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

Uruj (she/her/hers) will use model litigation and advocacy to challenge the coordinated assault on the right to vote by discriminatory voting laws in the Deep South.

In 2021, state legislatures met the historic turnout of Black voters and voters of color in 2020 with a backlash of voter suppression laws aimed at diminishing the political power of voters of color. Nineteen states enacted 33 restrictive voting laws in 2021 alone; forty-nine states cumulatively proposed over 425 bills to restrict voting access. From imposing harsher voter ID requirements on absentee ballots in Georgia to restricting mail-in voting in Florida or banning 24-hour voting in Texas, these sudden and extreme changes to voting laws have the intent and effect of making voting more burdensome for low-income voters of color. Characterized as Jim Crow 2.0, these laws deepen historical inequities in voting access, abridge or deny voters of color a meaningful opportunity to participate in the political process, and throw off the guardrails necessary to maintain our democracy.

Fellowship Plans

This project supports the leadership of impacted communities safeguarding against Jim Crow 2.0 policies and ensuring equal access to the vote. Building on the momentum of the 2022 midterm election, Uruj will apply a multi-part strategy to ensure that every eligible voter, especially Black voters, can freely exercise their fundamental right to vote by starting in two priority jurisdictions in the deep south. The strategy uses strategic, targeted litigation to enforce voting rights protections under federal and state constitutional and statutory protections; rapid response advocacy at polling stations by monitoring for suppression and identifying organizing and legal interventions; and advocating for expansive legislation and against restrictive voting bills in partnership with grassroots coalitions.

Media

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Communities of color are more likely to be denied access to the right to vote and that’s a precedent that goes against our notion of fairness and justice. We need to challenge these immediate threats to democracy while also building long-term sustainable solutions to ensure every person can vote regardless of our race.

Uruj Sheikh /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Chris will use litigation, state and local administrative advocacy, education, and monitoring to challenge administrative disenfranchisement in the electoral process.

Chris’ project challenges “administrative disenfranchisement,” reframing election administration issues from harmless administrative errors to serious barriers in the democratic process. Mistakes in election administration are popularly conceived (to the extent they are conceived at all) as harmless scriveners’ errors that balance out in all but the closest elections, which are protected by careful and deliberate recounts. But in reality, these administrative disenfranchisements pose a threat to voting rights, which is disproportionately experienced in communities of color and poor communities. These problems are often baked in well in advance of an election, through decisions made for administrative convenience, without considering how they will impact the voters whom they are meant to serve.

Fellowship Plans

Chris will use a variety of legal strategies, including public records requests, trainings for community groups and elections staff, administrative advocacy, and litigation, in combination with well-established relationships with community groups and election administrators alike, to ensure that the experiences and needs of voters are factored into the decision-making calculus for designing and administering election systems.

I went to law school to help make our democratic systems work better, for more people, and with no one left behind. Too often our elections aren’t built to include the people whose will they are supposed to reflect; I am incredibly honored to put my shoulder to the wheel in this project to end administrative disenfranchisement, and help ensure that all voters have the freedom and opportunity to claim an equal stake in shaping the future of their communities.

Chris Shenton /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Casey (she/her/hers) will mount the first nationwide affirmative effort to mitigate the criminal and immigration consequences of attempting to cast a ballot.

After recent elections, many states, including North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, have prosecuted dozens of people for allegedly casting ballots while ineligible to do so. As a result, many people, especially people of color, face extreme consequences like incarceration and deportation for casting ballots while not knowing they were disenfranchised. For example, current ACLU clients Ms. Crystal Mason and Mr. Hervis Rogers face multi-year prison sentences for allegedly trying to vote when Texas considered them ineligible under its felon disenfranchisement laws. This growing wave of unjust voter prosecution creates fear and suppresses voter turnout among minority communities.

Fellowship Plans

Casey will contribute to the defense of individuals wrongfully prosecuted for voting. She will build capacity among defense and immigration lawyers to represent people charged with voting unlawfully. Casey will also file impact litigation to challenge statutes that impose harsh penalties upon people who try to vote not realizing they are ineligible to do so.

Prosecuting people of color for voting is a tool of racist voter suppression dating back to Jim Crow, and it has resurged recently, as politicians seek to support unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. Having worked with clients affected by this unjust practice, I am driven to ensure that no one is prosecuted, incarcerated, or deported for trying to participate in politics.

