Samantha Osaki

  • Hosted by American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project
  • Sponsored by Lavan-Harris Charitable Fund
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school New York University School of Law
  • Issue area Voting Rights/Electoral Participation
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Samantha advocated for the representational rights of individuals who are currently or were formerly incarcerated. Alongside the ACLU Voting Rights Project, local organizations, and national civil rights coalitions, Samantha submitted amicus briefs, met with representatives, created advocacy materials, and served as a cross-affiliate resource on ending prison gerrymandering and the unfair criminalization of voting.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 2.3 million people—the aggregate population of 15 states—confined. The vast majority of these individuals are people of color from low socioeconomic backgrounds who are stripped of their voting rights, sometimes permanently. In most states, through a process called “prison gerrymandering,” these individuals are counted as “residents” of the heavily white, rural areas where corrections facilities tend to be located. By misallocating prison populations in this way, redistricting bodies across the nation unfairly inflate the political power of districts housing prisons while diluting the representational strength of places that people who are incarcerated call home. Notably, because redistricting happens only once per decade, individuals who are incarcerated are counted as “residents” of their prison cells long after they complete their sentences. The injustice of this misallocation of voting strength along racial lines has led some legal scholars to dub prison gerrymandering the modern-day Three-Fifths Compromise.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Samantha:

  • Met with staff of U.S. Congressmembers on ending prison-based gerrymandering and advocated before the New Mexico Citizen Redistricting Committee
  • Gave virtual “town hall” presentations and spoke on panels on prison gerrymandering while creating replicable prison gerrymandering resources for ACLU affiliates across the nation
  • Became an integrated member of ACLU VRP litigation teams working to (1) defend individuals from unfair criminal prosecution (Crystal Mason v. Texas, State of Ohio v. Urbanek); (2) combat racial gerrymandering (Robinson v. Ardoin, Nairne v. Ardoin, South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP South Carolina, White v. State Board of Election Commissioners); (3) challenge the legality of vote- suppressive laws (OCA-Greater Houston v. Texas, Weddle v. Evers); (4) protect the ballot (Hotze v. Hollins, Trump Campaign v. Boockvar); and (5) challenge the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count (Trump v. New York)

Next Steps

Following this fellowship, Samantha will clerk for Hon. Harry T. Edwards on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. She looks forward to continuing the fight for civil rights and social justice.


The Governor of Louisiana Must Veto the Proposed Redistricting Maps

Dismantling Prison Gerrymandering & Removing Barriers to Fair Representation

Amicus Brief - Adkins V. Virginia Redistricting Commission

New Census Bureau Data Offers a Chance to Dismantle Prison Gerrymandering

Redistricting: Advocates want prisoners counted where they’re from, not incarcerated

Five NYU Law graduates named 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Prison gerrymandering dilutes the voting power of communities of color, entrenches systemic inequality, and weakens our democracy. The time to end that practice is now.

Sam Tañafranca Osaki /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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