Brennan Center for Justice

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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School is a public policy and law institute that focuses on issues involving democracy and justice. The Center is "dedicated to strengthening democracy and securing justice, through law, scholarship, education and advocacy."[1]

The organization is currently headed by Michael Waldman, former Director of Speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995–1999.

History and mission[edit]

The Brennan Center for Justice was founded in 1995 by the family and former law clerks of Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan.[2] Justice Brennan’s idea of a living constitution figures largely into the center’s work.[3] The Brennan Center is involved in issues such as voting rights, redistricting reform, campaign finance reform, and presidential power in the fight against terrorism. The organization is part think tank, part public interest law firm, and part advocacy group.[1]


The Brennan Center's work is currently divided into three programs—Democracy, Justice, and Liberty & National Security.[4] Past programs focused on criminal justice, poverty, and economic justice.[5] The Center's programs advance their goals through research, policy analysis, media outreach, legislative counseling, advocacy, and legal action.


The Center's Democracy Program collaborates with grassroots groups, advocacy organizations, and government officials to strengthen citizen participation in U.S. government and electoral politics. The program works on issues such as campaign finance reform, voter registration modernization, redistricting, the filibuster, and the promotion of fair and impartial court systems.[6]


The Justice Program seeks to secure our nation’s promise of “equal justice for all” by ensuring that our justice system is rational, effective, and fair. Its primary project is to reduce mass incarceration by reducing the size and severity of the criminal justice system to both improve public safety and protect individual rights. The Program works to publish empirical reports and engage in federal and state legislative advocacy, media and communications outreach, and strategic litigation. It uses these multiple tools to: document and publicize the true economic and societal toll of mass incarceration; devise and enact new, innovative policy solutions to eliminate over-criminalization, over-punishment, racially biased enforcement, and the perverse financial incentives that fuel mass incarceration; and change the public “tough on crime” mindset.[7] [8]

Liberty & National Security[edit]

The Center’s Liberty & National Security Program works on policy recommendations, litigation, and public advocacy for issues related to government transparency and accountability, domestic counterterrorism, detainee policy, and checks and balances.[9] Prior to 2010, the program was housed under the Center’s Justice Program.

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. 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.


Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act[edit]

The Brennan Center provided research central to drafting and enacting the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA"). The law banned "soft money" contributions to political campaigns. Brennan Center attorneys helped to successfully defend the law before the United States Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC. The center was part of a coalition representing Senators John McCain, Russ Feingold, Olympia Snowe, and James Jeffords, and Representatives Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan.

The Center has advised the United States Congress and state legislatures on improving America’s election laws. The Center helped Senator Dick Durbin write the Fair Elections Now Act, which was most recently reintroduced in April 2011.[10]

New York State reform[edit]

Legislative reform[edit]

In 2004 the Brennan Center released a report calling the New York State Legislature the most dysfunctional in the United States. The report highlighted the legislature's dominance by the two houses' respective majority party leaders, and the relative inability of individual members and committees to move legislation.[11] As part of ongoing efforts aimed at increasing responsiveness and accountability in state government, the Brennan Center currently advocates for a set of ethics reforms, an independent redistricting commission, and a public financing system for state elections.[12] The Brennan Center advocated strongly for the passage in 2010 of New York's law ending prison-based gerrymandering, and is part of a team of civil rights organizations seeking to defend that law from a court challenge.[13]

Judicial elections[edit]

The Brennan Center represented plaintiffs Margarita López Torres, other unsuccessful judicial candidates, and Common Cause, in a court case that challenged the way New York state trial judge candidates gain access to the ballot. They prevailed in the U.S. District Court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. In 2007, attorneys from the Brennan Center argued N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres before the United States Supreme Court, but in 2008 the court ruled for the state.[14]


External links[edit]