Alton Wang

The Project

Alton (he/him/his) promotes fair redistricting maps by addressing partisan gerrymandering through research, litigation, and policy advocacy.

For communities of color to be adequately represented in state legislatures and Congress, electoral districts must be drawn in a manner that gives their inhabitants a safe-guarded right to vote for their candidates of choice. Yet, politicians in state legislatures are increasingly passing partisan redistricting maps that overwhelmingly benefit themselves and their political parties, thereby limiting the ability of voters to elect candidates that reflect their needs and desires. We need an equitable system that empowers voters to choose their politicians, instead of politicians choosing their voters. Although federal courts are largely foreclosed from considering partisan gerrymandering, opportunities exist to challenge partisan maps at the state level. Voters deserve a fair process only reachable by reforms to how district lines are drawn today.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Alton will support ongoing and future partisan gerrymandering litigation through the development of novel and deeply effective litigation strategies. Further, he will bolster efforts at the state level to implement independent redistricting commissions, which would move the power of redistricting from politicians’ hands into the hands of voters. Alton will also work to produce state-by-state legal research on how local laws may be used to litigate partisan gerrymandering claims moving forward.

The issues that I care deeply about in my community—from immigration reform to healthcare access—depend on having elected officials that actually represent the communities from which they are elected. Fighting for fair maps is at the foundation to ensure government works for the people.

Alton Wang /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mikayla (she/her/hers) will represent clients and educate members of the community on heirs’ property issues to help underserved communities build generational wealth through land and property ownership.

Heirs’ property occurs when an individual dies without a will. When there is no will, families who inherit the land lack a clear title to the land, which developers then use to their advantage to purchase the land, often without the knowledge of all the family members. Heirs’ property disproportionately affects African Americans and has resulted in a loss of vast amounts of land.

Growing up in South Carolina, Mikayla has seen many Black families lose their lands over the years and the demographics and cultures of cities rapidly change. After attending law school, Mikayla believes that, through the legal system, traditionally underserved communities can fight to keep their land and preserve their culture.

Fellowship Plans

Mikayla will represent clients in traditionally underserved communities in matters such as will writing and estate planning. Mikayla will also conduct educational seminars regarding heirs’ property and the importance of land preservation. At the end of her fellowship, Mikayla plans to compose a symposium where she will invite experts and scholars in heirs’ property and land loss issues to come and speak about heirs’ property in their respective regions.

Media

Law school research helped recent graduate land prestigious fellowship

As a mixed-race woman from the south, minority land ownership is important to me. My ancestors were not allowed to own property- but instead were property. Through this fellowship, I plan to address the racist history of the American legal system.

Mikayla Mangle /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kat’s (they/them/theirs) project will work to improve the legal landscape for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States through focused effort on advocacy based on the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment.

In the United States, an estimated 8 million adults and 2 million minors identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. They are significantly more likely to be placed in situations where the separation of church and state is critical to protecting their health, safety, and well-being. The intrusion of religion on government programs impacts LGBTQIA+ youth, adults, families, and individuals at every imaginable level. Each time rights for LGBTQIA+ people expand, there are efforts to roll those rights back under the guise of religious freedom. First amendment advocacy is a critical part of continuing to build and protect LGBTQIA+ communities.

Kat’s passion for advocacy started with their experiences as an openly queer student. They remain committed to making the world a safer, more equitable place for all members of LGBTQIA+ communities.

Fellowship Plans

During their Fellowship, Kat will work on litigation through representation and amicus briefs as LGBTQIA+ rights cases make their way through the court system. They will also work on public educational materials such as know your rights resources and webinars. Additionally,they will participate in legislative advocacy efforts.

Media

New Legal Fellows Join FFRF, Including One on a Prestigious Fellowship

As a queer person who grew up in a conservative religious community, I know first-hand how important the separation of church and state is to ensure the safety and dignity of LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities.

Kat Grant /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ian’s (he/him/his) Fellowship will clear criminal records, restore driving privileges, and reinstate voting rights for formerly incarcerated people in southern Mississippi.

Most people leaving prison find their ability to work, drive, access quality housing, and participate in our democracy severely hindered. These collateral consequences burden formerly incarcerated people long after their prison sentences end. In Mississippi, nearly 10% of adults have had their voting rights permanently stripped after a felony conviction; thousands more are blocked from meaningful employment and even from driving by their criminal records. It is no wonder that many formerly incarcerated people report feeling shut out of society.

In Mississippi, a state short on legal service providers, people need advocates dedicated to easing the collateral consequences of their convictions and helping them participate more fully in society.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Ian will represent formerly incarcerated individuals who seek to expunge their criminal records, restore their driver’s licenses, and petition for their voting rights back. He will hold intake clinics at public housing properties throughout southern Mississippi and take client referrals from local non-profits that serve re-entering people. Finally, Ian will develop a toolkit for pro se litigants who seek to remedy their collateral consequences.

