Georgetown Law, American Constitution Society and Campaign Legal Center Establish Voting Rights Institute

October 2, 2015 — Georgetown Law, the American Constitution Society and the Campaign Legal Center have established a Voting Rights Institute.

The Institute was formally announced at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 2. 

"The motto at Georgetown Law is, 'Law is but the means, justice is the end,'" Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor said at the launch event. "That's a commitment in our core, and nowhere is the need for justice greater than when it comes to protecting and preserving our most important right, the right to vote."

Treanor has noted that there has never been a Voting Rights Institute like the one being created at Georgetown Law. “In a time of intense concern for and scrutiny of voting rights, the Institute will develop innovative legal and policy solutions that protect the right to vote, while training the next generation of lawyers and leaders," he has said. "Our goal is to make the Voting Rights Institute at Georgetown Law a hub of thoughtful engagement on all voting rights issues in the U.S.” 

Established in response to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which nullified a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Institute offers opportunities for students, recent graduates and fellows to engage in litigation and policy work in the field of voting rights and to educate attorneys about the skills and best practices of voting rights advocates. It recruits and trains expert witnesses to assist in litigation development and presentation; promotes increased local and national focus on voting rights through events, publications and the development of web-based tools; and provides opportunities and platforms for research on voting rights.

At the October 2 launch, American Constitution Society President Caroline Fredrickson referred to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's powerful dissent in Shelby County -- which was especially relevant given the hurricane approaching Washington, D.C., as the event took place. Ginsburg said that throwing out Section Two of the Voting Rights Act is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet. "The Voting Rights Institute may not be giving us the umbrella, but we have the rain boots, the raincoat, the sandbags. ... We are prepared to do everything we can to be sure that what remains [of the Act] be as robustly defended as we can," Fredrickson said.

Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, said the Institute began almost as a dare from his wife, Victoria. "I was trying a case in San Antonio in 2011 and she said, 'You're one of the youngest people trying to enforce voting rights,'" said Hebert, who has been working in this field for decades and has served as chief trial counsel in over 100 voting rights cases. "'You ought to get busy training the next generation of voting right lawyers,' she said. I took her seriously," Hebert added.

Former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis noted that when she thinks about fighting for voting rights, "I think about the people behind those fights. I think about their shoes, and I think about our need to put our feet into them, people whose shoes we need to stand in and whose voting rights we need to protect. "

The first students in the Voting Rights Institute are enrolled in Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation (IPR) and are working on several cases identified by the Campaign Legal Center and the American Constitution Society. The cases include an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in a Voting Rights Act case in Georgia, as well as possible litigation under the National Voting Rights Act against states that fail to provide voter registration applications and materials at public assistance agencies. 

The Institute has also hired a clinical fellow to supervise students in IPR’s Civil Rights division and to manage legal matters within the clinic with a particular focus on voting rights issues. He will also assist in developing training materials, overseeing use of the Voting Rights Institute website, and identifying appropriate voting rights cases for the clinic. 

The initial phase of the Voting Rights Institute was launched in 2014 with a series of training sessions in New York, Columbus, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Miami. In 2015, a training session was held in Chicago. To date, over 400 attendees representing a diverse group of attorneys, law students and voting rights advocates have taken part in these activities. Georgetown Law will provide a venue for training institutes, including one already held on Friday, September 25.  


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