The Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice has developed a multi-part webinar series exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic highlights critical legal issues of criminal justice, civil rights, human rights, and economic concerns, to name only a few. In these free webinars, panelists will address the deepening crises in our collective pursuit of advancing law and justice.
Pandemic Trials: Defending Criminal Clients During COVID-19 | January 28, 3:00 p.m. ET
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed criminal court operations. This webinar will explore these changes, with a focus on how they are impacting public defenders and defendants. We will examine the use of video, hybrid and in-person trials with pandemic conditions. Topics will include masking issues for defendants, witnesses and jurors, identification issues, courtroom set-up, the impact of maintaining social distancing, and jury composition challenges.
New Jersey COVID-19 Jail Release Agreement | March 27
On Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court entered an Order providing for the commutation or suspension of many county jail sentences. The Order, which was expected to result in the release of 1,000 people, was entered upon agreement by the Attorney General, the County Prosecutors Association, the Public Defender and the ACLU. This webinar featured many of the key players to discuss the actual terms of the Order, how they came to agreement and how this agreement might serve as a model for decreasing jail populations to limit the spread of COVID-19 in other states.
Expanding Pretrial Release in the Age of COVID-19 | April 1
For years, criminal justice reform efforts have focused on reducing pretrial detention, particularly detention resulting from an inability to pay cash bail. While many jurisdictions have reduced or eliminated the use of cash bail, particularly for low-level offenses, more than 700,000 people across the country are still detained without having been found guilty of any crime. As COVID-19 has closed or limited courts and postponed jury trials, pretrial detention has become less definite in length. At the same time, concern about the potential spread of COVID-19 in jails has pushed justice system actors to search for ways to reduce jail populations. This webinar explored several efforts to seek expanded release for those detained pretrial in response to COVID-19.
Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic on African Americans and Communities of Color | April 2
Panelists addressed the current and foreseeable implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the African American community. It’s important to identify the rights members of vulnerable communities have as it relates to (1) access to health care; (2) economic security; (3) criminal justice and (4) voting. Our panel discussed the impact of COVID-19 providing insight and commentary on questions such as: will COVID-1 adversely affect more African Americans because of health disparities or common pre-existing conditions? Will testing sites be set up in communities of color? Will individuals without insurance be more at risk if they have to seek health care via emergency rooms and free clinics? Will health care rationing decisions be made on the basis of protected classes? Will minority small businesses receive an equitable distribution of relief funding? What rights do individuals have if they are laid off? Will the pandemic adversely impact access to voting or voter turnout? Panelists addressed a variety of issues and the unique implications they have on the African American community.
COVID-19 and the Compassionate Release of the Elderly, Infirm or High Risk | April 3
As concerns increase about the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons, special attention should be given to those most vulnerable to severe cases, particularly the elderly and infirm. While almost every state has judicial or administrative mechanisms for releasing such prisoners early, release under these programs is rarely achieved. With the new threat of COVID-19, the release of prisoners at serious health risk is getting a closer look. Our panelists discussed litigation and administrative efforts to secure the compassionate release of elderly and infirm prisoners in response to COVID-19.
Across the country, advocates are seeking and obtaining the releases of some individuals from jails and prisons to reduce the incarcerated population and combat the spread and harm from COVID-19. The speed of these releases raises concerns about whether these individuals are prepared, particularly given the COVID-related restrictions that exist in most jurisdictions. What health screening do they receive before leaving? Will they have access to transportation, food, and housing? Should they be required to self-quarantine and how do you prepare them to do this immediately following release? This webinar addressed how to make sure that those released are prepared and will have access to means to meet their basic needs during the COVID-19 crisis.
Issues Affecting Native American Communities During the COVID-19 Crisis | April 8
The COVID-19 crisis is affecting Native American tribes and urban communities in ways that are unique to this population in terms of health challenges, economic impact and legal issues. This webinar discussed how Native Americans are being impacted through this crisis both from a health perspective and an economic perspective. This webinar is segmented into three parts: (1) first, a discussion of the provisions in the stimulus packages that are directed to Native communities; (2) second, the panelists discussed the unique health and operational challenges in both rural and urban Native communities; and (3) finally, this webinar addressed the economic and legal impact both in the short-term and long-term in tribal communities.
