. Court staff cannot find files. A sign was posted in the clerk’s office stating that due to short staffing, files not found on the shelf may not have been filed away; the sign states that people can check back at a later date to see if a file was re-shelved. Pro se litigants and attorneys endure long lines at the clerk’s office. Orders to show cause are often put before judges without the files, depriving the judges of crucial information to assess the requests for relief.”

In New York City Civil Court, due to judicial and staff shortages, No Fault cases are being assigned trial dates in February 2017, with litigants having to wait a year to get a pretrial conference. “The shortages of judges and staff are especially harmful to consumer debtors,” states the report. “More than a third of the cases in Civil Court are filed by debt buyers who purchase debt for pennies on the dollar and then sue without necessary supporting documents. There is widespread sewer service in consumer debt proceedings and 40% of the cases result in default judgments.”

The appellate courts experience similar problems, with cases held up for a year or more awaiting oral argument in the Second Department. The report cites numerous other examples from throughout the court system of overextended staff unable to provide necessary services through lack of resources.

The 2.4% increase of $48.25 million in the All Funds Budget is, according to the report, “necessary to maintain staffing levels required for the courts to function efficiently and effectively. For years, the Judiciary faced significant non-discretionary cost escalation without corresponding funding increases. In Fiscal Year 2009-2010, the General Fund State Operating portion of the Judiciary Budget was $1.786 billion. Six years later, that amount is $1.85 billion, an increase of only $64 million. This constitutes an increase of about 0.6% on an annual basis, which is far below the rate of inflation. The courts are still recovering from $170 million in cuts imposed on the Judiciary in 2011. There are now 2,000 fewer court personnel than there were in 2009.”

The Judiciary Budget Request includes an increase of $15 million for civil legal services to help ensure equal access to justice for low income New Yorkers facing housing, consumer debt and other legal problems pertaining to the essentials of life. “For every dollar invested in civil legal services, the State of New York receives more than ten dollars in economic benefits as a result of reduced social services and other public expenditures, as well as an inflow of federal benefits,” states the report.

The report can be read here:

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In a letter to New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Government Ethics applauds his initiative to submit a comprehensive ethics and campaign financing legislative package as part of his Executive Budget (the “Proposal”), while requesting certain amendments and supplements to the Proposal within the 30 day amendment and supplementation period provided for in Article VII, section 3, of the Constitution.

Among the additions requested by the City Bar are legislation to implement several key recommendations and suggestions from the Review Commission appointed by the Governor and Majority Leaders to examine the work of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“JCOPE”) noted in its recent report. “Specifically,” states the letter, “the Review Commission recommended that JCOPE be authorized to act by majority vote and that the current provision for veto by a partisan minority be eliminated. In addition, while stopping short of making a formal recommendation to reduce the size of JCOPE, the Review Commission commented that such a reduction would present a number of advantages. Finally, we separately and respectfully suggest that, in addition to reducing the size of JCOPE and eliminating the minority veto, the law be changed to allow the Comptroller, the Attorney General and the Chief Judge each to appoint a member of the commission. If these changes are implemented, the true and nonpartisan independence of JCOPE can be assured in both reality and public perception.”

The letter makes further recommendations in the area of campaign finance. These include eliminating the ability of a political party to transfer additional $500 donations from contributors, and setting allowable contributions for Delegates to any Constitutional Convention at the higher Senate candidate level rather than at the level for Assembly candidates.

Finally, the letter urges the Governor to drop from his Proposal the regulation of campaign consultants as lobbyists irrespective of whether they are participating in an effort to secure or oppose the passage of legislation. “The deliberations on budget bills are necessarily expedited and the question of regulating campaign consultants employed by candidates for public office involves First Amendment considerations worthy of analysis and deliberation with less time pressure. We hope to comment on that component of the Proposal at a future date when such issues can be accorded appropriate attention,” the letter states.

The City Bar states that further comments on the Budget may be forthcoming and limits the letter to only those amendments sought within the 30-day period.

The letter can be read here:


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New York City Bar Association President Debra L. Raskin has released a statement expressing “grave concern” over recent home raids by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), targeting for arrest mothers and children who have come to the United States from Central America since last summer. These raids have already led to the arrest of over 120 mothers and children, including children as young as four.

“Many families arrested in these raids fled gang violence or domestic violence in their countries of origin and have meritorious claims to asylum, Convention Against Torture protection, or other forms of protection,” reads the statement. “The vast majority of these families were ordered removed in fast-tracked proceedings that lacked critical elements of due process, such as access to counsel and sufficient time to collect evidence or retain an attorney.”

