TIME justice

Obama Calls for Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms in NAACP Speech

President Barack Obama speaks during the NAACP's 106th National Convention in Philadelphia on July 14, 2015.
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during the NAACP's 106th National Convention in Philadelphia on July 14, 2015.

President Obama outlined an ambitious roadmap for criminal justice reform during an address at the NAACP convention Tuesday.

In a 45-minute speech, Obama called for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, reviewing the use of the solitary confinement and barring employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history, among other things.

“Any system that allows us to turn a blind-eye to hopelessness and despair, that’s not a justice system, that’s an injustice system,” Obama said Tuesday. “Justice is not only the absence of oppression, it’s the presence of opportunity.”

While Obama has touched on many of the individual policy ideas in the past, the speech was the first in recent memory to tie them all together into a blueprint for action. The speech likely presages a series of upcoming executive actions on criminal justice reform.

The speech varied, with Obama at times speaking passionately about the need for reform, and at other times delving into statistics to make his case.

Obama’s remarks included a litany of daunting statistics: that America is home to 5% of world’s population but 25% of world’s prisons, that African Americans and Latinos make up 30% of the U.S. population, but 60% of American inmates. But Obama said he’s found hope in the fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken up the issue.

MORE: Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Back in in Washington, a bipartisan group of Senators gathered on Tuesday to discuss getting criminal justice reform passed this legislative year. In the House, a group of lawmakers formed a caucus focused on criminal justice reform.

“We’re at a moment when some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, and folks all across the country are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter. To make it work better and I’m determined to do my part, wherever I can,” Obama said in a video posted to Facebook on Monday.

At the NAACP convention in Philadelphia, Obama noted the “strange bedfellows” that efforts to reform the criminal justice system have created, among them the Koch brothers and the NAACP. At one point, he even quoted Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, drawing a mixed response from the crowd.

Obama told the crowd early on that he wasn’t going to sing, but the commander-in-chief did some preaching on a topic that has been a focus of his second term agenda. Initiatives including the Department of Justice’s Smart on Crime program aimed at reducing the impact of our nation’s dated drug laws, My Brother’s Keeper, and the Clemency Project have all been Obama-led initiatives to reform the criminal justice system.

MORE: Watch President Obama Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ at Slain Pastor’s Funeral

The initiatives have not been without criticism, however—lawmakers have long called for more action on policies that reduce sentences and provide more opportunities to communities that are more often impacted by tough sentencing laws.

The speech came at the start of a week marked by hefty achievements by the Obama administration on the criminal justice front. On Monday, Obama reduced the sentences of 46 federal inmates who had been incarcerated for committing non-violent, low-level drug offenses over the past two decades. The new round of commutations brings Obama’s total issued up to 89—more than any U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson. The commutations were the latest in the administration’s effort to rollback some of the damage caused by the nation’s drug laws.

On Thursday, Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison when he travels to Federal Correctional Institution El Reno. Obama is expected to meet with inmates during the prison stop, and on Tuesday he said he met with four—one Latino, one white, and two black—before jumping on stage at the convention.

“While people in our prisons have made some mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes. They are also Americans and we have to make sure that as they do their time that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around,” Obama said. “Justice and redemption go hand in hand.”

Read Next: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

TIME justice

Citizenfour Filmmaker Laura Poitras Is Suing the U.S. Over Years of Alleged Harassment

Director Laura Poitras arrives to attend the Chaplin award at Alice Tully Hall in New York April 27, 2015.
Eduardo Munoz—Reuters Director Laura Poitras arrives to attend the Chaplin award at Alice Tully Hall in New York April 27, 2015.

Poitras said she was "subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment" at U.S. and foreign borders

Oscar and Pulitzer Prize-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras filed a lawsuit Monday against the U.S. government to find out why she has been searched, questioned and subject to enhanced security screenings over the course of six years at U.S. and overseas airports.

Poitras, who won an Academy Award this year for Citizenfour, her documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, claims that between 2006 and 2012 she was detained every time she entered the U.S. for work.

After filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests last year for case files, surveillance records and documents naming or related to her, Poitras received scant response.

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras said in a statement released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy.”

The 51-year-old Boston native said she was filing the FOIA suit against the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in support of “the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders.”

Poitras says that during various detentions she was told by airport security agents that she had a criminal record, even though she had not, and that her name appeared on a national security threat database.

According to the suit, she also had her mobile phone, laptop, camera and notebooks seized and was once threatened with handcuffing for taking notes during her detention.

TIME justice

FBI Thwarted July 4 Terrorist Attacks, Director Says

FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and the Challenges of Going Dark', on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 8, 2015.
Michael Reynolds—EPA FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on 'Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and the Challenges of Going Dark', on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 8, 2015.

"I do believe our work disrupted efforts to kill people," James Comey said

Some of the dozen arrests made by federal agents in the last four weeks helped to thwart potential terror attacks during the Fourth of July holiday, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday.

“I do believe our work disrupted efforts to kill people, likely in connection with July 4,” Comey told reporters at FBI headquarters in Washington.

Comey’s comments are a public confirmation made by other law enforcement that several people were arrested in the past month over concerns that they might have been inspired by ISIS to carry out attacks either during the holiday or during the Muslim holy period of…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME justice

Colorado Baker Appeals Ruling Over Same-Sex Wedding Cake

Jack Phillips Wedding Cake
Brennan Linsley—AP Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store, in Lakewood, Colorado, on March 14, 2010.

"I'll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies. I just don't make cakes for same-sex weddings."

A Colorado baker is appealing a ruling from the state’s Civil Rights Commission that he either make cakes for same-sex weddings or face fines.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, refused to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins in July of 2012, when the now-married same-sex couple came into his store while planning a reception.

“I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies,” Phillips allegedly told the couple, citing religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal. “I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.”

Attorneys representing Phillips, who hasn’t made any wedding cakes since the ruling, argued Tuesday in the Colorado Court of Appeals that he has the right to refuse to make a same-sex wedding cake according to the First Amendment, the Associated Press reports. “Mr. Phillips has the same First Amendment right as the cake artist who doesn’t want to create a Confederate flag cake,” said Jeremy Tedesco, one of Phillips’ attorneys.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union representing Craig and Mullins, meanwhile, say that a victory for Phillips would pave the way for future discrimination.

The case highlights what is quickly becoming a nationwide tug-of-war between gay rights and religious freedom. An Oregon bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2013 was forced to pay $135,000 in damages last week, while a florist in Washington state faces an ongoing legal battle after refusing to serve a same-sex couple married in 2013.

An attorney representing Mullins and Craig said they would consider taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if Phillips’ appeal succeeds.

TIME society

Why We Must Teach Law to Those Who Need It Most

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

At the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, we encourage families to join their loved ones' defense team

When I heard about the suicide of Kalief Browder, a teenager who was charged with stealing a backpack and served three years in brutal Rikers Island until the charge against him was dropped, I thought about the shared culpability of his death by the criminal court system.

Police may have racially profiled Browder and wrongfully arrested him; but a prosecutor decided to pursue charges on patchy evidence and drag the case out for years; a judge set bail at $3,000, a bar his family could not afford; a previous plea deal — when he thought he had no defense against a charge of stealing a truck for a joy ride — meant that he was put in jail when the backpack charge was leveled. No wonder so many people think it’s impossible to have their fair day in court. More than 95% of cases like this are resolved with plea deals.

While police in the streets or inhumane conditions in the prisons have been focuses of social justice movements, the machinery between arrest and incarceration — the courts — have remained a social justice blind spot.

In San Jose, California, where I’m from, families have started use the science of community organizing to penetrate the court system. Families who have loved ones facing charges meet on a weekly basis; support each other; and share knowledge about what helps defense attorneys and what sways judges and juries. They form a network behind the person who has been arrested.

It is a communal counterbalance to the isolation of the court system. At the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, we call the approach participatory defense — essentially encouraging communities to engage in the justice system, rather then waiting for the courts to do what it will with loved ones.

