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Headshot of Mehwish Shaukat

Mehwish Shaukat

  • Hosted by Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center
  • Sponsored by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform, Prisoners' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2022
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Mehwish will fight to protect the religious liberties of Muslims in prison through national appellate impact litigation and strategic coalition building. 

The United States incarcerates thousands of people of faith and routinely violates their fundamental right to worship. Most people who face such violations have no attorneys. Previous estimates have found that around 95% of people in prison represent themselves. When they file pro se, and often lose, they have no appellate representation. 

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in prison. Too often, prisons inflict violence and torture on Muslims who seek to peacefully practice their faith. With virtually no access to quality appellate representation to fight losses in the district court, the violations have multiplied in duration and degree. Muslims have been subjected to torture by prolonged stints in solitary confinement, violent forcible shavings, traumatic forcible removal of hijab, and more. There are almost no appellate experts who specialize in prisoners’ rights and also fully understand Muslim religious practices. 

Fellowship Plans

Mehwish will craft a national litigation strategy and lead the charge to file appeals for religious liberty violations in federal appellate courts across the nation. She will directly represent clients appealing Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and First Amendment violations. In addition to her impact litigation, Mehwish will leverage her deep personal ties to impacted persons and communities to center and amplify her clients’ often ignored voices in the community and in the courtroom. Her project is a groundbreaking effort to assemble a national coalition of appellate experts, impacted persons, and legal scholars to end torture and violence against Muslims in prison. Mehwish’s advocacy and appellate victories will strengthen the religious liberties of all people in prison. 

My purpose is to force the criminal justice system to reckon with the broken promises of our constitution that all people—no matter how vilified—are equal before the law.

Mehwish Shaukat /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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