Unfinished Business

Civil Rights News: DOJ Wins Juvenile Justice Reforms; SCOTUS to Hear Voting Rights Case on Feb. 27; Increasing Minority Scientists

Deal Signed to Overhaul Juvenile Justice in Tennessee

Kim Severson
The New York Times

A groundbreaking settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and Shelby County, Tennessee, which encompasses Memphis, may serve as a template for reformers seeking to fix a broken and punitive juvenile justice system that is disproportionately locking up Black teenagers. As The Times reports:

Federal investigators in 2009 began investigating juvenile justice in the county, which includes Memphis. They found that black teenagers were twice as likely as white teenagers to be detained and were sent to adult criminal court for minor infractions far more often than whites.

“What we saw was an assembly line with very little quality assurance,” said Tom Perez, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

The agreement is an important step for the juvenile justice reform movement. The hope is that this case leads to the directing of more resources toward community-based programs that focus on rehabilitation rather than severe punishment.

Court to Hear Voting Rights Case in Feb.

Sam Baker
The Hill

The U.S. Supreme Court has set February 27, 2013, as the day it will hear oral arguments in a major voting rights case, Shelby County v. Holder. The case is a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acts (VRA) which requires some states and counties to receive federal approval before they can enact changes to voting laws. Section 5 has been applied mostly in southern states where there has been a history of voter suppression and intimidation. The VRA currently provides a bailout process that can lift the Section 5 pre-approval requirement.

Federal Initiative Aims to Raise Number of Minority Scientists

Kenneth Chang
The New York Times

Following a study showing that Black scientists were receiving significantly less funding than their White peers, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is undertaking a $50 million initiative to increase minority representation in the field of biological research. As The Times reports, “The N.I.H. program will provide research opportunities for undergraduate students, financial support for undergraduate and graduate students, and set up a mentoring program to help students and researchers beginning their careers.”