This webinar highlighted the federal government's recent guidance on emerging legal issues in child welfare cases. The webinar is intended to help attorneys and judges apply that guidance in case-by-case decision-making on topics like visitation and family time, access to services in the case plan, due process and civil rights protections during remote court hearings, reasonable efforts findings, family reunification, termination of parental rights timelines, and other important aspects of a child welfare legal proceedings that may be affected by the pandemic.
Coronavirus: Homeless Community Adverse Impact from Eviction & Lack of Safe Housing | April 9
The cycle of eviction for vulnerable renters and owners can be doubly cruel due to the economic and health dangers during the coronavirus pandemic, let alone the danger for those currently on the streets. Homeless youth, young adults and young families also face additional challenges and barriers due to their high mobility and increased exposure to abuse, neglect and predation. Certain state and local jurisdictions are stepping up to provide temporary stays of evictions, and some are stopping sweeps of encampments and providing housing to people experiencing homelessness, or sanitation for encampments, as public health measures. These are important in the short term, but what will be the long-term effects of temporarily halting evictions without considering future protections? How can legal advocates adequately address needs during a time when the health dangers to people experiencing homelessness have never been higher?
Public Health Measures In Response to COVID-19 (CLE) | April 10
This program explained current obstacles to identifying and treating persons with COVID-19 and how to reduce them through existing and proposed laws. In the absence of complete information about the affected population, governments at all levels recommend social distancing to minimize transmission of infection. The program identified new and proposed laws that facilitate social distancing, comparing them with laws that may hinder containment of the pandemic.
Lessons from Past Disasters: Criminal Justice Response to COVID-19 | April 10
COVID-19 is new, but many of the problems it is causing in the criminal justice system are problems we have seen before. After Hurricane Katrina, several jails had to be evacuated, causing overcrowding at other facilities. At the same time, arrests continued, even as many courts, including the Louisiana Supreme Court, closed for extended periods. The situation left advocates scrambling to seek release for pretrial detainees, low-level offenders, and older, more vulnerable offenders, while also coping with personal losses, office closures and other impacts of the storm. Advocates who worked through talked about the lessons they learned from Hurricane Katrina and what they think it should teach us about how to respond to COVID-19, as well as how to address the aftermath of the pandemic when it, at last, subsides.
COVID-19: Threats to Democracy and to Public Safety Through the Lens of the Asian American Experience | April 13
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a violent upsurge of discriminatory, racist, and xenophobic attacks, both physical and verbal, against Asian Americans. The situation has been exacerbated by the President, his administration, and other high profile individuals, who have insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” “Wuhan virus,” or “Kung Flu” to racialize the pandemic. Racial scapegoating is not a new phenomenon. Chinese Americans were blamed for the bubonic plague, Japanese Americans were incarcerated by labeling them an “enemy race”, and more recently Mexicans have been characterized as “rapists” and Muslims as “terrorists.” This use of race as a tool to divide and divert attention from shortcomings, together with the disregard of facts and science, has threatened our democracy, and now threatens our safety. In this panel, we discussed our nation’s history of racial scapegoating; the consequences when alternative facts are substituted for evidence and scientifically supported data; the role of the media; and how we, as a country, can stand together to simultaneously defeat COVID-19 and preserve democracy.
Religious Freedom Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic | April 13
In response to the global public health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state and local governments are ramping up social distancing practices and directives, including the closing of nonessential businesses, schools, and venues that typically attract large gatherings. State and local enactments have varied as to whether, and to what extent, they afford an exemption to houses of worship. Regardless, most religious congregations have suspended congregational services, often moving to digital communication, such as live streaming of services, as an alternative; many did so even in the absence of state or local government directives calling for suspension of large gatherings, while others have followed suit once those directives were forthcoming. What, then, are the religious liberty implications of the pandemic-related restrictions on assembling for religious purposes? And what other questions are presented by responses to the pandemic, both in terms of impact on religious organizations and as they relate to other church-state concerns?
Consumer Debtor Protections & Rights for Low-Income Americans During the COVID-19 Pandemic (CLE) | April 14
Great challenges are presented to consumer debtors during the COVID-19 pandemic in meeting their consumer debt requirements as a result in widespread loss of wages or independent contracting opportunities by consumers. How do consumer debtors manage and prioritize their legal obligations and what consumer protections and rights can they invoke to navigate through this difficult pandemic when the economic timeline for recovery is so uncertain due to the health dangers? What is the role of the State Attorney Generals and how do they employ their powers to advance consumer protection for consumers during a pandemic or natural disaster? How do we address the myriad of debtor issues relating to credit reporting and impacting housing, autos, student loans, credit cards, and criminal justice debt?