The City Bar urges the Obama Administration to take the following steps:

(1)   Immediately discontinue home raids targeting mothers and children;

(2)   Provide families in detention with access to effective counsel;

(3)   Stay the removal of the mothers and children who were arrested until they have had a full and fair opportunity to explore and present any claims for relief;

(4)   Agree to reopen removal proceedings for individuals who were not represented during their prior proceedings, did not have sufficient time to collect evidence, or faced other due process violations;

(5)   Release families pending the resolution of their claims;

(6)   De-prioritize the removal of minor children and their parents, in light of humanitarian concerns and dangerous conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and provide appropriate grants of deferred action where no other form of legal protection is available; and

(7)   Designate Guatemala and re-designate El Salvador and Honduras for Temporary Protected Status.

Read the full statement here:



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In a report titled “In Northern Ireland, the Past Is Still Present,” the New York City Bar Association praises the many encouraging developments that have taken place in recent years in Northern Ireland, but warns that significant challenges and substantial work remain to ensure that the abuses of human rights and injustices of the past do not destabilize the peace that has already been secured.

For more than 25 years, the City Bar has been monitoring developments in human rights and the administration of justice in Northern Ireland, primarily through its International Human Rights Committee. During the Committee’s first visit in 1987, parts of Belfast were “armed camps with homes and shopping areas bombed out or blackened by recurrent fires.” Military checkpoints and army patrols were commonplace. Less than two years later, human rights attorney Patrick Finucane was murdered by members of a loyalist paramilitary organization. The Committee visited again in 1998, to examine the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and after its third visit in 2003, the Committee commented on the transformation of public life in Belfast coupled with political changes that signaled “even greater prospects for lasting peace.”

Much depended on the extent to which Northern Ireland was able to contend with its past, and in 2014, the Committee returned to Northern Ireland amid renewed domestic and international discussion about how to deal with a legacy of violence. The delegation met with government officials, legislators, lawyers, judges, and NGO workers regarding ongoing efforts to address the past as well as reform the criminal justice system, and to more fully understand whether and how Northern Ireland was dealing with the “substantial burdens it inherited from three decades of violence.”

The report examines the efforts that have been made since its visit in 2003 through the close of 2015 on establishing mechanisms to deal with individual past cases during ongoing political challenges. Most significantly, the report praises the fact that “substantial reform of the police and criminal justice apparatus has been implemented following the transfer of executive authority over the police and prosecution services from the UK government in London to authorities in Belfast.” The report also reviews efforts to reform the justice apparatus in the judiciary, police, public prosecution service, and prison system, lauding “efforts toward greater transparency and accountability” in each of these areas.

The Committee commends the progress made to date, and in the spirit of promoting human rights in Northern Ireland in the same way that it does at home in the United States, the Committee offers a number of recommendations, including:

  • All parties must prioritize a comprehensive approach toward transitional justice in order to address the past effectively, including adopting an inclusive mechanism that can investigate all allegations of abuses in the past and ensure that they receive impartial and independent examination.
  • The case of Patrick Finucane should receive a full independent and public inquiry, with the UK Government promptly committing to such an inquiry.
  • Greater dialogue and coordination are needed between the police service and prosecutorial authorities to improve the timeliness and quality of investigations and to minimize concerns relating to prosecution failures and decisions not to prosecute.
  • Further reforms to the prison system should be undertaken to improve inmates’ health and safety, eliminate discriminatory treatment among prison populations, and eliminate abuse and overly restrictive practices.
  • Continued focus is needed on issues related to flags and parades, which regularly result in disruptions to the peace.

Ultimately, while Northern Ireland has displayed many “affirmative and remarkable changes” since the Committee began its work to understand the impact of the political troubles on the administration of justice, significant challenges remain that must be addressed in order to rebuild and ensure a lasting peace.

The report can be read here:


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In a letter to the Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission, the New York City Bar Association, while expressing its support for the concept of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing as a method for creating permanently affordable housing, raises concerns that certain aspects of an amendment pending before the Commission “are or may become problematic, particularly in light of the recent expiration of the 421-a property tax exemption (‘421-a’).”

Specifically, the City Bar “recommends that the CPC consider postponing the approval of the MIH text amendment and of individual rezonings involving MIH until there is clarification as to whether 421-a will be available and with what requirements (affordability requirements, construction wages, and other relevant requirements).” Under the City land use procedures governing text amendments such as MIH, the City Planning proposal is not subject to a statutory time clock for approval.

