Georgetown University Law Center, the American Constitution Society and the Campaign Legal Center are establishing a Voting Rights Institute to train both students and attorneys at GULC Oct. 2.
The institute was established in response to the outcome of the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby Counter v. Holder, in which a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was voted unconstitutional. The decision has restricted the ability of the government to prevent discriminatory voting practices across the country.
However, although this capacity of the Voting Rights Act has been nullified, section 2 of the Act, which provides recourse for litigation to combat cases of discrimination in voting practices, has remained unaffected.
The launch event will take place at the National Press Club, attended by Georgetown Law Dean William Treanor, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson and CLC Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert.
Treanor emphasized the VRI as a way to take advantage of this opportunity to combat potential abuse of the Supreme Court decision by conducting voting rights trainings for law students and attorneys.
“There has never been a Voting Rights Institute like the one we’re creating at Georgetown Law,” Treanor said in a GULC press release. “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. 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.”
The VRI will establish a center of operations for voting rights trainings that the ACS and the CLC have been conducting across the nation for over a year. It will also offer voting rights information to the public, provide attorneys with a resource database and match those seeking legal assistance with attorneys.
VRI faculty will include partners from law firms Jenner & Block and Brazil & Dunn as well as members of the Southern Collation for Social Justice and Open Society Foundations.
The institute received financial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Wallace Global Fund.
GULC Vice Dean Jane Aiken highlighted the social benefits of more lawyers gaining expertise in voting rights through the institute.
“[The VRI will] train people in new approaches to voting rights law, and to provide them with a sophisticated understanding of how to bring claims,” Aiken said. “[The VRI will] arm students and lawyers with litigation skills that are transferable to a variety of situations, through cooperation with voting rights experts and access to extensive resources.”
The ACS is a legal organization that provides forums for legal, public policy and media figures to debate progressive public policy.
According to Fredrickson, VRI will be combine the passion of lawyers and students with the expertise of leading figures in the field of voting rights.
“[The VRI will] institutionalize and expand, get more lawyers out in to the field, and equip them to handle cases in the best possible way,” Fredrickson said.
The CLC is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates strong enforcement of U.S. campaign finance laws.
Hebert emphasized the VRI as an effective response to the challenges produced by the outcome of the Shelby County case.
“Such a burden, with its attendant costs and need for expertise, is overwhelming and has opened the door to unchecked and rampant discrimination,” Hebert said in a CLC press release. “The only solution, short of reversing this decision, is to arm lawyers and citizens with the tools to challenge discriminatory practices and to support them through the inevitable litigation that follows.”
Herbert also underscored GULC’s nonpartisan reputation and expertise as an important characteristic of the VRI.
“We wanted to establish a Voting Rights Institute devoted to one of the most important issues of our time, voting rights for all Americans,” Hebert said. “Georgetown University Law Center was the perfect location for the Institute, because it possesses a well-deserved reputation for academic excellence and is a place where we can focus nonpartisan analysis and constructive engagement on the right to vote, while training the next generation of lawyers and leaders.”
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