Disability Discrimination in the Rationing of Life Saving COVID Treatment: Who Gets Left Behind? | April 14
The COVID-19 pandemic poses serious challenges, with projections showing that the need for life-saving treatment may far exceed both the capacity and resources of the U.S. healthcare system. This raises concerns, as states and hospital develop protocols for rationing care, namely making decisions as to who should or should not receive care and, if they do, what level of care. Presenters discussed the application of disability rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to these decisions, including recent guidance from HHS' Office of Civil Rights. Presenters also discussed recent federal and state-level legal and policy advocacy to prevent disability discrimination in access to COVID-19 treatment.
Immigration Policy and Practice during the Coronavirus Pandemic | April 16
This webinar discussed how actions the federal government has taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic have impacted the immigrant community and what additional steps are needed to effectively enforce immigration laws while safeguarding both public health and fundamental due process rights during a national pandemic. Immigrants and those who serve the immigrant community have been among the most impacted given the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) failure to close all immigration courts, the conditions in immigration detention, and the government’s recent actions to close the southern border to asylum-seekers. This webinar featured national experts on responding to public health emergencies both domestically and internationally, as well as reflections from immigration practitioners and a medical professional who shared best practices for serving individuals in a detained setting while confronting a global pandemic.
COVID-19 and Tax Relief for Individuals and Tax-Exempts Under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act | April 17
In response to emerging and unprecedented financial devastation from COVID-19 on March 27, 2020, Congress passed broad economic relief for individuals, tax-exempts and corporations. The Act includes a myriad of tax provisions targeting individuals, corporations, and tax-exempt entities. Our panelists discussed certain tax relief under the Act focusing on the details of the Recovery Rebate, changes to retirement account distributions, enhanced charitable donations, and other disaster relief provisions for individuals as well as for nonprofit tax-exempt entities.
Coronavirus: Protecting Safety-Net Public Benefits During the Pandemic | April 20
An immediate crisis is created when there is a termination of benefits or ceasing of processing applications for safety-net programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Payments (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) during the coronavirus pandemic. What actions can lawyers and eligible persons do to advocate for the rights of our most vulnerable during this moment of unprecedented uncertainty and health danger in America?
Across this country, hundreds of thousands of individuals are in jail or facing arrest on warrants for failure to pay criminal justice fines and fees. Millions more suffer other significant consequences including suspension of their driver's licenses, mounting interest and late fees, garnishment of wages and tax returns. Most of these individuals are simply unable to pay these exorbitant fines and fees. The COVID-19 crisis has made this situation worse, as the most economically vulnerable have suffered the brunt of skyrocketing unemployment. This webinar explored the steps that are and should be taken to fairly address criminal justice debt during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists also talked about enforcement of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many of which carry hefty fines, and about ensuring that state and local government do not attempt to fill the budget gaps created during the COVID-19 crisis by raising fines and fees.
Learning for Students with Disabilities in the Time of COVID-19 | April 22
The switch to homeschooling and other educational service delivery models necessitated by the coronavirus raise a myriad of issues for students with disabilities, their families, educators, and related service providers. Students with IEPs and Section 504 Service Agreements, particularly those with physical, cognitive, and/or emotional issues typically receive an array of special services in school, including direct educational services by staff, aides and trained special education staff. How will parents who have no training in this area know that their children are accessing education? How will parents who have no training in this area know that their children are accessing education? How will educators ensure that these students have access to the educational opportunities available to their non-disabled peers? How will a level of individualization be provided and progress measured? Our panel of experts provided a brief overview of the law protecting students with disabilities during the crisis. They also discussed the challenges and barriers homeschooling and other educational models raise for students with disabilities and educators, and recommended strategies for moving forward.
Report from the Field: Domestic Violence Survivors & the Impact of COVID-19 | April 29
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all communities, but perhaps none more vulnerable than domestic violence survivors ordered to "stay at home" with their abusers. Further, survivors seeking legal assistance and protection find courts closed, police overwhelmed, and jails considering releasing inmates without warning to crime victims. This webinar considered how COVID responses are affecting legal responses to domestic violence in five key jurisdictions: California, Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, and Washington. The webinar also included a brief review of the recent federal COVID legislation and what it offers DV survivors. The webinar discussed challenges faced in communities across the nation and lessons learned in these last few weeks as we rapidly respond to this pandemic and the needs of domestic violence survivors.
