Brennan Center for Justice

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Brennan Center for Justice
Basic facts
Location:New York
Washington, D.C.
Top official:Michael Waldman
Year founded:1995
Website:Official website
Promoted policies
Campaign finance reform, Voting rights, Criminal justice reform
Campaign Legal Center, Open Society Foundations, Democracy 21, Common Cause
The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan law and policy institute "that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice" by focusing on voting rights, campaign finance reform and other topics. The organization's mission statement is:[1]
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. We work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from ending mass incarceration to preserving Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. Part think tank, part advocacy group, part cutting-edge communications hub, we start with rigorous research. We craft innovative policies. And we fight for them — in Congress and the states, the courts, and in the court of public opinion.[2]


“We current Justices read the Constitution in the only way that we can: as twentieth century Americans. We look to the history of the time of framing and to the intervening history of interpretation. But the ultimate question must be, what do the words of the text mean in our time. For the genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs." So said Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan in a speech to the Text and Teaching Symposium at Georgetown University on October 12, 1985. Heralded as one of the most influential and progressive justices of the twentieth century, Brennan's legacy lives on in the work of the eponymous Brennan Center for Justice.[3][4]

The center, founded in 1995 by the family and former clerks of Brennan, is a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University (NYU) School of Law led by Michael Waldman. Waldman previously served in the Clinton White House, with one of his roles being the top White House policy aide on campaign finance reform. The institute works toward Brennan's idea of a living constitution, which is one that changes over time based on the progression of societal ideals without being formally amended.[5][6][7]

Areas of influence

The Brennan Center specifically focuses on five issues: voting rights and elections, money in politics, government and court reform, justice for all and liberty and national security. The institute also conducts research and advocates for or against court cases, policy proposals, legislation and a "new constitutional vision."[1]

Notable work

New York judicial selection

One of the more high-profile legal proceedings the institute become involved with was the New York Judicial selection challenge. The Brennan Center for Justice, along with pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter LLP and Jenner & Block LLP, argued that New York's method of judicial selection was unconstitutional because it didn't allow the people to vote for who represents them. The controversy over judicial elections that led to the case, Lopez Torres v. New York State Board of Elections, started after the refusal of party officials to nominate Judge Margarita López Torres to the New York Supreme Court. In February 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case.[8][9]

In an article a year later, the New York Times reported that a federal appeals court decision declared New York State’s judicial nominating system unconstitutional. Judge López Torres said, “I wasn’t happy when the U.S. Supreme Court took the case, and after sitting through the oral arguments in October, I didn’t have the feeling that we were going to win. It was a disappointment, but I’m not a cynical person. Usually judicial elections are under the radar, so if there’s one thing my case has accomplished, it’s been to open a dialogue on an open secret.”[10] Frederick A.O. Schwarz, Jr., Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, said of the case: "The plaintiffs are considering further litigation options. In the meantime, we urge the political, civic, and bar leaders who stood up for reform to continue to stand with us, demanding legislation that will end the closed process, which has, for too long, undermined public confidence in New York's courts."[11]

Voter registration

The Center itself has identified modernizing the voter registration system as its "signature proposal." Proponents of the voter registration overhaul believe voter registration is flawed and leads to "Election Day chaos." Overhauling the system via the Brennan Center's proposal would, according to its website, "harness proven technology to ensure that every eligible voter is permanently registered. The move would add 50 million to the rolls, cost less, and curb the potential for fraud."[12]



The Center has not escaped controversy over the years. In 2012, a report published by the National Center for Public Policy Research -- a self-described conservative, free-market, nonprofit think-tank -- determined the Brennan Center "to have a history of bias-driven research." National Center General Counsel Justin Danhof said, "The Brennan Center is on a mission to undermine support for voter integrity measures, claiming that state-level voter ID provisions will disfranchise millions of voters and that voter fraud rarely occurs. However, some of its major reports concerning voter ID measures and voter fraud are wrought with bias and have been refuted by election scholars." The report also pointed out that the Center received millions of dollars -- over $7 million between 2000 and 2010 -- from George Soros, a left-leaning philanthropist and political activist, and his Open Society Foundations.[13][14][15]

In their report, the National Center cited a 2006 report by the Brennan Center as an example of biased information:[13]

For example, in November 2006, the Brennan Center published a widely cited report, 'Citizens Without Proof,' in which it claimed that 21 million adult Americans lack a photo ID, including 25 percent of black Americans. Election scholars with the Heritage Foundation evaluated the report and concluded that '[b]y eschewing many of the traditional scientific methods of data collection and analysis, the authors of the Brennan Center study appear to have pursued results that advance a particular political agenda rather than the truth about voter identification.'[2]

—National Center for Public Policy Research

Recent news

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See also

External links

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Brennan Center for Justice, "Our Mission," accessed April 17, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  3., "Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Speech given at the Text and Teaching Symposium, Georgetown University," October 12, 1985
  5. Brennan Center for Justice, "About the Brennan Center for Justice," accessed March 11, 2015
  6. University of Chicago, The Law School, "The Living Constitution," accessed March 20, 2015
  7. Brennan Center for Justice, "Michael Waldman Bio," accessed March 20, 2015
  8. Brennan Center for Justice, "Lopez Torres v. NYS Board of Elections," January 16, 2008
  9. Brennan Center for Justice, "U.S. Judge Overturns New York State Judicial Election Process in Brennan Center Lawsuit," January 27, 2006
  10. The New York Times, "Blazing a Trail, and Following Her Own Sense of What’s Right," January 25, 2008
  11. Brennan Center for Justice, "Plaintiff's Counsel on Supreme Court Decision in Lopez Torres v. NYS Board of Elections," January 16, 2008
  12. Brennan Center for Justice, "Voter Registration Modernization," accessed April 8, 2015
  13. 13.0 13.1 National Center for Public Policy Research, "Report Exposes Brennan Center for Justice's Biased Reporting and Liberal Funding, New Profile of the Brennan Center for Justice Released, Leading Opponent of Voter Integrity Measures is Financed By George Soros," July 26, 2012
  14. MRC Business, "Soros-Backed Voting Study Promoted By Soros-Funded Media," October 6, 2011
  15. Time, "Turning Dollars into Change," September 1, 1997