The essential agents of change don’t have to be lawyers or judges. Our meetings are facilitated by people who first came for help on their own cases or the cases of loved ones, volunteers who have transformed from isolated mothers watching their sons get chewed up by the courts to vocal navigators for other families.

As the director of a community center where we host the meetings every Sunday, I had no intention of getting involved in court organizing. When we started eight years ago, we were doing police accountability work. But we realized there was a common denominator among the people who came to our meetings: when facing a criminal charge, they needed a compass to help them harness community power to fight the charges. So we extended that community-organizing ethic to the court process.

The tangible impact of family and community participation on cases is undeniable. We have seen acquittals, charges dismissed and reduced, prison terms changed to rehabilitation programs, even life sentences taken off the table. When we tally up the original maximum sentencing possibilities against the “time served” from all of our cases collectively over six years, we see over 1,800 years of time saved.

One of the co-founders of the approach, Blanca Bosquez, started because of her son Rudy. Like Kalief, Rudy was 16 when he was arrested, charged with robbery based on a flimsy investigation. His backpack, which was stolen a year prior, was allegedly found near the crime scene. The prosecutor claimed that Rudy was the ringleader of a teenage robbery crew, but his mom knew this couldn’t be the case: Rudy was severely mentally delayed, had the mind of an 8-year-old, and required 24-hour care.

Blanca quarterbacked a community-wide penetration into the court system with her large extended family and friends. They gathered critical medical and school records showing Rudy’s mental challenges, packed every courtroom, offered testimony to the judge about Rudy’s care requirements and the role specific family members played in his well-being.

Rather then keeping him in jail while the case was going on, Rudy was released on home detention. Though he had only been in juvenile hall a few days, Rudy was visibly shaken. It was the first time he had been away from his mother since birth. He didn’t know how to use the knobs for the shower.

And while he was home, “Team Rudy” continued to press: they reviewed the police interrogation video, and “confession” to help their public defender. The officers and even the defense attorney initially knew nothing of Rudy’s mental challenges. Several times the officers asked Rudy if he was high because of a slurred speech that came from his condition.

Within weeks, Rudy’s felony-level charges were dropped. After this battle, Blanca thought other families should know how they, too, could do something to change the outcomes of their own cases.

As more families have engaged in this practice, we have seen patterns arise in where a family’s intervention makes the most sense. For example, after arrest, we ask families to write a statement about the incident and arrest, preserving any information that could be helpful to the defense.

In preparation for a bond hearing, we gather testimonials of community ties — essentially what that detained person has in their life, and the impact on that person and others if he or she had to be away during the adjudication of the case. Would jobs be lost? An elder left high and dry because a caretaker is gone? Supporters also share their role in ensuring the person attends court hearings. What we do is to strip away the mythology that people facing charges are islands, rather then people embedded in communities.

If a case is heading to trial, families are encouraged to review documents unearthed during the discovery process, such as police reports, to point out inconsistencies or false statements. If the aim is to reduce a charge or a sentence during the penalty phase, families create “social biography” packets, which arm the defense attorney with arguments about future prospects like housing, employment, or educational opportunities.

One of the most effective cases I’ve seen involved a single father named Carnell. He had pled guilty to a low-level drug charge, but because of prior convictions from a long-forgotten past, he faced five years in prison. His greatest worry about returning to jail was that his three daughters would be put in the foster system. We gave him a camera, and he took pictures of his typical day as a father — making the girls breakfast, taking them to school and after-school programs, helping them with homework. His defense attorney used the photo essay during the sentencing phase, and instead of prison, Carnell was sentenced to a six-month outpatient program so he could keep his family together.

Of course, we know there are limits to how much we can fight the court system’s default tool of incarceration. For example, if someone is found guilty of a charge with a mandatory minimum, a social biography packet won’t change that sentence. The judge has no discretion.