COVID-19 and State and Local Financial Matters | May 6
In response to unprecedented, deep and broad financial devastation from COVID-19 Congress has passed record-breaking economic relief. But enacted aid to state and local governments falls far short of offsetting the intense fiscal pressure governments are facing from collapsing revenues, increased demands on safety net programs, and the direct costs of the COVID-19 response. With an apparent partisan divide, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that state governments consider bankruptcy rather than request critical economic resources. Our expert panelists presented data on the state and local fiscal landscape now and projections for the coming years. They also discussed effective tools federal policymakers can use to address the tremendous financial challenges for state and local governments. Participants were be able to pose questions and panelists responded to a selected sampling in real time.
Crisis Management for Families – The Impact of COVID-19 | May 12
Who would have predicted the coronavirus crisis and its impact on just about everyone in every way—health and safety, financial, employment and so much more. These problems are exacerbated in immigrant communities. Many people are now considering options that they did not envision thinking about for many years, if at all. The panel featured insight from 5 legal experts in the areas of: Domestic Relations, Workers’ Compensation, Workers’ Rights, Guardianships and Powers of Attorney, and Immigration, who discussed various options that can be considered now as well as preparing for future crises.
Adapting Elections in a Pandemic: COVID-19 and Beyond | May 13
The current pandemic has raised numerous questions about the stability of the election process in the immediate future and beyond. The panel discussed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on elections, including a description of the extant vote-by-mail states and the recent experiences in Wisconsin and Maryland. The panelists also discussed possible approaches that might be adapted to the November elections, specifically the feasibility of a mail-only ballot system and/or extensive use of absentee balloting, as well as potential barriers to or downsides of implementing those approaches.
Pro Bono Services in the Time of COVID-19 | May 19
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to the provision of pro bono legal services. A host of new legal needs are arising out of the pandemic and shutdowns across the country while at the same time, in person meetings and gatherings are discouraged or prohibited. Pro bono programs must adapt their volunteer opportunities to continue to serve clients in need. This webinar reviewed the legal needs stemming from the pandemic and highlighted the ways pro bono programs, law firms, and bar associations are mobilizing to address pandemic related legal needs in these challenging times.
COVID-19 and the Path to the Profession: Is a Legal Career Still the Right Choice? Opportunities for Diverse Lawyers and Why Diversity Matters | May 26
Both law schools and the legal profession are facing a number of changes as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This, coupled with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, persons with disabilities, and low-income communities, has left some diverse law students and those contemplating law school in the future, to ask: is a legal career still the right choice for me? The session panelists discussed the special challenges facing diverse students; why students from diverse communities should still consider law school; and how COVID-19 has highlighted the need for increased inclusion in the legal profession. Finally, the panelists discussed spaces where professional opportunity is likely to expand post-COVID, and provide resources to assist students in the pipeline to the legal profession manage the current crisis.
Crisis Management for Businesses – The Impact of COVID-19 | May 29
Who would have predicted the coronavirus crisis and its impact on businesses—health and safety, financial, employment and so much more. These problems are exacerbated for small business owners, especially immigrant business owners. Many employers are now considering options that they did not envision thinking about for many years, if at all. The panel features insight from 5 legal experts in the areas of: Labor Issues, Workers’ Compensation, Real Estate/Finance Issues, and Immigration. The panelists discussed various options that can be considered now as well as how they might incorporate them into preparing a crisis management plan.
How the ABA is Serving Detained Immigrants During COVID-19 and How You Can Help | June 11
Did you know that the ABA Commission on Immigration operates three projects in Texas and California that promote due process and access to counsel for migrants and asylum seekers? Learn more about the work of the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project ("ProBAR"), which provides free legal information and services to detained adult migrants and unaccompanied children; the Immigration Justice Project ("IJP"), which provides pro bono information and services to adult migrants and asylum seekers appearing before the San Diego and Otay Mesa immigration courts; and the Children's Immigration Law Academy ("CILA") in Houston, Texas, which serves as a legal resource center for attorneys representing migrant children. Staff from each of the three projects discussed challenges facing adults detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and unaccompanied children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, how their work has changed during COVID-19, and how lawyers can assist adult migrants detained in South Texas and San Diego with requesting release on parole.
The Impending Eviction Crisis: Housing as Health Care and Racial Justice | June 25
Join us for a discussion about the intersection of housing insecurity, public health and racial justice. Our panelists outlined the impending eviction crisis, particularly as it affects persons of color, national, state, and local government responses, and their strategies and approaches to prevent evictions, ensuring vulnerable populations are securely housed amidst the global pandemic.
