Listen

Carrie Johnson

Updated April 1, 2021 at 9:28 AM ET

Current and former officials at the U.S. Marshals Service said they are worried about an executive order from the Biden administration that phases out contracts with private prisons and jails.

It's a staple on some of the longest-running crime shows on television: Communications between people charged with crimes and their lawyers are protected from government snooping under what's known as attorney-client privilege.

In practice, things don't always work that way, especially when it comes to email messages between incarcerated people in the federal system and their attorneys. That's because within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates are asked to "voluntarily" agree to electronic monitoring in order to use the bureau's email system.

Christopher Wray is only the eighth director to lead the FBI — and the only one whose appointment was announced on Twitter.

For the past 3 1/2 years, he has been grinding through fierce criticism by former President Donald Trump. He's also guided the bureau through some wounds the FBI inflicted upon itself, including employees' text messages about political candidates in 2016, the guilty plea by an FBI lawyer for altering a document, and a watchdog report that uncovered surveillance applications filled with big mistakes.

Two whistleblowers assert that a Justice Department official improperly injected politics into the hiring process during his waning days in the Trump administration, according to a new filing obtained by NPR.

A new chapter of Merrick Garland's long career in the law has opened after the Senate voted to pave the way for him to serve as attorney general.

The 70-30 vote for his confirmation comes five years after then-President Barack Obama nominated Garland to serve on the Supreme Court — a goal frustrated by Senate Republicans who refused to even consider a hearing for that post.

Garland, a moderate judge with deep prosecutorial experience, will soon lead a Justice Department reeling from political scandals and racing to confront the threat from violent homegrown extremists.

The new team President Biden has picked to run the Justice Department will come into focus this week, as Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland awaits a confirmation vote and two more presumptive leaders prepare to face questioning in the Senate.

Lisa Monaco, a national security expert, and Vanita Gupta, a longtime civil rights advocate, will appear before the Judiciary Committee Tuesday in their bids to serve as deputy attorney general and associate attorney general, the department's second and third in command.

Newly disclosed documents from inside the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan capture a sense of panic and dread among prosecutors and their supervisors as one of their cases collapsed last year amid allegations of government misconduct.

Judges with backgrounds as prosecutors or corporate lawyers, who represent the majority of federal district court jurists, are significantly more likely to rule in favor of employers in workplace disputes, according to a new study of diversity on the bench.

Emory University law professor Joanna Shepherd conducted the study, which which she described as the first published research about whether judges from certain professional backgrounds are more likely to rule against workers.

Most people know Judge Merrick Garland for what didn't happen to him. Five years ago, the Senate never acted on his nomination to the Supreme Court.

This week, that will change, as a new chapter begins in Garland's lifelong commitment to public service. Garland, 68, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday as President Biden's pick to serve as attorney general. This time, few obstacles stand in his path to confirmation. But the institution he's likely to join operates largely in a state of shock.

Two brothers who once expected to die in prison are now free — and home in Philadelphia.

Wyatt and Reid Evans spent 37 years behind bars for their part in a car-jacking gone bad. The brothers didn't intend to take a life in 1980. They stole a car and dropped off the driver at a pay phone booth. But the man later died of a heart attack.

The brothers refused a plea deal and were convicted of second-degree murder. Under Pennsylvania law, that meant life in prison.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is launching a scholarship program designed to produce a new team of civil rights advocates working for racial justice in the South.

Unveiled on Monday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the program will offer free tuition and room and board, a commitment intended to remove barriers for students deterred by the steep costs of law school.

Civil liberties advocates are warning that the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol could lead to new police and surveillance powers. If history is a guide, they say, those tools could be used against Blacks and other people of color in the justice system, not the white rioters who stormed Congress.

Updated at 4 p.m. ET

Federal watchdogs who guard against fraud foresee plenty of work to keep them busy next year: from more than 100 investigations related to the coronavirus pandemic to new probes over misuse of some of the nearly $3.5 trillion in stimulus money.

Justice Department whistleblowers are calling on federal watchdogs and members of Congress to investigate what they call illegal and abusive government directives that waste money and chill "diversity-related speech across the entire federal workforce."

NPR has obtained a letter by a lawyer for the whistleblowers, who report that diversity and inclusion programs they had planned for the Justice Department earlier this year were branded "divisive propaganda" and had to be canceled.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

The U.S. Justice Department has charged a Libyan man with constructing a bomb that detonated on a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people and launching a decades-long international manhunt for the culprits.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced Monday — exactly 32 years after that deadly flight — that the department is charging Abu Agela Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi.

Updated at 9:25 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden plans to name Lloyd Austin, the retired U.S. Army four-star general, as his pick for secretary of defense in his incoming administration, two sources familiar with the decision confirmed to NPR.

Austin joins a growing and diverse list of nominees for Biden's cabinet, which the president-elect has said he wants to reflect the diversity of America. If confirmed, Austin would be the first African American to lead the department.

Six months after Donald Trump became president, he delivered remarks about law enforcement that set the tone for civil rights.

In a speech to law enforcement officers on Long Island, Trump said: "Please don't be too nice." To applause from the crowd, the president added that it might not be necessary to protect the heads of suspects being folded into the back of police cars.

For former civil rights prosecutor Kristy Parker, those words marked a major turnaround.

The Justice Department is proceeding with plans for more federal executions in the closing days of President Trump's administration, including two scheduled shortly before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Attorney General William Barr announced the moves, connected with what he called "staggeringly brutal murders," in a statement late Friday.

The Justice Department said the directives amounted to a continuation of its policy since last year when it relaunched federal executions after an informal moratorium that had been in place for 17 years.

Federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland is under consideration to serve as attorney general in the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, NPR has learned from two people closely following the process.

Garland, 68, is the widely respected former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He launched his career at the Justice Department decades ago.

Updated at 10:40 a.m. EST 11/20/20

Choosing an attorney general is a critical task for a new president in normal times.

But after nearly four years of attack from President Trump, who pushed the Justice Department to punish his enemies and protect his friends, these are not normal times, as former Solicitor General Don Verrilli pointed out recently to an online audience at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Updated at 4:47 p.m. ET

An attorney for former national security adviser Michael Flynn said she briefed President Trump and a lawyer working for him on the status of Flynn's criminal case in the past two weeks, according to statements in court on Tuesday.

The lawyer, Sidney Powell, initially told the judge she was wary of disclosing the contact because of so-called executive privilege, even though she does not work for Trump or the White House.

Republicans expect President Trump to name Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the next nominee to the Supreme Court, according to a source with knowledge of the process, but the source cautioned that Trump could change his mind.

The source declined to be named, because the individual was not authorized to confirm the selection before the president announced it.

The White House declined comment.

In 1999, Christopher Vialva hitched a ride with a married couple visiting West Texas for a church revival meeting.

Authorities later found the bodies of Todd and Stacie Bagley in the trunk of their car. Todd Bagley died of a gunshot wound. Stacie Bagley died of smoke inhalation after the car was set on fire.

On Thursday, 20 years after he was convicted of that brutal crime, Vialva is scheduled to face lethal injection. His case stands out only because he's like most inmates on federal death row: a Black man who murdered white people, when he was very young.

Updated at 7:28 p.m. ET

Judges Amy Coney Barrett, Barbara Lagoa and Allison Jones Rushing are emerging as serious contenders to fill the seat on the Supreme Court vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, according to sources familiar with the process.

An announcement on the nominee could come as early as Monday or Tuesday.

Candidates on the short list for a Supreme Court vacancy undergo intense vetting that typically culminates in a one-on-one interview with the president.

The process is shrouded in secrecy, but President Trump's flair for the dramatic has introduced a sense of showmanship to the highly choreographed rollout.

Prosecutors in New York have some required reading to do: a scathing opinion from a federal judge who identified a stream of mistakes and misconduct in a prosecution gone bad.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan directed the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York to ensure that all of its prosecutors read her decision.

But the matter won't end there.

Updated at 8:22 a.m. ET

Attorney General Bill Barr blasted his own Justice Department prosecutors as a "permanent bureaucracy" that all too often abuse their power to go after high-profile targets in a process he likened to "headhunting."

In remarks Wednesday to a largely conservative audience celebrating Constitution Day at Hillsdale College, the leader of the Justice Department asserted that he's the one who should make the big calls in cases of national interest.

Updated at 1:56 p.m. ET

A federal grand jury has issued criminal subpoenas to a publishing company and a literary agency in connection with a book by former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, NPR has confirmed.

The move signals the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation surrounding the publication of Bolton's book The Room Where It Happened after an unsuccessful effort to block it from being published in June.

President Trump is making crime a key issue in his reelection campaign, but criminologists worry he and the administration are more interested in using it for political advantage.

Trump's public statements about violence and the actions of his administration in response to this summer's demonstrations don't represent efforts likely to produce a meaningful long-term reduction in crime across the United States, specialists said.

Pages