But what participatory defense will do is create a ground-up movement where people are “looking under the hood” of the court system, and seeing where change needs to happen. People see their own capacity — and their community’s collective capacity — to bend seemingly immovable institutions like the courts. While that is not a new concept, it’s a potent reminder how we truly are stronger together then alone. And case by case, we hope we’re building a movement that could one day end mandatory-minimum sentences.

Raj Jayadev is the director of Silicon Valley De-Bug, which hosts the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project. Jayadev is a 2015 Ashoka Fellow. He wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Finds Oklahoma Lethal Injection Drug Constitutional

Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 file photo
Sue Ogrocki—AP The newly renovated death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., on Oct 9, 2014.

The sedative was used in a series of executions widely considered botched

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol is constitutional, finding that the use of the sedative midazolam in a three-drug cocktail does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The central issue in the case was whether the drug can be used in executions without violating the Constitution. Oklahoma was one of small number of states that incorporated midazolam into a new lethal injection formula after drugs for the established protocol became harder to acquire. The case was brought by Richard Glossip, a longtime Oklahoma death row inmate, and two other prisoners.

The court found that the inmates failed to prove that midazolam given in large doses leads to a substantial risk of severe pain and did not identify an alternative method of execution that significantly reduces that risk, a standard established in Baze v. Rees, a 2008 case in which justices upheld Kentucky’s three-drug combination.

In the majority’s ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. … Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.”

Following the ruling, Oklahoma announced it would resume executions, which were on hold pending the court’s decision.

“This marks the eighth time a court has upheld as constitutional the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a statement. “The Court’s ruling preserves the ability of the Department of Corrections to proceed with carrying out the punishment of death.”

In the last few years, the landscape has dramatically shifted as states have experimented with new drug combinations in response to dwindling supplies of drugs for established lethal protocols.

Last year, the executioners of three separate inmates—Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Joseph Wood in Arizona—appeared to experience serious problems in rendering those inmates unconscious. All three were given midazolam as part of the cocktail of drugs, raising questions about its effectiveness. A number of anesthesiologists have criticized states’ use of the drug, saying it’s not an appropriate anesthetic to use during an execution because it doesn’t induce a full state of unconsciousness, potentially leading to a painful execution that could be considered cruel and unusual.

In Lockett’s execution, which was at the heart of the case, the inmate apparently woke up during the procedure after officials had trouble securing an IV in Lockett’s arms. They eventually placed an IV in Lockett’s groin, where it become dislodged, allowing midazolam to leak into the inmate’s surrounding tissues instead of the bloodstream. The execution lasted almost 45 minutes.

Afterwards, Oklahoma suspended future executions and changed its lethal injection policies. Meanwhile, death row inmate Charles Warner and 20 other inmates sued the state over the practice. Warner was executed in January. Three other inmates, including Glossip, eventually brought the case before the Supreme Court.

In December, a district court concluded that midazolam rendered inmates “insensate to pain,” but the plaintiffs argued there was no evidence to support that and appealed.

The case ultimately turned on a very narrow question: whether midazolam sufficiently induced unconsciousness in which an inmate would not feel pain from two other drugs being administered, especially potassium chloride, which one inmate described during an execution as feeling as if he were on fire.

The prisoners were unable to convince the nine justices that midazolam was an inadequate drug for lethal injections or had a “ceiling effect” that rendered the drug ineffective in reducing pain at a certain point.

“Petitioners have not proved that any risk posed by midazolam is substantial when compared to known and available alternative methods of execution,” Alito wrote. “Second, they have failed to establish that the District Court committed clear error when it found that the use of midazolam will not result in severe pain and suffering.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, four states—Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma—have used the drug during executions while five other states have proposed administering it.

Two justices—Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—deviated from ruling on the efficacy of midazolam and instead wrote that capital punishment itself may be unconstitutional. In a lengthy 46-page dissent, the justices said that the death penalty’s arbitrary application and the significant delays between sentencing and execution may violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and they called for the court to fully address its constitutionality.

TIME Gay Marriage

How the Supreme Court’s Marriage Ruling Puts Some Gays and Lesbians at Risk

It could put them at risk of housing or employment discrimination, and it's all perfectly legal.

