Monthly Archives: November 2011

DC Favors Abortion Rights over Financial Freedom: Leaders Reject Republican Offer of Finances in Exchange for Permanent Ban on Abortions

By Talib I. Karim, Health Reporter

Last Tuesday, November 16th,District of Columbia leaders turned down an offer for increased self-governance due to a condition they believed was unacceptable.

The Offer

The offer was straight forward—Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives drafted legislation that would at long last, free DC, at least the District’s budget, by ending the required process of review and approval by the federal government.  Since this process has been linked to the federal government’s own budget, DC finances have often been held hostage and the DC government has even had to shut down, suspending trash collection and other services, during periodic political tugs of war between Congress and the President.  Making DC autonomous of the federal budget cycle, which begins every October 1, would have provided the District increased stability, allowed local officials to fix a financial calendar that coincides with the public school year, and saved money DC is forced to spend preparing for federal shutdowns.

The Catch

And the catch—in return for “budget autonomy,” DC would be permanently barred from funding elective abortions (performed for non-medical reasons) for low income women.  Currently, the District government is already banned from funding elective abortions through the remainder of FY 2011.

According to the DC Department of Health Care Finance, elective abortions are relatively a minor expense out of the agency’s billion dollar plus budget.  Per the agency’s figures, just 117 such procedures were funded to the tune of $65,000, before the program was terminated.  The District’s funding of elective abortions was initially terminated by a measure passed by Congress in 1996, described as the Dornan Amendment.  During the first year of the Obama Administration, in 2009, Congress overturned the 13-year old abortion ban.

This year, after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, the District’s local funding for abortions became a prized target for conservatives looking for quick ways to score points with their tea-party supporters who swept them into power.  This spring, Republicans made the District’s abortion funding a negotiating point in debate over a federal spending package for FY 2011.  To avert a government shutdown, the President himself is quoted to have told Republican House Speaker that “I will give you D.C. abortion.”

News of this compromise sparked outrage amongst DC rights activists and politicians, leading to the arrest of the Mayor and other District rights supporters, 72 in all.

With the national sympathy for the District generated by the arrests, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, responsible for overseeing the District’s affairs, proposed the compromise to avoid a similar showdown and to make the abortion ban permanent, rather than being required to renew the ban annually.

The Civics Lesson

Someone new to the District or DC politics may not realize the significance of “budget autonomy” or might be confused why the federal government is responsible for local public health priorities.

The issue boils down to statehood, or the lack thereof says Anise Jenkins, President of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC.  “So long as DC is denied full statehood, we will continue to be faced with games like as the recent deal [for increased financial freedom],” says Jenkins.  As one of the activists arrested along with the Mayor earlier this year, and the only one cleared of all charges stemming from their act of nonviolent civil disobedience, Jenkins believes that on principle, the proposal to exchange abortion rights for financial freedom, was no deal at all.

American University Law School constitutional law professor Jamin Raskin concurs, and adds that the District’s unique status makes it a constant magnate for political gamesmanship.   Raskin notes that the “District Clause” in the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases, whatsoever, over” the District, as “the Seat of the Government of theUnited States.”  Apparently, the Framers were motivated by their interests to ensure that the federal seat of government would not be unduly influenced by the state in which it might be located.

However, Raskin appreciates the importance of the District’s budget autonomy.  “Had the deal made its way into law, it would have been the most significant expansion of DC’s power in the history of Home Rule [the 1970 era law creating the District as a separate city-state],” states Raskin.

Yet even for Anita Bonds, Chairwoman for the District’s Democratic Party organization and a former senior DC official, DC leaders were right to reject the deal, for “GP” general principle.

“Am I happy that we had to give up budget autonomy, no,” said Bonds.  “Nonetheless, [rejecting Rep. Issa’s offer] was a political act…you have to fall on the sword for principle.”

And as Bonds points out, “politics can be painful.”


The Unhealthy U.S. Justice System

Excerpt of an Op-Ed By William Reed

Courtesy of

More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850. One hundred and sixty-one years later, the biggest crime in America is a race-based criminal justice system where African Americans are directly targeted and punished in much more aggressive ways than Whites. The U.S. justice system is a racist institution designed to marginalize and control millions of African Americans. The system needs public scrutiny and disbandment.

A lot of African Americans are doing well economically and politically, but an awful lot are in jail due to their lack of money and political power. Through its reach and impact, the U.S. prison industrial complex keep the nation’s power elite secure and in place. The system benefits government and industry and maintains racial disparities in education and job sectors that contribute to the booming prison population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 1 percent of the nation’s adult population, 2,292,133 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2009. African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet make up 49 percent of the prison populace. Year after year the numbers are stark and disproportionate; in 2008 one in 18 men, one in 89 women, one in 13 African Americans and one in 45 Whites were under correctional control.

More Black men are in America’s prisons than colleges. Education and race seem to be decisive factors in who goes to jail and what age group has the greatest chance of incarceration. Going to prison no longer affects just the individual who committed the crime but, the family and community left behind gain a new burden. The likelihood of committing and falling victim to crime also depends on several demographic characteristics. Overall, men, minorities, the young, and those in less favorable financial positions are more likely to be crime victims, as well as commit crimes.

