Chris Shenton

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

Asiyahola (he/him/his) will combat transportation enforcement practices that harm Black, Brown, and low-income people, by providing legal support and advocacy for alternatives to keep all Los Angeles County communities safe and mobile.

Travel on our transportation systems—roads, bridges, sidewalks, and public transit—is the most policed activity of everyday life. Each day, Black, Brown, and unhoused residents of Los Angeles County must decide between risking fines, fees, and traumatizing police encounters to reach their destination or avoiding their trip and facing the consequences. Further, adjudication of transportation-related penalties often occurs outside formal criminal court, without counsel, in privatized citation processes or kangaroo courts where the citing agency is prosecutor, judge, and jury. Yet the penalties are severe: spiraling debt, lost licenses, lost vehicles. There is currently great need for legal support for people facing this system and great opportunity to work with communities leading the charge to change it.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Asiyahola will provide direct representation and legal services, including Know Your Rights trainings, to individuals facing transportation-related fines and fees. He will partner with directly impacted individuals, community coalitions, and labor unions to expand and institutionalize community-centered safety supports on transportation systems. He will also develop a policy report on reinvesting savings gained from discontinuing discriminatory transportation enforcement into alternative transit safety resources.

Ending punitive police practices makes financial sense, says ‘we hear you’ to the families of people killed by police, and allows us to truly reimagine safety on transportation systems by creating millions in savings to invest in alternatives.

Asiyahola Sankara /
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

Two New Grads Named Equal Justice Works Fellows

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

Audrey is advocating for gender-based violence survivors by expanding the Sanctuary for Families EMPOWER Center, making it the first Medical-Legal Partnership in New York City to provide family law representation to survivors of sex and labor trafficking.

Estimates for the population of human trafficking survivors in New York City are in the thousands, yet only 338 cases were reported and confirmed in 2020. One of the biggest reasons for this disparity is that survivors fear that, by coming forward, they may risk violent retaliation from their abusers and losing custody of their children. New York’s child welfare system disproportionately separates Black, immigrant, and low-income families, and often penalizes survivors who find themselves particularly vulnerable to ongoing abuse. Being able to access an interdisciplinary team of anti-trafficking attorneys, social workers, and medical providers who can address essential family law issues is critical in supporting trafficking survivors.

When survivors don’t have access to advocates to help them protect themselves and their children, it sends a clear message: their experiences are not important enough for representation. Survivors deserve safety, to remain together as a family, and holistic support to achieve their goals.

Audrey’s social work background in advocating for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking has motivated her to continue combating gender-based violence through direct legal services.

Fellowship Plans

As a Fellow, Audrey will combat gender-based violence by providing representation through direct services, training to expand the network of legal support available, and policy advocacy to address institutional discrimination against BIPOC survivors in the removal and termination of parental rights processes. This project will also include family reunification for formerly incarcerated survivors and resources for collateral civil legal services related to surviving abuse.

I believe that every survivor deserves to be safe, free of abuse, and empowered to make decisions for themselves and their families. Our legal system can and must do more to pursue true gender, racial, and economic equity for survivors by uplifting and listening to their needs.

Audrey J. Hertzberg /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mason works to stop Black land loss and create generational wealth in the Mississippi Delta by resolving heirs’ property, educating communities, and connecting landowners with funding opportunities.

Black families have lost an estimated 15 million acres of agricultural land over the last century. This land is often lost to speculators who use the courts to force the sale of the property using a fractionated form of ownership called heirs’ property. Heirs’ property occurs when land is passed through generations without a proper will. The absence of a will clouds title, limiting what can be done on the property and blocking access to private and government funds. Even when the land is not lost, it is still underdeveloped and experiences substantial economic waste. Based on conservative estimates, at least 60% of Black agricultural land is still owned as heirs’ property, which contributes substantially to the racial wealth gap.

The rich farmland in Arkansas’s Mississippi Delta has been a prime target for Black land loss leaving the area’s Black population to bear the brunt of the region’s high poverty rates. New legislation—the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act—created a path to clear title and help families build generational wealth using their land. However, this solution requires lawyers and other professionals. The region’s poverty has left it with a severe lawyer shortage, keeping the legal aid out of reach for those who need it most.

Fellowship Plans

Mason’s Fellowship will provide direct legal services to heirs’ property clients in the Mississippi Delta. He will help clear title on land and write wills for underrepresented communities to stop additional heirs’ property from being created. Mason will focus on community education and help families access federal and private funds and monetize their property. Additionally, he will seek funding to establish a permanent heirs’ property program in Arkansas to bring additional lawyers to the Mississippi Delta to help revitalize the area.

Media

Law Student Selected for 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellowship

Growing up poor on a small farm in rural Utah taught me the value of land from a young age. With that lesson in mind, I came to law school to become an effective advocate for racial and economic justice in my wife’s home state of Arkansas.

Mason Gates /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Hetali (she/her/hers) will pilot a two-pronged approach to improving special education service delivery in North Carolina schools, combining direct representation of students and families with community-based lawyering strategies.

In North Carolina, close to 80% of students with disabilities are not performing at grade level in math or reading. The achievement gap for students of color with disabilities is twice that of their non-special education peers. These students also face the most significant barriers to accessing appropriate educational services during the pandemic and are at the greatest risk of continuing to fall –or be pushed– through the cracks. While a robust network of legal and advocacy organizations focused on K-12 students exists in North Carolina, most special education legal advocacy focuses on individual cases. Often, the remedies won send students right back into the schools and systems that failed them initially.

Fellowship Plans

Hetali will represent individual students and families in Wake, Durham, and Robeson Counties in matters related to special education testing, identification, and service delivery. She will also engage with community-based organizations in these three counties to support them in identifying, articulating, and executing goals related to serving special education students, using tools like listening sessions, community workshops, and collaborative problem-solving frameworks. By developing expertise regarding the special education landscape in just these counties, she will be able to better serve both individual and organizational clients in achieving their goals.