As a member of the City Council, the late Harvey Milk was nothing if not practical, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California in part by campaigning for a pooper scooper law. So it was in that spirit that one of his friends, the legendary gay rights activist Cleve Jones, recently mused to a meeting with local reporters in San Francisco about the possibility the Supreme Court would expand gay marriage nationwide.

“Now what?” Jones said, channeling his one-time mentor while standing not far from a statue of him. “What about that kid that’s still in Altoona, Pennsylvania? What about that lesbian couple in Birmingham, Alabama? What about that trans cop in Jackson, Mississippi? What about their lives?”

The answer may not be as uplifting as Friday’s news promised. While the court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges is a historic milestone in the gay rights movement that will help tens of thousands of Americans enjoy the benefits of a legal recognition of their unions, there is an undercurrent of risk too. In those parts of the country that do not bar discrimination in housing or employment, gay marriage may make some gays and lesbians more vulnerable.

Take Texas, a state where gay marriages have not been recognized. Pretty soon, a gay man might be able to head to Abilene City Hall for a marriage license and take his vows with his longtime partner. His boss could then fire him and his landlord start eviction proceedings based on his sexual orientation, and it would be perfectly legal.

“At the very moment that same-sex couples in the majority of states in this country partake in that new right that they have, to marry to person that they love, that wedding happens at 10 a.m. They can be fired by noon and evicted from their homes by 2 p.m.,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, tells TIME in an interview. “All in the same day, simply for posting the wedding photo on Facebook.”

And it’s not just Texas. Indeed, more than 206 million Americans — nearly two thirds of the country — live in states where employers can be fired someone for being gay. Only 18 states and the District of Columbia prohibit housing discrimination based on a tenant’s sexuality or sexual identity. Three others prohibit discrimination on sexuality. The remaining 166 million Americans live in states where landlords can evict someone for their sexuality. Friday’s ruling had no effect on what conservative attorney Ted Olson, who argued California’s landmark same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court, called a “crazy quilt” of laws that unequally treat gays and lesbians.

“The freedom to marry would open many doors, but it does not eliminate discrimination and violence against LGBT people and people living with HIV,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group. “And our well-funded opponents would not stop trying to roll back our advances.”

For instance, this population can, in most of America, be denied a job, a house or an education. At the same time, serving on jury can be predicated on a potential juror’s sexuality in most of the country. (Only in the liberal Ninth Circuit have courts found parties cannot exclude jurors based on their sexuality.) And religious liberty laws permit people of faith deny goods or services to gays and lesbians. Cakes, flowers and even pizza can be denied to same-sex couples in the name of religion.

At the same time, banks and other lenders can legally consider a person’s sexuality in determining creditworthiness, and institutions such as emergency management programs or homeless shelters can deny services to gays and lesbians. A report from the liberal Center for American Progress found that one in five homeless youths who were gay couldn’t access short-term services or shelters and another 16 percent rejected for long-term help because of their sexuality.

“Most Americans believe that there are these comprehensive protections in place because it’s so clearly, morally wrong,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. “They can’t reconcile that with the fact that there aren’t these protections in every community. It’s why people think organizations like (the Human Rights Campaign) are going to pack it up and call it a day after marriage equality because it doesn’t comport with their view of how the world should operate.”

It’s one of the reasons the Human Rights Campaign is now turning its focus on to efforts to add city- and state-based protections, as well as gearing up for a fight on a federal non-discrimination law. Previous efforts have failed to gain traction and most Republicans oppose the proposals. Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has been working on a comprehensive non-discrimination bill and aides say he could introduce it to the full Senate as early as July. When he does, the 1.5 million-member Human Rights Campaign plans to advocate for it.

“Even with a positive ruling, we’re still not totally equal,” said Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff whose case the Court decided. Obergefell has been traveling the country trying to rally support in places like Dallas, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio. “Everywhere I go, people come up and thank me.” His allies at the Human Rights Campaign liken him to civil rights leader Rosa Parks or Edie Windsor, whose 2013 case to the Supreme Court opened the rapid expansion of same-sex marriage rights.