“How can we justify placing barriers to employment and civic participation for formerly incarcerated individuals while simultaneously demanding their seamless return to society?”

Ian Gustafson /
2022 EQUAL JUSTICE WORKS FELLOW

The Project

Hope (she/her/hers) will provide direct legal services for citizens in rural Texas border communities facing obstacles to obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) estimates that they receive 50-70 calls every year from United States citizens having trouble obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, and other identity documents because federal and state laws do not account for the realities of low-income transitional families living on the Texas-Mexico border. People with birth certificates signed by midwives (parteras) and people who attended secondary school in Mexico for a period often have a particularly difficult time meeting the evidentiary requirements for obtaining proof of citizenship documents. The technical administrative knowledge required to pursue these claims, combined with their time-intensive and fact-specific nature, means that TRLA is currently unable to address the need among its client communities for these claims.

Hope’s experience living and working in rural communities across the American South makes her familiar with the barriers low-income people in rural communities face in accessing resources. Hope’s time spent working as part of TRLA’s civil rights team introduced her to the issues faced by many border community citizens in obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Fellowship Plans

Hope will represent people in rural border communities having trouble obtaining proof of identity and citizenship documents in administrative proceedings with state agencies, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of State. For individuals facing prolonged denial of the benefits of U.S. citizenship, 8 U.S.C. § 1503 offers clients a remedy in federal court. Hope will also be conducting outreach to raise awareness and hosting identity document application clinics along the middle border region, as well as working to develop streamlined resources for other TRLA attorneys handling proof-of-citizenship claims.

Born and raised in rural Georgia, I understand how difficult it can be for disadvantaged populations in resource-scarce rural areas to access basic government services.

Hope Bettler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jacob (he/him/his) will advocate for fair political maps to be drawn in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin in the 2020 redistricting cycle. He will work to ensure equal access to voting, education, health, and racial justice. 

In growing Midwestern urban centers, local problems stem directly from the lack of state-level representation due to gerrymandering. For example: Detroit filed America’s largest municipal bankruptcy; Flint failed to provide its residents with clean water; Madison changed school superintendents six times in eight years amid multiple racial controversies; and Kenosha’s mismanaged police force shot Jacob Blake. 

After the Kenosha shooting, residents’ advocacy for independent prosecution was futile against a legislature that had diluted their community’s power. Gerrymandering limits access to funding and legislative change, leaving communities with fewer resources for schools and police department oversight. It creates and compounds racial disparities. 

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Jacob will support challenges against gerrymandered districts as Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin redraw their state legislative and congressional maps. He will conduct research, find plaintiffs, conduct investigations, and support critical filing of lawsuits. While many structural changes require political rather than legal action, redistricting provides a unique opportunity to allow communities to advocate for themselves both in litigation and in the legislature once fair maps are drawn. 

Media

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

Growing up in Wisconsin, I saw firsthand the effects of representation. I was a high school student in the Madison public schools when a gerrymandered legislature demanded drastic, unprecedented school cuts for large districts including mine. My calling is advocacy for schools, and my tool is redistricting.

Jacob Carrel /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Carlos (he/him/his) will empower citizens to proactively demand public accountability by strengthening Puerto Rico’s constitutional right to access government information, promoting transparency, and engaging in participatory democracy

Hurricane María and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed decades-long mismanagement of public resources in Puerto Rico. As a result, trust in government institutions has eroded significantly. At the root of this problem lies a legal framework that discourages transparency and fosters a governmental secrecy culture. Puerto Rico is one of the few U.S. jurisdictions with a constitutional right to access public information. Yet, in 2020, the Centre for Law and Democracy gave a dismal 49% score to recently enacted open-data laws and concluded they were one of the weakest in the Americas.

The island’s political and social environment calls for urgent action. There is a need for systemic advocacy capable of defending freedom of information and enabling sustained accountability through civic mobilization. Carlos was born and raised in Puerto Rico and has always been involved in social justice initiatives that seek to create a more equitable society. Carlos owes his sociopolitical consciousness to his family.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Carlos will serve as a non-partisan, independent transparency catalyst focused on deploying strategic litigation, legal education brigades, and advocacy to tackle freedom of information structural barriers. Further, Carlos will work with the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) to bring together diverse access-to-justice stakeholders into a collaborative, concerted effort to empower individuals seeking to exercise their rights and denounce public corruption.

My homeland, Puerto Rico, has been facing multidimensional crises. I have a sense of duty to fight for a vibrant participatory democracy that promotes transparency and holds our government accountable.

Carlos F. Ramos-Hernandez /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Cesar’s (he/him/his) project will break down barriers to voting and enhance access to key political processes for underrepresented Latino communities in New York and Florida.

