News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Hard Time Gets a Hard Look by Judge Nancy Gertner

The Harvard Gazette covers a new Harvard Law School course led by CLBB’s Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.), which approaches the problem of mass incarceration from interdisciplinary perspectives. The course, also co-taught by Harvard sociologist Bruce Western and Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard Kennedy School, examines the origins of U.S. mass incarceration and helps students generate solutions to the issue. About the course and faculty, Judge Gertner notes:

“Each of us in different ways has been teaching and working on the problem of criminal justice policy. We thought there would be some unique value in bringing together three perspectives: the social science on problems of crime and criminal justice, the perspective of policy research and analysis, and law.

None of us ever believed that we would be in a world in which people are talking about reducing incarceration and letting people out of prison…. the discussion goes from the abstract to the concrete.”

About her experience with the problem of mass incarceration and commitment to resolving it, she comments on her time as a federal judge:

“Eighty percent of sentences that I was obliged to impose in drug cases were unjust, disproportionate, and inequitable, she told the class of working as judge within a strict sentencing framework ushered in by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. After retiring in 2011, she embarked “on a trajectory of wanting to know more,” she said, and pressing for change.

Read the full article, “Hard Time Gets a Hard Look”, by Colleen Walsh, published by the Harvard Gazette on November 29, 2016.

Justice Denied in the Bronx

By Nancy Gertner | New York Law Journal | May 13, 2016

Access to justice means more than fancy courthouses, a courtroom with high ceilings, the American flag unfurled, and even compelling quotes from the U.S. Constitution. Access to justice means more than a presiding judge looking dignified in a long black robe, on an elevated platform, with the lawyers before him or her. Access to justice is not a Kabuki show—the ceremony of justice but not the reality.

But to those accused of misdemeanor offenses in the Bronx, a court proceeding is just a hollow ritual. According to the lawsuit filed by The Bronx Defenders, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, and Morrison & Foerster, there are few trials, no opportunity to confront witnesses, no way to challenge the government’s case, no opportunity to be publicly vindicated in a speedy proceeding, and unconscionable delays. Continue reading »

The Corruption Continuum: When Giving Gifts Bleeds to Bribery

By Nancy Gertner | The Washington Post | May 6, 2016

Nancy Gertner is a retired federal district court judge and a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, and a CLBB Senior Faculty member. She is a signatory of an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case United States v. McDonnell, on behalf of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell.

When we talk about political corruption, what often comes to mind is what the law calls “quid pro quo”: I give a politician money and in exchange he or she gets me a government contract or votes in my favor. But there is a continuum of quid pro quo exchanges, some plainly illegal, some not and some ambiguous.

In the case of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, the Supreme Court will decide whether it is constitutional to prosecute a public official for conduct on that continuum, conduct never before determined to be at the illegal end. The issue is not whether we should regulate gifts to public officials; the issue is whether the criminal law can be used as a bludgeon when we have not done so. I think not. As a matter of due process, criminal prosecutions can be brought only when we have clearly defined what is legal and what is not.

Continue reading »

Secrets of the Grand Jury

By Nancy Gertner and Jack Corrigan | The Boston Globe | April 27, 2016

The Globe reported Sunday that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh wouldn’t say whether he had been a grand jury witness in a federal investigation into the tactics of Boston Building Trades unions. Since then, many have chided him for not being more forthright. But that misses a critical point: Grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret. Government agents are bound by strict confidentiality rules. They may not disclose who has been called, when they testified, or what the subject was; they are barred from releasing information about wiretaps or other evidence they have assembled. While witnesses may speak about their testimony, they do receive a letter from the government with their subpoena that strongly urges them not to do so to protect the integrity of the grand jury investigative process. And that “suggestion” is particularly important in this probe and one that Walsh was right to heed. Continue reading »

Even When Inconsistent, Justice Scalia Was Certain

On Saturday, February 13, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. CLBB Faculty Member Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.) reflects on his legacy.

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | February 14, 2016

I did not know Justice Antonin Scalia. Following the announcement of his death, I could not help but be struck by the accounts of his warmth, his friendships (notably with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom he regularly disagreed on the Supreme Court), his deep religious commitment, his infectious sense of humor.

I knew him through his opinions, books, and speeches. Even though I disagreed with him much of the time, one thing is clear: His legal positions could not be ignored — not by lawyers, scholars, judges, nor the public. I had to take them seriously in my own judicial decisions and in my writing. And the need to deal with his arguments shifted the debate, even the outcomes. Continue reading »