“No one would could have predicted this would happen so soon,” said Griffin, who shares an Arkansas hometown with former President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “You go back 6, 7, 8 years. We were losing every battle in the country. The opponents were beating the heck out of us at the ballot box and at state legislatures.”

Then, courts started siding with gay rights activists and public opinion started a rapid shift. Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor of same-sex marriage, followed by President Obama. The pair became the first political ticket to win the White House on a platform that backed same-sex marriage. The issue seems to have lost its political valence, although the culture warriors are hardly giving up. It is certain they will oppose the non-discrimination law when it is introduced later this summer.

“That’s going to take a very long time. It’s going to take us years to get there,” Griffin concedes. But he insists he is not disheartened that yet the victory is incomplete. “It’s our job to roll out our sleeves and get to work harder than we’ve even worked before, and say, ‘Now what?’ to that question that Harvey would have asked,” Griffin said. “We can’t slow down. We can’t kick back and we can’t step back. And we can’t be patient.”

TIME Supreme Court

The Two Harshest Words Antonin Scalia Used Against Obamacare

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia addresses the The Legal Services Corporation's 40th anniversary conference luncheon September 15, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia addresses the The Legal Services Corporation's 40th anniversary conference luncheon September 15, 2014 in Washington, DC.

"I dissent."

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is known for his colorful language, using phrases like “argle-bargle” and “jiggery-pokery” in his dissents.

But the two harshest words he uses to signal his dissatisfaction with the court’s majority are actually pretty plain: “I dissent.”

Within the cloistered world of the nation’s highest court, it’s the little things that get noticed. Among them is the phrase that a Justice on the losing side of a case chooses to end their dissent with.

On the more polite end, there are a couple variations: “I respectfully dissent.” “With respect, I dissent.” “We respectfully dissent.” There’s a more neutral option, simply ending the piece without a sign-off or ending by noting “I would affirm/reverse the decision of the lower court.”

Scalia usually chooses to simply end his decision without a sign-off, but in a select few cases he has gone further and added “I dissent” just to underline the point. That’s how he ended his dissent Thursday from the 6-3 majority opinion in King v. Burwell that allowed subsidies on state-based insurance marketplaces set up through the Affordable Care Act to continue.

The court’s two decisions on Obamacare “will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites,” he wrote. “I dissent.”

Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet, author of a book on Supreme Court dissents called I Dissent, said that’s no accident.

“I don’t know of any systematic studies, but it’s clear to me that the Justices know the difference between the two formulations and make deliberate choices about which to use,” he told TIME in an email.

The cases in which Scalia chooses to end with “I dissent” are interesting.

In 2003, he dissented from the 6-3 majority in Lawrence v. Texas striking down anti-sodomy laws.

“The matters appropriate for this Court’s resolution are only three: Texas’s prohibition of sodomy neither infringes a ‘fundamental right’ (which the Court does not dispute), nor is unsupported by a rational relation to what the Constitution considers a legitimate state interest, nor denies the equal protection of the laws,” he wrote. “I dissent.”

In 2011, he dissented in part from a 5-3 decision in Arizona v. United States that upheld a lower court ruling overturning an Arizona law that denied bail to illegal immigrants charged with some felonies.

“If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State,” Scalia wrote. “I dissent.”

And in 2012, he used the phrase in a dissent from a 5-4 decision in United States v. Windsor that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act which barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

“The Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better,” he wrote. “I dissent.”

Scalia’s liberal colleague, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recently said in an interview at the American Constitution Society that she stopped writing simply “I dissent” after liberals overreacted to her use of it in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case, even putting it on T-shirts. She now simply notes that she would uphold or overturn the lower court decision.

Still, Ginsburg said the “respectfully” line seems like a silly fiction.

