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.
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
Ms. Mohseen focused on advocating for Muslim inmates and detainees denied access to religious accommodations as guaranteed by the law.
Through her Fellowship project, Ms. Mohseen sought to address the issue of unmet religious accommodation needs of Muslim inmates and detainees. Despite laws which protect the right of institutionalized people to practice their chosen religion with limits only where the limit is in furtherance of a compelling government interest that cannot be accomplished in a less restrictive way, the lived reality is that many Muslim inmates and detainees are denied accommodations and therefore must violate their religious beliefs. With a large percentage of the U.S. prison population self-identifying as Muslim, and with this number presumably increasing or staying constant due to conversion while in prison, this is an issue which will continue to arise.
Ms. Mohseen developed and published a comprehensive model handbook that outlines various beliefs of different sects of Islam generally as it pertains to prisons and prisoners and also addresses the law and provides examples of best practices, particularly as have been implemented in some facilities. Ms. Mohseen also directly represented inmates and supported other organizations’ efforts in expanding religious accommodations. Through direct representation, Ms. Mohseen was able to secure changes to policies regarding religious headwear for the entire Virginia Department of Corrections and was able to expand the availability of religious texts in a Florida civil commitment center.
Ms. Mohseen will remain at CLCMA as a civil staff attorney where she will continue her work on religious accommodations in prison while expanding her practice area to all civil litigation matters within the organization’s scope. She hopes to maximize the impact of strategic litigation in the prison rights space by partnering with sister organizations.
My purpose as a lawyer is to better the lives of the underserved and I believe that Muslims are currently one of the most underserved groups.
Najmu Mohseen /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
All of this free expression activity and potential that has so inspired me is dependent upon the network remaining free of censorship and regulated with the goal of protecting free speech rights. Emma sought to expand the capacity of free speech advocates to resist the growing state and federal threats to online speech, in particular to the access of young people to social networks and other online fora. Emma used advocacy, education, and, if needed, litigation to prevent unconstitutional restrictions on lawful speech online.
Jef’s project focused on finding active cases at the intersection of technology and First Amendment values – in particular free speech rights – and submit amicus briefs on behalf of Public Knowledge. By intervening in litigation on behalf of artists, consumers and citizens, Jef hoped to help protect the ability of everyone to speak freely in the digital age. And, by adding a litigation capability to the organization’s ongoing educational, admin law and grass-roots work (which his project included), he hoped to bring another important voice to the legal side of the fight.