Brennan Center for Justice
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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School is a non-partisan law and public policy institute that is sometimes seen as liberal or progressive. 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. Their work focuses on three primary issues: democracy reform, criminal justice, and constitutional rights.
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. 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.In 2019, an editorial in The Guardian described the Brennan Center as “the foremost non-partisan organization devoted to voting rights.”
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.
The Brennan Center's stated mission is to "work to reform, revitalize, and when necessary, defend our country’s systems of democracy and justice.” The organization's president is Michael Waldman, former director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton and the author of various historical books.
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." Justice Brennan's idea of a living constitution figures largely into the center's work. 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. 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.
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. 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. Within these programs, the Brennan Center focuses on nine issue areas. Past programs focused on criminal justice, poverty, and economic justice. The organization works at the local, state, and national levels of government in the United States.
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.  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.
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.” 
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.
The Brennan Center opposes mass incarceration and produces research on causes of violent crime in the United States. 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.
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.
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.
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. The Brennan Center advocates for the restoration of felon voting rights.
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. Guests have included Cecile Richards, Alyssa Mastromonaco, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Murray, Susan Rice, and Andrea Mitchell.
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