Why do Black Americans continue to accept the status quo and “White-oriented” system? The American system of justice is skewed and racist and the likelihood of Black males going to prison in their lifetime is 16 percent compared to 2 percent of White males. The way that minorities are treated in America’s criminal justice system is a profound civil rights issue and should cause African Americans to question the fairness and equality of American justice. The unequal targeting and treatment of minorities at every stage of the criminal justice process – from arrest to sentencing – reinforces the fact of the inequality in the first place, with the unfairness at every successive stage of the process compounding the effects of earlier injustices. The result is a vicious cycle that has evolved into a self-fulfilling prophecy: More minority arrests and convictions perpetuate beliefs that minorities commit more crimes, which in turn leads to racial profiling and more minority arrests.

Some African Americans buy into current “law and order” concepts that prisons, policing, and surveillance measures “make us safer.” It is time for every person interested in justice and safety to join in and dismantle this racist “establishment” system. Instead of accepting system dictates and calling for “tough on crime” rhetoric and “lock’em up practices”, programs such as the NAACP Criminal Justice Department capture the true goals and aspirations of how public safety and criminal justice institutions should operate and perform in communities. The goal of such programs are to advocate for and advance better public safety systems that reduce the reliance on prisons as means of solving social problems, advance effective law enforcement and removes barriers to voting and employment for formerly incarcerated individuals.

The criminal justice problem can’t be addressed subtly; nothing short of a major social movement can dismantle this American caste system. Black communities will only become safer when more help and services are provided as opposed to prison, when citizens coming home from prison can vote and work freely and when we expand and reinvest our prison budgets on education and other civic institutions that help and serve.

NBA, Howard Law Journal Host Symposium Analyzing Health Reform

Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen U.S. Virgin Island

The Eighth Annual Wiley A. Branton/Howard Law Journal Symposium is sponsored by the Howard University School of Law, Sidley Austin LLP, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, and the National Bar Association.

The working poor, the elderly, and the middle class are at the center of the healthcare debate, yet no one seems concerned about how the Health Care Affordability Act will impact these vulnerable communities.

“Can we afford it?” often dominates the discussion. “Can we afford to live without it?” some ask, while others advocate for the repeal of the new regulation.

These vulnerable communities need the protection of health care professionals, policymakers, and the courts. On November 4, 2011, the discussion will be at the forefront of the Eighth Annual Wiley A. Branton/Howard Law Journal Symposium, where more than a dozen experts will convene to give voice to these vulnerable communities.

Friday, November 4, 2011

8:30am to 4:30pm
Howard University School of Law – Moot Court Room


The keynote address will be delivered by:

Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen


U.S. Virgin Islands

Other confirmed speakers are:

Vence L. Bonham, Jr. | National Institute of Health: National Human Genome Research Institute

Brietta R. Clark | Professor of Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles

Mary Crossley | Dean of University of Pittsburgh College of Law

Okianer Christian Dark | Associate Dean, Howard University School of Law

Lisa Ikemoto | Professor of Law at UC-Davis School of Law

Honorable Isiah Leggett | County Executive, Montgomery County, Maryland

Gwendolyn R. Majette | Assistant Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall School of Law

Dr. Perry Payne | Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and Adjunct Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law

Karen H. Rothenberg | Marjorie Cook Professor of Law at University of Maryland College of Law

Dr. Brian D. Smedley | Vice President and Director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Dr. Stephen B. Thomas | Professor of Health Services Administration in the School of Public Health at University of Maryland and Director of University of Maryland Center for Health Equity

Sidney D. Watson | Professor of Law at St. Louis University School of Law


9:00 AM – Welcome Remarks

  • Kurt L. Schmoke | Dean, Howard University School of Law
  • Dr. Cliff L. Wood | Branton Family Representative
  • Michael A. Nemeroff | Partner, Sidley Austin LLP
  • Jack N.E. Pitts Jr. | Associate, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
  • Daryl D. Parks | President, National Bar Association
  • Maryam F. Mujahid | Editor-in-Chief, Howard Law Journal


9:30 – Opening Presentation – The Current State of Health Care for Vulnerable Communities in America

  • Dr. Stephen B. Thomas | Professor of Health Services Administration, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, and Director of the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity

10:00 – Panel 1: Do the Dollars Make Sense: Medicaid, Tax Exemptions, and More

  • Mary Crossley | Dean, University of Pittsburgh College of Law
  • Brietta R. Clark | Professor of Law, Loyola Law School in Los Angeles
  • Dr. Perry W. Payne Jr. | Assistant Research Professor, Department of Health Policy, George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, and Adjunct Professor of Law, Howard University School of Law

11:00 – BREAK

11:15 – Panel 2: Reproductive Justice and Women’s Health Care

  • Lisa Ikemoto | Professor of Law, University of California Davis School of Law
  • Rachel Rebouché| Assistant Professor of Law, University of Florida Levin College of Law, and Associate Director of the Center for Children and Families


1:30 – Keynote Address

  • Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen | United States Virgin Islands

2:15 – Panel 3: Falling Behind in the Race: Racial Disparities in Health Care

  • Sidney D. Watson | Professor of Law, St. Louis University School of Law
  • Gwendolyn Roberts Majette | Assistant Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall School of Law
  • Vence L. Bonham Jr. | Senior Advisor to the Director on Societal Implications of Genomics at the National Institutes of Health, National Human Genome Research Institute
  • Dr. Brian D. Smedley | Vice President and Director, Health Policy Institute, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

3:30 – Closing Presentation – The Impact of Health Care Reform on Local Governments

  • Okianer Christian Dark | Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, Howard University School of Law
  • Honorable Isiah Leggett | County Executive, Montgomery County, Maryland

4:00 – Closing Remarks

  • Aurelia Hepburn-Briscoe | Executive Solicitations & Submissions Editor, Howard Law Journal

All sessions will be held in the Moot Court Room unless otherwise indicated.

Moot Court Foyer