Our hearts are heavy this week.

Just a few days following the tragic passing of Massachusetts’ own Chief Justice Gants, we have lost another beacon of light in the judiciary. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent her decades-spanning career fighting to make the American promise of “equal protection under the law” a reality, and she will be profoundly missed.  

A cultural icon, perhaps her most enduring legacy is as a champion of women’s rights. This week, a credit card in the wallets of women is not just a piece of plastic; in the days since Friday, it’s a memorial to Justice Ginsburg’s tireless work to end sex discrimination and ensure women are able to achieve financial autonomy and pursue all the opportunities life has to offer, free from legal barriers. She proved to us, time and time again, that no injustice is too great to overcome and to be committed to justice means to be in it for the long haul. A trailblazer of the legal community, Justice Ginsburg reminds us that rights are rarely given. They are fought for.

The challenges of 2020 exposed how far we still have to go – for racial equity, for immigrant rights, for the hundreds of thousands of people trapped in cycles of poverty by systemic failures of our society. Through her persistent dedication to the rule of law, Justice Ginsburg laid the groundwork for much of the powerful advocacy work grounded in social justice we see today. Relentless in the pursuit of justice and searing in her dissents, she illustrated that we not only have an obligation to fight the impossible fights – we can win them. And in so doing, we can build a better world based in justice, fairness, and equity.

All we can do is say thank you, and vow to keep the work going. May her memory be a blessing. May we live up to the legacy she leaves behind and bring about the world she knew is possible.


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Image of Chief Justice Gants

Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.

We are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, and join the Massachusetts legal community in mourning the loss of an extraordinary leader.

Chief Justice Gants had a consummate understanding of the powerful ways the courts can shape and redirect people’s lives, and the imperative need to ensure the civil justice system is accessible to all. A passionate advocate of access to justice, he imbued the judicial system with his endless compassion and commitment to the rule of law. Armed with his trademark wit, humor, and thoughtful brilliance, Chief Justice Gants raised the standard of the entire legal profession, challenging tradition in the pursuit of a fairer, more equitable society. 

At Massachusetts Appleseed, we feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with the Chief Justice over the years. A featured speaker at our 2017 Access to Justice Conference and our most recent Annual Meeting, he was a steadfast supporter of our work to improve the courts and unshakable in his commitment to creating a civil justice system that serves everyone – not just those who can afford an attorney.

It was a privilege to witness him in action as co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. He approached this work with seemingly boundless energy, tenacity, and a generous spirit, easily dispensing encouragement to those around him. The journey towards justice is certainly long and difficult. But after each Commission meeting, listening to Chief Justice Gants speak, a better world often felt close at hand.

This week has been a painful one. The future always seemed a bit brighter with the Chief Justice lighting the way, and to lose him at this moment in time is hard to accept. Yet we feel his impact all around us, from the newly-released report he commissioned studying the systemic racial inequities within criminal court sentencing, to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s recent 2019-2020 Annual Report – detailing the many exceptional collaborative efforts he oversaw and guided as co-chair.

To have the head of the state’s highest court so tirelessly champion justice for all is no small thing, and Chief Justice Gants leaves behind a tremendous legacy and unfathomably large shoes to fill. We send our sincere condolences to his family and his friends, and those who knew him best.

Today, September 18th, the courts are closed to honor the memory of Chief Justice Gants. On Monday, they reopen, and the work to which he was so dedicated goes on. While we take this moment to personally work through our grief, we will remember the Chief Justice in all we do – in each policy change that supports our most vulnerable residents, each reform effort that makes our courts more welcoming institutions, and each small step towards a world where every person experiences equal protection under the law. We know we could not have come as far as we have without him. And we hope we honor his legacy by continuing the fight for justice.


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Report Finds Black Girls are Subject to Discriminatory School Disciplinary Action in Kansas, Massachusetts, and Alabama

WASHINGTON, DC, September 2, 2020 – Three members of the Appleseed Network, a non-profit network of independent organizations in the United States and Mexico working towards social and legal justice, today announced the release of their comprehensive report, “Protecting Girls of Color from the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” the final product of a year-long research project examining disparities in school disciplinary treatment for Black girls in Massachusetts, Alabama, and Kansas. Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, an international law firm, served as pro bono partner throughout the project. 
The report is part of the Network’s extensive efforts to dismantle the complex school-to-prison pipeline, a continuum encompassing the steps that drive children out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.  Understanding how states approach school discipline is key: disciplinary policies including suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests may act as “gateways” to the criminal justice system later in their lives. 
The report’s findings illuminate a stark truth: girls of color, particularly Black girls, are consistently disciplined at a rate much higher than their white peers. Often, discipline is incurred more or to a greater extent by Black girls than their white peers for similar behavior. The findings also emphasize the significant change needed in school district disciplinary policies and data collection methods in order to protect girls of color from being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline by means of excessive school discipline.
“This research helps to shine a light on one of the many ways that systemic racism continues to play out in Alabama,” says Akiesha Anderson, Policy Director at Alabama Appleseed. “The data irrefutably shows that Alabama’s public schools discipline Black girls more harshly than their white counterparts. As state leaders continue to grapple with criminal justice reform, the school-to-prison pipeline and its impact on Black girls should not be left out of the conversation.”
Key findings in the report include:

  • Across Alabama, Kansas, and Massachusetts, Black female students are roughly 5.2 times more likely to be disciplined than white female students.
  • In Alabama, Black girls are roughly 3.7 times more likely to be disciplined than their white female classmates
  • In Kansas, Black girls are roughly 6.2 times more likely more likely to be disciplined than their white female classmates.
  • In Massachusetts, Black girls are roughly 3.9 times more likely to be disciplined than their white counterparts.
  • State level data that is disaggregated by race, gender, and ethnicity is not widely available. The data also do not account for multiple forms of discipline and do not typically state the cause for discipline.

Policy proposals include:

  • More state and federal legislation mandating the consistent collection of data on school disciplinary action and ensuring databases are publicly accessible, cross-tabulated, and disaggregated to account for age, gender, race, and ethnicity.
  • More transparent data and incident reporting is a key step to further advocacy aimed at making schools safe environments for all students.

Deb Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed and a key partner on this project, said of the report, “It demonstrates the devastating impact that the intersection of gender and racial discrimination is having on Black girls in Massachusetts schools, and the indisputable need to include our classrooms in the ongoing dialogues about systemic racism currently sweeping the country. The school-to-prison pipeline is very much alive in Massachusetts, and this report is an important step forward in our work to advocate against the unjust school discipline policies that target and punish girls of color and promote a more inclusive and supportive vision of education.”
“The report exposes a dramatic imbalance in our school system and highlights the continued need for us to investigate and eradicate systemic racism at every level of our society.  It is impossible to ignore the lifelong consequences that such a disparate school discipline system has on young people of color,” says Mike Fonkert, Campaign Director of Kansas Appleseed. “We must do better.”

Willkie Farr & Gallagher worked with representatives from Alabama Appleseed, Massachusetts Appleseed, and Kansas Appleseed to collect and analyze federal school disciplinary data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection database, as well as state-level data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The report analyzes data available for five discipline categories: in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and school-related arrests.

About the Appleseed Network
Appleseed is a network of 16 justice centers across the U.S. and Mexico working for a more just, inclusive, and hopeful future for us all.
For more information, please contact:

Alabama Appleseed
Carla Crowder, Executive Director

Massachusetts Appleseed
Deb Silva, Executive Director

Kansas Appleseed
Mike Fonkert, Campaign Director