Historically, Latinos have been deprived of access to the franchise under policies across the country which suppress and dilute Latino voting power and minimize representation. Denial of language assistance despite federal and state protections, deficient representation in redistricting processes, and lack of community engagement in Latino communities ensure that Latinos, who are the nation’s largest racial/ethnic minority at around 18%, remain underrepresented in key political processes.

Specifically, in New York and Florida lack of civic engagement and education and non­participation in the redistricting process results in the underrepresentation of Latinos, as data shows that Latinos fall below the national average in a wide range of socio­economic indicators. Enhancing access to voting and the redistricting processes in both states will promote civic engagement, creating accountability to Latinx issues and communities.

Cesar’s Latinx heritage and upbringing motivate him to serve his community and to advocate for the range of issues impacting them.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Cesar will provide voter and redistricting education and outreach, to the most populous Latino districts and provide oversight and advocacy for compliance with state and federal election law, litigating voting and redistricting issues as needed in Florida and New York. Cesar will also help form coalitions with partner organizations to develop networks to better serve Latinos in Florida and New York.

Media

Safeguarding the Right to Vote for Latinx Community Members

Three Class of 2021 grads have been awarded the Equal Justice Works Fellowship

Access to voting and a voice in the redistricting process are critical rights that must be protected and held open for all given their importance in determining the everyday intricacies of our lives. Now more than ever we must stand up together and demand access, transparency, and accountability.

Cesar Ruiz /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Anna (she/her/hers) will advocate for low-income Minnesotans who are subjected to unjust pretrial detention and cash bail practices using a combination of direct representation, data-gathering, and legislative advocacy. 

At any given time, Minnesota jails hold around 4,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime. Many of those people languish in jail simply because they are too poor to pay bail. In this way, Minnesota’s pretrial detention practices criminalize poverty. They also criminalize Black and Indigenous people, who are disproportionately represented in Minnesota’s jail population. Combined with the higher likelihood of conviction for pretrial detainees, these racial and economic disparities result in worse case outcomes for poor people and people of color in Minnesota. 

Currently, local advocates lack comprehensive data that would help them craft effective bail reform strategies. Without knowing exactly how the system is broken, there is no way to fix it. In order to agitate for more equitable bail practices, local advocates need information about who is granted bail and at what amounts; the number of people who cannot afford to pay for their freedom; and the collateral consequences of pretrial detention. Armed with more and better data, advocates can make arguments in court, craft Minnesota-specific bail reform campaigns, and lift up the stories of individuals in the state. 

Anna has witnessed the persistence, creativity, and commitment to real justice that lives in Minnesota communities. She is dedicated to standing alongside and amplifying the voices of those calling for change.

Fellowship Plans

Anna will represent indigent individuals facing criminal charges and advocate for their release pretrial. She will also collect data on the use of cash bail and pretrial detention in the Twin Cities metro, focusing on the negative effects of pretrial detention on individuals and communities. She will work alongside advocates and organizers working for changes to the criminal legal system and support legislative efforts to reform bail practices in Minnesota. 

Every person is inherently worthy of a life that is meaningful, joyous, and free. No Minnesotan should be denied the opportunity to create such a life.

Anna Hall /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alex (she/her/hers) will help launch a network of pro bono legal clinics designed to curb the criminalization of homelessness by amplifying on-the-ground legal services for unhoused people while steering aggressive litigation and policy strategies.

More than 3.5 million people in the U.S. go unhoused annually—a rate that has steadily increased over the past several years and will only keep rising given the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, cities and states across the country are adopting “quality of life” laws—better understood as anti-homeless laws—that criminalize basic survival activities like sleeping, sitting, erecting temporary shelter, asking for money, and even sharing food in public. The scale is massive: every major city in the country currently has several of these laws on the books, leading to hundreds of thousands of citations, tickets, and arrests each year. The effects are disproportionately felt by Black, Brown, Indigenous, disabled, and LGBTQIA communities. These laws do not “solve” mass homelessness; rather, they serve only to trap very poor and unhoused people in cycles of poverty and criminalization, as well as stifle their ability to organize towards solutions that address the root causes of homelessness and poverty. 

Fellowship Plans 

Taking her lead from organizers and advocates long-established in unhoused communities, Alex will develop the specific legal infrastructure needed to build a network of legal clinics focused on defending against anti-homeless laws and challenging their discriminatory impacts. This legal infrastructure will ensure that the clinics can work in constant collaboration with each other across cities and states and that the information gleaned from their frontline work can steer and create aggressive impact litigation and policy strategies on a national level. An aspiring poverty law and civil rights attorney, Alex will also assist in litigation and direct representation where feasible.

Media

Three Class of 2021 grads have been awarded the Equal Justice Works Fellowship

So-called ‘quality of life’ laws are part of a long legacy of attempts to criminalize poverty, people of color, and homelessness—from anti-Okie laws to Jim Crow, sundown towns, and broken windows policing. These laws deny poor people’s humanity and attack their basic means of life.

Alex Matak /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow