Mandatory life sentence without parole vacated for man with intellectual disability, illustrating Eighth Amendment violations
A cell block
Sherman McCoy, a man with a diagnosed intellectual disability, is home from prison after his sentence to life behind bars without parole was vacated on May 9. His former conviction for first-degree murder was based on a confession obtained by Philadelphia Police homicide detective Philip Nordo, who was fired from the force and indicted on charges of misconduct and abuse of witnesses.

In July 2018, we joined pro bono counsel from Blank Rome LLP, to represent the ARC of Pennsylvania, Disability Rights Pennsylvania, and Vision for Equality Inc. in  an amicus brief  filed in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania supporting Mr. McCoy's appeal, arguing that mandatory life sentences without parole for people with intellectual disabilities are a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

"Both modern science and Supreme Court precedent have established that, as a class, people with intellectual disabilities have characteristics that decrease the reliability and fairness of proceedings against them" said Mimi McKenzie, our Legal Director. "What happened in Mr. McCoy's case demonstrates precisely why, under the Eight Amendment, a court should consider the particular traits of each individual with intellectual disability in formulating a sentence." 

Law Center in the News: Taking on Prison Gerrymandering
Classic gerrymandering cartoon
Legislative districts across Pennsylvania get an unfair population boost when our state's 47,000 inmates--most of whom cannot vote while incarcerated--are counted as residents of their cells, rather than their hometowns. This practice, which skews political representation towards districts where prisons are located, is known as prison gerrymandering. A Villanova University study found that, without this prison population boost, four predominantly white and rural state House districts in Pennsylvania would have too few people to form a district. At the same time, if inmates were counted in their hometowns, urban and predominantly minority communities would have a greater voice in the legislature. 

Our staff attorney Ben Geffen was featured in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star discussing this important issue, which we have been researching for several years. He points out that many states across the country have begun to take on prison gerrymandering by counting inmates at their home addresses for state redistricting, including New York and Maryland. Ben argues that Pennsylvania can--and should--join them in making that change. Read more in " Census 2020: Why some Pa. lawmakers say the state's inmates should be counted at home, rather than in prison."

Remembering John Peters Stevens III
John Peters Stevens III 
John Peters Stevens III
We were sad to learn of the death of a former member of our team. John Peters Stevens III died on Friday, April 26, 2019, at the age of 92, in Gloucester, MA. John served as our Development Director from 1980 to 1991. He was an activist and nonprofit fundraiser throughout his life.
Causes he supported, in addition our work at the Law Center, included Interfaith Housing, the Peace Center of Bucks County, and Welcoming the Stranger, a Bucks County group providing free services to immigrants. He was a dedicated activist for broader roles for women in the Episcopal Church. John was also an avid singer, and as a young man toured the Pacific with the International Male Chorus of the Armed Forces at the end of WWII. Read more about John in his obituary in the Gloucester Times
Join us for oral argument in our case challenging Pennsylvania's absentee ballot system 
Absentee ballot envelope 
Pennsylvania has some of the tightest deadlines for requesting and returning absentee ballots in the country, leading thousands of ballots to be rejected each year. We joined the ACLU of PA, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and pro bono counsel from Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett LLP to challenge this system on behalf of nine voters in Adams Jones et al. v. Boockvar

Oral argument in the case will be held on Wednesday, June 5, at 9:30 a.m. The public is welcome to attend--please allow time for security screening.  
When: Wednesday, June 5, 9:30 a.m.
Where: Court Room No. 1
Ninth Floor, Widener Building, 1339 Chestnut Street
One South Penn Square, Philadelphia, PA 19107  
June 13: Young Professionals Networking Event
On June 13, join us at Yards Brewing Company to network with other young Philadelphia-area professionals, both lawyers and non-lawyers. You will also have the opportunity to learn about our work combating employment discrimination, for those with criminal histories and those with disabilities. 

Enjoy Yards beer and tasty hors d'oeuvres while netowrking in a relaxed and unstructured environment. All are welcome. Proceeds help support our work. 

When: Thursday, June 13, 6-9 p.m. 

Where: Yards Brewing Company, 500 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123

Cost: $25

Sponsored by DISCO and co-hosted by the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association. 

DISCO logo

Young Lawyers Division logo
Missed our school funding briefing? Check out our video.

On May 23, the Upper Darby School Board hosted us for a school funding briefing. We discussed what our broken school funding system means for students and taxpayers across the state, and the latest updates to our lawsuit challenging this system.

If you weren't able to make it to last week's briefing, you can check out a video of the event on Facebook live. You can also view slides from the presentation on our website.

Are you part of a group that would like to host us for a free school funding briefing? Contact staff attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg at for more information. Dan will travel!   
Screencap of Facebook live video of the School Funding briefing
Check out the presentation video
Blast from the Past: Leading the Movement for Students with Disabilities 
Thomas Gilhool _center__ the Law Center attorney who brought the PARC case_ visiting a classroom
Thomas Gilhool, center, the Law Center attorney who brought the PARC case, visiting a classroom
To celebrate our 50th anniversary, we will look back throughout the year on past cases that help form the foundation of our work today.

In 1971, thousands of students with intellectual disabilities were deemed "uneducable" and turned away from public schools in Pennsylvania. Many were warehoused in institutions that did not provide any education at all. We sought to change this, filing a complaint against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on behalf of the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC). 

In 1972, a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania was responsible for providing free public education to all children, regardless of disability. Our case, the first of its kind, helped spark a nationwide movement
. In 1975, congress passed the Education for all Handicapped Children Act (EHA). This Act, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), establishes that students with disabilities have the right to receive a free, appropriate public education. 
Save the Date: Our 50th Anniversary Event Series 
We are hosting a series of events throughout the year highlighting our history, our work today, and our plans for the future. Mark your calendars, and stay tuned for more information and events as the year goes on! If you have any questions about these events, please contact Michael Berton at or 267-546-1303.

Philadelphia  rowhouse cityscape

Gun Safety CLE

Thursday, August 15, 2019, 4-6:30 p.m.
Panel discussion begins at 4:15 p.m.;Reception from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Magna Legal Services, 1635 Market Street, Philadelphia, 19103
$75 for attorneys; $25 for non-attorneys, public interest, and law clerks

Join us on for a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) class on gun safety. In Philadelphia, gun violence is an epidemic. Last year, in addition to the 249 Philadelphians killed in shootings, over 1,100 people were shot and survived, leaving many with lifelong disabilities and ongoing medical costs. 

Learn what lawyers can do to promote gun safety and take on gun violence from our expert panel. Afterwards, join us for a reception with drinks and food in Magna Legal Services' modern event space.

A voting booth

A Celebration of the Right to Vote 

Thursday, November 7, 2019
7303 Emlen Street, Philadelphia, PA 19119

Law Center board member Howard Langer will host advocates for democracy at a cocktail party celebrating our long and storied history of defending and strengthening the right to vote. Learn more about what's coming next in this important work and how you can get involved.