“I think of my colleagues who have just criticized the court’s opinion as being ‘profoundly misguided’ — that’s one from (former Justice) John Paul Stevens — or from Scalia ‘this opinion is not to be taken seriously’ and then after saying that, then you end it (with ‘I respectfully dissent’ when) you’ve show no respect at all,” she said.

TIME Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.

But specifics are a casualty of the search for consensus

A bipartisan coalition leading a landmark push for criminal-justice reform has set its agenda, but many of the details remain to be filled in.

The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes some of the most influential policy groups on the right and left, announced a new campaign Monday to reform sentencing laws and reintegrate offenders back into society.

“We see these ideas as the baseline for how we can reduce the existing prison population,” said Christine Leonard, the group’s executive director, “as well as support individuals coming home.”

The announcement was a sign of how far the movement has come, but also a sign of how much work remains to be done to begin enacting its goals.

The group includes liberal outfits like the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and Right on Crime. The multi-million dollar initiative is underwritten by donors as disparate as Koch Industries and the Ford Foundation. For these fractious factions, the ability to coalesce around a set of policy objectives is no small task. But a casualty of the search for consensus has been specifics.

Read More: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

In a conference call Monday with reporters, the group said it would launch a national education campaign to mobilize public support for some of its priorities with the broadest support, including reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, curtailing sentences of life without parole, promoting alternatives to incarceration and removing obstacles that impede transitions back to the workforce for the one-in-three Americans with a criminal record.

But after months of meetings, the recommendations were modest in scope and light on detail. “These reforms are only the beginning of what lawmakers can do,” said Jason Pye, director of messaging and justice reform at the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks.

Nor is it clear that the recommendations will do much to sway them. Despite growing consensus around the need to reform a system that critics call bloated and broken, there has been little little legislative movement. A raft of bipartisan proposals have languished in a divided Congress.

“Some of the other issues are blocked by partisan stalemate. This is one where we actually could move things forward,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. “We’re just going to have to defeat the forces of the status quo.”

Organizers acknowledged that threading bills through Congress remains a challenge. The Coalition hopes to make progress by the August congressional recess, when the presidential race will kick into a higher gear and lawmaking will slow even further.

“We’re in a long term marathon here, in terms of where we need to shift the country after two decades of polices that took us in the wrong direction,” Leonard told TIME in an interview. “There is a strong sense of urgency among these partnering organizations to see that we’re making an impact, both in the daily conversations that are happening around dinner tables but also among policy makers.”

But in Washington the forces of inertia increase in accordance with the number of actors. There are are seven organizations involved with the coalition, and it took months of meetings to lay out a general blueprint. There are 535 lawmakers in Congress. Even the most powerful interest groups know that translating public support into tangible reform remains an uphill battle.

“This is not necessarily a road map for a legislative proposal, but it does demonstrate the pathbreaking level of agreement and consensus around a set of issues,” Leonard says. “What we’re anxious about is, why isn’t there more happening?”

TIME justice

HBO Documentary Highlights Gun Violence

Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin—2015 Getty Images Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.

A new HBO documentary about gun violence will air Monday, just days after a deadly massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Requiem for the Dead uses documentary material such as Facebook status updates, 911 calls, news reports and police investigations to tell the stories of some of the estimated 8,000 people who died from gunfire between March and June of 2014.

“People now document themselves in these very intimate ways,” co-director Shari Cookson tells TIME. “It was like reading a diary.”

“Every story,” her filmmaking partner Nick Doob adds, “is a kind of Greek tragedy.”

In one example, a 12-year-old boy confesses to police that he killed his 11-year-old friend while showing off his father’s loaded handgun.

Another example, about a 12-year-old who shot his sister eight times before turning the gun on himself, is accompanied by a montage of photographs of his belongings, including the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto videogames, a Hunter Education certificate and a picture of him beaming, one hand clutching a rifle and another caressing an antler.

While the directors say they emphasized character portraits over a political agenda, many of the examples in the documentary seem to highlight incidents that could have been prevented by proper gun storage or better mental health treatment.

“Of course,” Doob admits, “we want to foster dialogue. We want the film to open people to talk so that even NRA people can look at this.”

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