Securing Justice, Good Government, and Democracy
Appleseed Centers work to make our government institutions better, stronger, fairer and more accessible to everyone, so that they can do their jobs protecting our rights and providing equal opportunity for all. Our project works centers on four elements: Effectiveness, Efficiency, Equality and Empowerment. Armed with research, Appleseed Centers approach these issues with practical solutions that envision government as serving the public, not just those skilled at working the system.
Seeking Fair Court Processes
Access to lawyers – ostensibly guaranteed by standards of criminal justice – often falls short, and in civil cases courts often dispense rulings without justice when vulnerable people lack access to counsel.
- With nine Centers and national Appleseed working on the issue of fair court processes, the Appleseed network is a recognized leader in making sure courts treat consumer debtors fairly, and do not serve as a rubber stamp for the debt collection industry.
- Washington Appleseed, leveraging pro bono help, wrote a handbook for judges to help them ensure that courts were properly scrutinizing foreclosure claims.
- Louisiana, South Carolina and Hawai’i Appleseed are leaders on the issue of language access, making sure that the nominal right to understand one’s own judicial proceedings is a reality in their courts.
- One emerging issue Appleseed is investigating is debtor’s prison: indigent people jailed for failure to pay civil debts and fines.
- Mexico Appleseed continues to support the Oral Trial Network in Mexico working to secure a constitutional provision providing for “oral trials” – the right to appear, in person or through counsel, in one’s own defense.
- New Jersey Appleseed won a state Supreme Court case that held that a violation of a statutory right, such as right to referendum, violates the New Jersey Civil Rights Law entitling attorney to attorneys’ fees for the prevailing party.
- Appleseed Centers in the Gulf Coast area (Alabama, Louisiana and Texas) worked to ensure fair claims procedure and legal representation for Hurricane Katrina and BP Oil Spill claimants.
Fixing the Broken Immigrant Justice System
National Appleseed is a partner with several coalitions and numerous state-based Appleseed Centers to address immigrant justice issues:
- Working to prevent or overturn harsh and often unconstitutional anti-immigrant state laws;
- Advocating for workable solutions achievable administratively, even in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform;
- Leading advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform from the field;
- Protecting immigrants’ assets and child custody rights;
- Helping respondents in immigration cases obtain their own case files without filing Freedom of Information Act requests and more.
Appleseed works on several longstanding issues to advance criminal justice:
- Alabama Appleseed, Texas Appleseed and Chicago Appleseed have secured reforms in indigent defense, and made sure that the constitutional right to bail is a reality.
- Shortly after Texas Appleseed released a report with recommendations on reducing wrongful convictions, the legislature passed meaningful reform legislation. At the heart of the issue was preventing prosecutors from suppressing evidence by abusing the discovery process.
- Chicago Appleseed and the Chicago Council of Lawyers launched the work that led to Illinois’ path-breaking abolition of the death penalty.
- Chicago Appleseed, working with courts, is seizing the opportunities afforded by the Affordable Care Act to channel low-level drug offenders into preventive treatment programs and keep them out of prison.
- Nebraska Appleseed has won reforms allowing those who have paid their debt to society to regain the right to vote. South Carolina Appleseed addresses the barriers faced by former inmates as they seek to reintegrate into society, by eliminating questions about prior convictions on job and housing applications, to improve access to jobs and housing.
- Nebraska Appleseed, New Jersey Appleseed and South Carolina Appleseed have all been leaders in combating racial profiling by police. For instance, the Nebraska Center successfully advocated for a law requiring police departments to provide written policies to prohibit racial profiling, and the state has also launched a comprehensive review of motor vehicle stops and racial profiling allegations. The New Jersey Center testified before the state’s Advisory Committee on Police Standards.
Centers from Washington to New Jersey undertook state-level work to ensure that the federal Help America Vote Act and new technologies for voting actually promote the right to vote. DC Appleseed has been a leader in rectifying the glaring injustice that District of Columbia citizens lack voting representation in Congress.
- New Jersey Appleseed was a coordinator of the New Jersey Help America Vote Coalition that secured a law requiring affirmation forms submitted with provisional ballots to serve as registration forms if the ballot is not counted because the person had not previously registered.
- New Jersey Appleseed is challenging the state’s advance registration system as unconstitutional because of its burden is unreasonable in light of the functioning of new Jersey’s Statewide Voter Registration System.
- DC Appleseed recently began a new project to craft and help implement a system for publicly financing elections as a way to combat corruption and improve the public’s trust in government.
- DC Appleseed led the effort to get a referendum on the ballot to give District citizens the right to elect their attorney general, and supported a successful lawsuit to require that election to occur in 2014, consistent with the voters’ intent.
Judicial Impartiality, Fair Courts, and Good Government
- Kansas, Chicago and other Appleseed Centers are leaders in efforts to promote excellence in the judiciary, to insulate judges from political pressures, and to expose or ban contributions to judges that impair their impartiality.
- New Jersey Appleseed represents communities seeking ordinances to prevent major donors to candidates from getting an inside track for government contracts.
- Alabama Appleseed convened and coordinated a coalition of six nonprofit groups advocating for needed reforms of the state’s antiquated and ill-conceived 1901 state constitution.
- Georgia and Kansas Appleseed have played leading roles in their states’ revision of the juvenile justice codes. Under the new codes, children are to be treated as children in need of care – not incarceration – in most instances. Through the work of Kansas Appleseed, the state increased the minimum age at which the state can seek to try children as adults.
- Texas Appleseed is helping to ensure the safety and education of children in detention.
The Appleseed model depends crucially on members of the bar working cost-free in favor of justice for all – in other words, pro bono. Each Appleseed Center engages its board of directors and local coalition partners, plus allies in the Appleseed network, in the grand cause of ensuring genuine access to justice, good government and a robust democracy.
- Appleseed Centers, such as the Center in New Jersey, are leaders in defending those sued in “SLAPP” (strategic litigation against public participation) lawsuits.
- Administrative law in the United States provides for public participation through notice and comment periods and public hearings. Appleseed takes advantage of such processes to ensure the voice of the everyday consumer or the vulnerable immigrant is heard before government officials make decisions affecting their lives.