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Brennan Center for Justice

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Brennan Center for Justice
PresidentMichael Waldman
ChairmanPatricia Bauman and Robert A. Atkins
Budget$21,201,609 (2017)[1]

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School is a non-partisan[2] law and public policy institute that is sometimes seen as liberal[3][2] or progressive.[4] The organization is named after Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan.

The Brennan Center advocates for a number of progressive public policy positions, including public campaign financing, nonpartisan redistricting, automatic voter registration, and an end to mass incarceration.[5][6][7] Their work focuses on three primary issues: democracy reform, criminal justice, and constitutional rights.[8]

The organization opposed the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofits.[9][10] It also opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requiring jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain approval before changing voting rules.[11]In 2019, an editorial in The Guardian described the Brennan Center as “the foremost non-partisan organization devoted to voting rights.”[12]

The organization endorsed the For the People Act of 2019, which proposed a slate of democratic reforms, including the expansion of voting rights and curbing partisan gerrymandering. The Center released an annotated guide on the legislation and Center policy experts testified before Congress in support of the bill.[13]

The Brennan Center's stated mission is to "work to reform, revitalize, and when necessary, defend our country’s systems of democracy and justice.”[14] The organization's president is Michael Waldman, former director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton and the author of various historical books.[15]

History and mission

The Brennan Center for Justice was founded in 1995 by the family and former law clerks of Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, whom the Washington Post called "the progressive voice of the modern court."[16] Justice Brennan's idea of a living constitution figures largely into the center's work.[17] The Brennan Center started with an initial grant by the Carnegie Corporation of New York of $25,000 in 1996. The Carnegie Corporation in years since has donated over $3,650,000.[18] During the selection process of what school to center operations from, the Brennan Center selected New York University Law School out of a choice of three schools, with the other two being Harvard University and Georgetown University.[18]

The Brennan Center is involved in issues such as opposing voter ID laws that it believes unduly restrict voter registration, and other barriers to registration and voting; and advocating for redistricting reform and campaign finance reform.[19][20] The organization is part think tank, part public interest law firm, and part advocacy group.


The Brennan Center's work is divided into three programs—Democracy, Justice, and Liberty & National Security.[21] Within these programs, the Brennan Center focuses on nine issue areas. Past programs focused on criminal justice, poverty, and economic justice.[22] The organization works at the local, state, and national levels of government in the United States.[18]

Voting Rights

The Brennan Center supports a range of proposals to expand access to registration and voting, including automatic voter registration (AVR), early voting, same-day voter registration, and online voter registration. Original research from the organization has demonstrated that AVR increases voter registration rates. [23] They support legislation to fully restore the Voting Rights Act.

The Brennan Center advocates for improvements in ballot design. They have published the guides “Better Ballots” (2008), “Design Deficiencies and Lost Votes” (2011), and “Better Design, Better Elections” (2012), and "How to Design Better Ballots" (2020). They also advocate for the restoration of voting rights of citizens with past convictions.

The organization also tracks state legislation on voter ID laws and other barriers to voter registration and voting to determine whether there is undue burden carried by certain communities. Numerous lawsuits have been brought against states in such cases. By August 1, 2016, rulings in five legal cases overturned certain voter ID and other provisions, requiring Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and North Dakota to make alternatives acceptable for the November 2016 election cycle.[24][25][26]

The Brennan Center research has also indicated that instances of voter fraud by citizens and non-citizens is rare.[27]

Opposing the Trump administration’s “Voter Fraud” Commission, the Brennan Center filed lawsuits in Indiana, Texas, and Utah to prevent the release and aggregation of private data on voters. Due to unanswered records requests, the Brennan Center joined with Protect Democracy to file FOIA lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and other governmental agencies. After the Commission was dissolved via executive order, a former member of the Commission, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, reviewed documents from the Commission’s work and concluded that “sections [in draft reports] on evidence of voter fraud are glaringly empty.” [28]

Fair Courts

The Brennan Center has proposed solutions to advance equal justice in state courts, recommending implementing accountable appointment processes, single terms, stronger recusal rules, and judicial public financing. They advocate for recusal reform and recommend an independent review process for judge recusals.

Since 2000, the organization has published a series of biannual reports known as "New Politics of Judicial Elections" in conjunction with the National Institute on Money in Politics. The series examines the role of big money and special interests in judicial elections. A related series, “Buying Time,” analyzes television ads for supreme court races.

Brennan Center research found that nearly half of all states had an all-white supreme court as of 2019. In a New York Times op-ed, the organization held: “This lack of diversity creates a legitimacy crisis for the justice system.”

As of 2018, the Brennan Center began reviewing and compiling a round-up of legislative threats to state courts, identifying over 100 state bills that would weaken state judicial systems.

Mass incarceration

The Brennan Center opposes mass incarceration and produces research on causes of violent crime in the United States.[29][30][31] The Brennan Center has represented several detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and also U.S. citizens or legal residents held as unlawful enemy combatants.[32] Attorneys from the Center challenged a U.S. President's authority to declare a prisoner to be an unlawful enemy combatant in the fight against terrorism. The Center has also challenged the U.S. Congress’s power to deny habeas corpus to such prisoners.