The letter, from the Association’s Committees on Housing & Urban Development, Land Use Planning & Zoning, and Cooperative & Condominium Law, outlines a number of additional suggestions for strengthening and clarifying the MIH proposal while reiterating the City Bar’s support for the CPC’s and the Administration’s goal of increasing affordable housing production through MIH. “As discussed in this letter, we believe that clarification of certain items, and revisions to the MIH text where appropriate, would increase the effectiveness and desirability of MIH, making MIH more successful in generating affordable housing and fostering economically diverse neighborhoods. Additionally, providing clear guidance as to MIH’s criteria and procedures will make MIH easier to implement and administer, thereby allowing the program to operate more efficiently,” states the letter.

The letter may be read here:

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Following a disconcertingly warm December in which the temperature hit 72 degrees on Christmas Eve, and a summer called the hottest on record by multiple authorities, including NASA, it behooves us to reflect on what can be done, and what we can do as an Association, to address the effects of climate change.

Recognizing the realities of climate change and that modern civilization must be contributing to it, the international community has begun to take action. In 1992, leaders from nations around the world gathered at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to adopt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The 153 countries and delegations in Rio pledged to reverse the trend of increased greenhouse gas emissions and to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The UNFCCC became a binding international treaty in March 1994 and, as of December 2015, has 197 parties.

Despite good intentions, however, the treaty contains no binding emissions targets for individual countries and no mechanisms for enforcement. Since the 1992 Earth Summit, world leaders have tried to find common ground on climate change, but with mixed results. There was the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and enacted in 2005. It was signed by President Bill Clinton but never submitted to the Senate for ratification and, therefore, remained non-binding. President George W. Bush famously withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in a move that drew international condemnation. And there was the ill-fated 2009 Copenhagen Summit, which devolved into acrimony and yielded only a non-binding “accord” written by a handful of large countries.

But, at long last, it appears that the climate, so to speak, surrounding international talks has itself begun to change. In December 2015, the United Nations convened COP21, a climate conference held in Paris where, for almost two weeks, world leaders discussed the destructive effects of climate change and debated how best to address them. Whether fueled by the immediacy of recent weather-related catastrophes, President Obama’s renewed commitment to climate reform, French President Francois Hollande’s efforts not to repeat the mistakes of Copenhagen, the European migrant crisis, or some combination of these and other factors, COP21 succeeded where previous climate conferences failed. The result was a historic climate accord signed by 195 countries. The agreement includes commitments from nearly all of the signatories to undertake mitigation efforts with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, an agreement to convene every five years to assess and review these efforts, and regular and transparent reporting on every signatory country’s carbon emissions.

I’m pleased to report that the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice was well represented in Paris by Environment Program Director Susan Kath, who attended as an NGO observer for the American Society of International Law, and Vance Center Committee member Rubén Kraiem, who was there as a member of the Panamanian delegation and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. Kath also attended the inaugural Climate Law and Governance Day at the Sorbonne, an initiative to address how the international legal community can support implementation of the Paris Agreement.

To coincide with the opening day of COP21, the City Bar’s Legal Issues of Climate Adaptation Task Force published a report, “Climate Adaptation in Developing Countries: Planning and Financing for Cities, Farms and Internally Displaced Persons,” in which the Task Force argues that, in addition to mitigation schemes like carbon taxes and “cap-and-trade” programs, wide-ranging urban and rural adaptation plans must be adopted across the nation and internationally to cope with the inevitable effects of climate change. To pay for such adaptation measures in developing countries, the Task Force recommends a financial transaction microtax (FTM) on trades of financial instruments, with the proceeds earmarked for climate adaptation.

This is an idea with the potential to raise significant funds from an as-yet untapped source. The Task Force’s recommendation offers what may be an elegant solution to concerns raised at COP21 by developing nations willing to do their part with respect to climate adaptation initiatives but lacking the necessary funds to do so. Innovative proposals like this are ripe for discussion as the international community attempts to make good on the pledges made last month in Paris.

Supplementing the report, the City Bar will also host a program called “Opportunities to Raise Public Awareness about Climate Change and the Need for Action.” The program, scheduled for March 31st, will include panel discussions and working sessions with legal scholars, experts, and various New York City metropolitan organizations focusing on ways to increase awareness, scale up New York’s response to climate change, and align communications on the need for urgent action.

Real and lasting efforts to reduce or reverse the effects of modern civilization on the Earth’s climate will require ingenuity in multiple areas—scientific, social, political, and legal. I’m proud of our Legal Issues of Climate Adaptation Task Force’s efforts to come up with new ideas to further the dialogue on this issue. Great thanks to Stephen L. Kass, chair of the Task Force, and Michael G. Mahoney, chair of the Environmental Law Committee, for their leadership. I urge all of our members to read the report, attend the program, and do what they can to educate and advocate for action on climate change.

Debra L. Raskin is President of the New York City Bar Association


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