Casey Smith /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kevin (he/him/his) advocates on behalf of incarcerated people in Kentucky and communities affected by prison gerrymandering to stop the use of the criminal justice system as a means of disenfranchising voters.

The criminal justice system is often used as a tool to disenfranchise voters. Incarceration-based disenfranchisement occurs in many forms, including impeding people in pre-trial detention from voting and shifting political power away from communities through prison gerrymandering. There are an estimated 21,000 pre-trial detainees in Kentucky, each of whom has the constitutional right to vote, but many are nevertheless unable to vote due to poor jail administration. Moreover, the Kentucky legislature has continually used prisons to egregiously gerrymander the state.

These forms of political disempowerment are under scrutinized but must be addressed. Kentuckians need a comprehensive program that will integrate direct services, policy advocacy, and litigation to make jailhouse voting more accessible and end prison gerrymandering.

Kevin is motivated by his many family reunions in Kentucky, his childhood in the South, and the overwhelming need to expand the right to vote at this critical, historical moment.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Kevin will work directly with incarcerated people in pre-trial detention to register incarcerated voters and help them vote absentee. He will engage in advocacy to improve jail practices, advance prison gerrymandering policy, and publish policy reports. Finally, he will commence litigation to end prison gerrymandering in Kentucky and ensure jails comply with their constitutional duties.

The right to vote is sacred, and nobody should be disenfranchised because of their wealth or zip code.

Kevin Muench /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ronak (he/him/his) will work to ensure that Asian American communities have equal access to and participation in local elections in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Texas.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial categorization in the United States. Yet too often in the political discourse, Asian Americans are ignored. Deeply engrained anti-Asian racism persists and has intensified in recent years, reflecting a long history of racial exclusion. Asian Americans remain underrepresented in local governments and school boards — composing 7.2% of the population, yet only hold 2.4% of city-level elected offices. This discrepancy is partially due to dilutive at-large elections and gerrymandered districts. These local governments directly affect peoples daily lives, controlling Asian American communities’ access to economic opportunities, quality education, and healthcare.

As the decennial redistricting cycle continues, Asian Americans have an incredible opportunity to reform local politics to enable their equal participation in local elections. Helping these communities exercise their political power can create lasting, intergenerational change.

Fellowship Plans

Ronak will work with local community partners to educate, advocate, and litigate around local redistricting issues, aiming to ensure Asian American communities retain long-term access to local government. Throughout the Fellowship, he will focus on developing sustainable community capacity to fight for better redistricting outcomes and on litigating for communities who are continually ignored and shut out of their local government. This joint advocacy and litigation strategy seeks to empower communities to fight for and preserve their access to local democracy for years to come.

Equal access to our democracy is a fundamental component of racial justice. Especially at the local level, where the impact on peoples’ lives is most direct, we must ensure all communities can access transparent, responsive, and representative government.

Ronak Patel /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Johari (he/him/his) works with formerly and currently incarcerated New Yorkers to increase voter participation and civic engagement by enforcing the new parole enfranchisement law and advocating for universal suffrage through legislative advocacy.

There are approximately 35,000 people under parole supervision in New York State. The parole system mirrors the system of mass incarceration that feeds it, disproportionately impacting people of color. Even though people of color only make up 38% of New York’s population, they make up over 50% of those in the state prison system. Part of addressing the cruelty and inequities of mass incarceration requires ensuring that those with direct criminal legal system contact are able to engage civically and build power within their communities. This starts with the fundamental right to vote, which preserves all other rights, and is the most basic building block to systemic change. Yet there is a lack of knowledge that people in New York can now vote while on parole, and barriers to voting exist for systems-impacted people.

Fellowship Plans

Johari will spend his Fellowship working with people on parole to register them to vote and organize in their communities via town halls and public meetings. In addition, Johari will collect data on the implementation of S.830B, a law that requires corrections facilities to provide information and opportunity to register to vote for those entering community supervision. That data will be used to create training materials on best implementation practices for corrections officers as well as judges, defense attorneys, and district attorneys, and to support compliance litigation. Johari will also assist in drafting a bill to grant currently incarcerated New Yorkers the right to vote and provide them with the means to do so.

Mass incarceration has been a tool of inflicting civic death on those who are ensnared in its clutches, and, in particular, it has silenced people who look like me. The return of the right to vote, which is at the core of civic engagement, is necessary to shift from a paradigm of punishment to one of equity.

Johari Frasier /
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

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

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