All children deserve schools where they feel safe, welcome, and able to develop and go after their dreams. I am honored to serve North Carolina students, families, and community organizations as we build power in pursuit of what our state constitution promises: a sound basic education for all.

Hetali Lodaya /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Through legal representation, impact litigation, and community advocacy, Travis (he/him/his) will work on behalf of Texas kids ensnared in the school-to-prison pipeline to ensure every child has a meaningful opportunity to thrive in school. 

Every year in Texas, over 16,000 kids are referred from the classroom to a police officer. Tens of thousands more are suspended, expelled, or pushed into alternative disciplinary schools. Growing up in the Texas public school system, Travis has seen firsthand the life-altering impact these punitive discipline policies can have on kids. The result is generations of disproportionately Black and Brown kids who are deprived a chance to succeed because for every instance of exclusionary discipline, a student becomes less likely to graduate and more likely to become incarcerated. Today, Texas’ school-to-prison pipeline operates in violation of both state and federal law, but no dedicated affirmative litigation effort currently exists to address the needs of kids, their families, or their community. 

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Travis will work together with those most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline through legal representation, litigation, and community advocacy. Impact litigation will generate an important accountability mechanism to make systemic change and force schools to reinvest in students’ education. Additionally, “Know Your Rights” trainings, self-help legal materials, and collaborations with community organizations will help empower those directly harmed by school discipline to reclaim children’s educations. 

Media

Houston Community Demands Changes to HISD Code of Conduct

Fighting To End School Policing

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

As a Texan and former teacher, I believe schools should treat students with patience and compassion, not handcuffs and pepper spray.

Travis Fife /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Sam (he/him/his) will increase access to traditional transactional legal services for low-income, BIPOC, and women entrepreneurs and help them navigate the legal barriers to raising capital through accessible securities offerings.

Despite accounting for more than 50% of New York City’s population, Black and Latinx individuals own less than 10% of New York City businesses. Black or Latinx individuals that are able to start a business are pushed toward lower-financed ventures with lower survival rates. In fact, these entrepreneurs are three times more likely to have growth and profitability negatively impacted by a lack of capital than white entrepreneurs. However, the specialized nature of securities law means that for most under-resourced businesses, finding and/or paying the cost of legal counsel is a barrier to access.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Sam will help under-resourced businesses grow, create jobs, and build community wealth. He will do this by counseling clients on avenues to raise funds through accessible, exempt securities offerings. He will prepare all necessary legal documents and undertake any necessary compliance filings. Sam will work with Start Small’s in-house finance and marketing teams to effectively design, structure, and market the offerings. He will create an education program to inform entrepreneurs and the public about local securities offerings.

Media

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

I want the businesses in the community to reflect the people of the community, while at the same time making sure that entrepreneurs can pay themselves a reasonable salary, hire the help they need, and build for the future.

Sam Karlin /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rio is creating a holistic clinic for low-income Bay Area residents burdened by court, traffic, and bail bonds debt and advocating to end undue criminal and civil monetary sanctions to challenge the criminalization of poverty.

Rio’s project targets the criminalization of poverty. It does so primarily by working with low-income people struggling with court, traffic, and bail bonds debt and helping them get their debt discharged through defensive and affirmative litigation. The project also aims to reduce the number of fines and fees imposed on defendants and challenge the debt-collection practices that people with criminal legal debt face.

Rio was born and raised in the Bay Area and treasures the region for its eccentric and idealistic spirit. The Bay Area, however, strains under the weight of severe inequality. For years, Rio has worked as a community organizer to build power to advance equity in the region. That work, which included tenant organizing and advocacy for incarcerated people, will inform Rio’s work challenging the criminalization of poverty through this project.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the two year fellowship period, Rio has:

  • Eliminated over $60,000 of bail bonds debt and secured over $10,000 of refunds through pro bono partnership
  • Assisted in securing a preliminary injunction in a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit using consumer protection law against one of California’s worst bail bonds companies
  • Helped lead the campaign for AB 1238, the Freedom to Walk Act, a California state bill that would decriminalize jaywalking

Next Steps

In the next year, Rio plans to:

  • Help clients file small claims court actions to address consumer protection violations by bail bonds companies
  • Represent clients with immigration bonds and assist them in eliminating their outstanding debt
  • Continue co-counseling in an ongoing class-action lawsuit against a major California bail bonds company

Media

California Supreme Court ends bail company’s bid to continue violating consumer protection laws, halting debt collection

Alleging unfair business practices, these East Bay residents are suing the bail bond industry

After Landmark Legislation, California Considers Eliminating Even More Criminal Justice Fees

California lawmaker wants to decriminalize jaywalking

Bay Area Lawmaker Seeks To Decriminalize Jaywalking, Says Citations Disproportionately Issued To People Of Color

Op-Ed: The traffic ticket from hell

The Project

Julia enforced the ADA rights of welfare recipients with disabilities through direct services, administrative advocacy, and the creation of accessible training programs.

What’s Next?

Julia is the executive director of the John Paul Stevens Fellowship Foundation, investing in summer public interest fellowships for law students who want to build careers in civil rights, legal aid, and public defense. Previously Julia served as CEO of OneJustice, where she led the organization’s work to bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need through a statewide network of law firms, law schools, corporate legal departments, and 100+ nonprofit legal organizations.

Media

Broadening Access to Justice in Rural California

Civil Justice: The Promise of America

I wake up every single day of my life and I'm so thankful for the work that I have done and that I get to do. I'm so grateful for that initial investment in my career.

Julia R. Wilson /
Equal Justice Works Fellow