In 2015, the Brennan Center submitted an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, urging the state not to overturn its so-called John Doe law, which allows the state to conduct criminal investigations in secret.[33][34][35]

Money in politics

The Brennan Center assisted in drafting and enacting the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA"). The law banned soft money contributions to political campaigns. The Center helped Senator Dick Durbin write the Fair Elections Now Act.[36]


The Brennan Center advocated for the passage in 2010 of New York's law ending prison-based gerrymandering, and was part of a coalition of organizations that sought to defend that law from a court challenge.[37] The Brennan Center advocates for the restoration of felon voting rights.[38]


The Brennan Center hosts an event series, Brennan Center Live, generally involving panel discussions with journalists, historians, and policy experts. The events take place in New York City and Washington, D.C. Past speakers include David Frum, Carol Anderson, and Martin Garbus. The Center also publishes a podcast series by the same name of condensed recordings from these live events.[39] Guests have included Cecile Richards, Alyssa Mastromonaco, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Murray, Susan Rice, and Andrea Mitchell.

See also


  1. ^ "IRS Form 990 2017" (PDF). Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b Katz, Lee Michael (Summer 2008). "The Brennan Center for Justice: A Bipartisan Champion of Democracy Comes of Age" (PDF). Carnegie Results. pp. 1–16. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 1, 2018. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  3. ^ Montopoli, Brian (October 3, 2011). "2012 election: Disenfranchised voters, hacked machines?". CBS News. Archived from the original on August 25, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  4. ^ "Brennan Center for Justice". CREDO Donations. Archived from the original on March 29, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  5. ^ Astor, Maggie (May 16, 2019). "Left and Right Agree on Criminal Justice: They Were Both Wrong Before". New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  6. ^ Timm, Jane C. (December 28, 2019). "Gerrymandering is alive and well. The coming battle will be bigger than ever". NBC News. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  7. ^ Fessler, Pam (April 11, 2019). "Report: Voter Rolls Are Growing Owing To Automatic Voter Registration". NPR. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  8. ^ "Issues: Brennan Center for Justice". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  9. ^ Barrett, Paul (January 14, 2015). "Five Ways the Supreme Court Transformed Campaign Finance". Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  10. ^ Rose Quandt, Katie (January 21, 2015). "How Is 'Citizens United' Ruining Democracy and How Can We Stop It?". Moyers & Company. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  11. ^ Lockhart, P.R. (June 25, 2019). "How Shelby County v. Holder upended voting rights in America". Vox. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  12. ^ Rao, Ankita and John Mulholland (November 7, 2019). "If America wants to be the world's leading democracy, it should start acting like one". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  13. ^ "Experts Will Testify on Solutions to Remedy Elections Crisis Challenging U.S. Democracy". Public Citizen. February 13, 2019. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  14. ^ "Our Mission". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  15. ^ "About The Author". Simon & Schuster Center for Justice. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  16. ^ "Justice Brennan, Voice of Court's Social Revolution, Dies". Washington Post. July 25, 1997. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  17. ^ "Brennan Center Follows Own Path," Courtside Legal Times, March 25, 1996
  18. ^ a b c "The Brennan Center for Justice: A Bipartisan Champion of Democracy Comes of Age" (PDF). Summer 2008. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  19. ^ Von Spakovsky, Hans (October 13, 2011). "New Myths on Voter ID". National Review. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  20. ^ Cohn, Nate (November 26, 2014). "Studies Back Up That Few Elections Are Swung by Voter ID Laws". New York Times. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  21. ^ "Programs". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  22. ^ Schell, Scott (August 27, 2003). "The Brennan Center for Justice: Carrying on the Fight." Archived 2011-09-26 at the Wayback Machine NYC Pro Bono Center News. Retrieved 2011-05-17.
  23. ^ Fessler, Pam (April 11, 2019). "Report: Voter Rolls Are Growing Owing To Automatic Voter Registration". NPR. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  24. ^ Rober Barnes (August 1, 2016). "Federal judge blocks N. Dakota's voter-ID law, calling it unfair to Native Americans". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  25. ^ Ariane de Vogue, "Voting challenges head toward the Supreme Court: 4 cases to watch", CNN, 19 July 2016; accessed 30 July 2016
  26. ^ "Voter ID Laws Take a Beating in U.S. Courts", New York Times, 30 July 2016, p. 1
  27. ^ "The voter-fraud commission relies on some really dodgy studies". The Economist. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
  28. ^ Villaneuve, Marina (August 3, 2018). "Report: Trump commission did not find widespread voter fraud". PBS. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  29. ^ Davis, Kristina (February 14, 2015). "Study: Incarceration not behind crime drop". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  30. ^ Sneed, Tierney (February 12, 2015). "Mass Incarceration Didn't Lower Crime, But Can Congress Be Convinced?". US News & World Report. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  31. ^ "Crime and despair in Baltimore". The Economist. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
  32. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (January 23, 2015). "To Live and Die in Gitmo". Newsweek. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  33. ^ Hoy, Seth (March 3, 2015). "BRIEF: Ethicists Urge Wisconsin Justices to Consider Recusal in Gov. Scott Walker Campaign Finance Case". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  34. ^ Stein, Jason (March 20, 2015). "Prosecutor alerts justices to secrecy violation in John Doe". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  35. ^ Gass, Henry (July 16, 2015). "Boost for Scott Walker as campaign finance probe ends". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  36. ^ "Durbin, Larson Introduce Fair Elections Now Act, Durbin Announces Hearing on Campaign Finance Reform" (April 6, 2011). Press Release, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.
  37. ^ Lucas, David (May 19, 2011). "Civil Rights Organizations File Motion to Defend Law Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering", WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
  38. ^ Brodey, Sam (April 14, 2015). "40,000 Maryland Ex-Cons May Soon Get Their Voting Rights Back". Mother Jones. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  39. ^ "Brennan Center Live". Stitcher. Retrieved June 28, 2020.

External links

This page was last edited on 29 June 2020, at 02:27
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