#BlackTaxpayersMatter – COVID-19 and Communities of Color: CARES Act Failures & Constitutional Litigation | June 26
There are many aspects of economic injustice including racial discrimination that have brought us to this place in history. Given the national uprising against racial violence, which itself has links to economic injustice, there is no more urgent time than now to ask what can we do to change racial economic injustice? Tax systems can deliver justice when properly structured. Our expert panel proposed structural remedies that the CARES Act has not delivered. Notably, tax and constitutional law scholars discussed pending federal litigation regarding the denial of Economic Impact Payments for families of mixed immigration status.
"Flattening the Curve" – COVID-19 and Climate Change | June 30
Everyone has now heard of "flattening the curve," the call for collective action to limit the worst effects of COVID-19. Advocates of climate action have begun to note the uncanny similarities between unchecked climate change and the pandemic, including the challenges brought by exponential growth, increased public awareness of the problem, and the imperative of a unified public response. In this webinar, speakers described the lessons COVID-19 has taught us about the need for an effective global response; and they identified a variety of legal actions governments and the private sector must take to "flatten the curve" and keep the worst effects of climate change at bay.
COVID-19: Remote Learning and Working for Law Students and Lawyers with Disabilities | July 14
The legal profession and the legal academy adapted quickly to remote working and remote teaching in mid-March when the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, but not all lawyers and law students have fared equally well. This webinar focused on the impact of COVID-19 on remote learning and remote work for law students and lawyers with disabilities. Three experts shared lessons learned and provided strategies for supporting lawyers and law students with disabilities as we move forward in uncertain times in a world that is almost certain to include more remote working and remote teaching than our pre-COVID world.
COVID-19: Virtual Classrooms and Institutional Barriers | August 7
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed access to classrooms and lectures. This webinar examined the pandemic's effect on learning in the law school environment, focusing on how typical barriers to access for disabled law students have shifted in the virtual learning environment.
Access to Counsel in Immigration Detention in the Time of COVID-19 | August 26
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to legal visitation and access to counsel for those detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ABA Commission on Immigration has developed two handbooks designed for lawyers and advocates to support them in asserting their detained clients’ rights to access to counsel. This webinar introduced the detention standards, highlight some of the reoccurring challenges that counsel and clients face during the pandemic, and consider best practices for utilizing the handbooks and best strategies for overcoming access to counsel issues in the ICE detention facilities.
Back To School in the Time of COVID-19: Civil Rights Implications as Children Return to School | August 28
As school districts struggle to bring kids safely back to school during the pandemic, many stakeholders have grave concerns. These concerns are not just about students' physical safety, but also about the potentially harmful impacts on students' civil rights. Policymakers, families, and district leaders are grappling with how to best approach back to school. Proposals have ranged from "pandemic pods" to hybrid learning approaches. But, there are potential consequences for various approaches, including: a shift to focus on remediation, deepening segregation as students who have other alternatives to in-person learning exercise them, and a range of others.
Access to the Vote: The Ballot and the Mailbox | September 29
Claims about fraud have been used to suppress voting since the Civil War. As we approach the 2020 presidential election, access to voting remains one of the urgent civil rights issues of our time. The COVID-19 pandemic has offered an unexpected opportunity to change American voting fundamentally through the adoption of mail-in voting policies. Mail-in voting has been exercised by several states, including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and others for many years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more Americans are expected to vote by mail this November than in any other election of our time. The current administration has been sounding the alarm—or, perhaps more accurately, the dog whistle—claiming that increased mail-in voting will increase voter fraud. Yet, both Republican and Democrat secretaries of state, where mail-in voting has occurred for several years, have noted that there is no evidence to support these claims.
Obstacles at Every Turn — Native Vote in a World of Coronavirus | October 1
In 2017 and 2018, the Native American Voting Rights Coalition held hearings throughout Indian Country documenting barriers to the ballot box for Native Americans. In June 2020, the Native American Rights Fund issued a detailed report highlighting the obstacles faced by Native Americans in the voting process from registering to vote, to casting a ballot, to having that vote counted. This panel discussed the recent report, and the additional barriers and considerations as a result of the Coronavirus.
CRSJ provides free webinars and resources for legal professionals and advocates nationwide and relies on generous donor support and volunteer service. With your help, we can continue to address the deepening crises in our collective pursuit of advancing law and justice.