Even without a historic pandemic unfolding around the world, the 2020 U.S. election was bound to be noteworthy. Issues around voting rights have been simmering at the local and national levels for years, and many attorneys are eager to sharpen their skills and expand their knowledge in order to help advocate for voters.
Ezra Rosenberg, Voting Rights Project Co-Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Chair of PLI’s Voter Rights 2020 CLE program, available on-demand, commented about key issues and what attorneys can take away from the program.
Why offer a CLE about voting rights?
There are few, if any, legal topics that have so dominated the news as has voting rights in 2020. This is not only a consequence of this being a presidential election year, but the result of the perfect storm of that election and the pandemic.
On the one hand, the pandemic has created voting issues that have not been encountered before, such as how can we hold an election when people are rightly fearful of being in contact with others? On the other hand, these issues call us to draw upon the established fundamentals of voting rights law — of how we do that on a level playing field so that all eligible voters can be sure that their ballots will be counted. That’s why the voting rights program is particularly meaningful this year: it provides a needed perspective on the constitutional underpinning of voting rights law, along with a real-time, practical application of those laws, by some of the leading voting rights litigators in the country.
What can attorneys get out of PLI’s Voter Rights 2020 program?
We structured the program to provide, first, the constitutional and statutory foundation for modern voting rights litigation; and then, a soup-to-nuts demonstration of how that foundation interacts with every aspect of voting, from voter registration to voter purges to barriers to voting (in every aspect of voting, from absentee through voting in person), to how one’s vote is given weight in apportionment and redistricting decisions.
What are some of the key issues discussed in the program and why are they important?
The first thing we tried to do was to demonstrate the different ways in which the Constitution protects the right to vote. It does this either by way of specific amendment, such as the Fifteenth Amendment, or by way of application of judicial construction of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which create different doctrines such as the right-to-vote test that balances burdens on voters with the interests of states, and the one-person/one-vote doctrine that insures that all persons’ votes are given equal weight in the drawing of legislative districts, and which led to the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibits discrimination on account of a person’s race or ethnicity so as to deny or limit that person’s opportunity to participate equally in the political process.
We then spent two-thirds of the program giving real-life examples, many of them litigated by the panelists in areas including: voter ID, using the Texas Photo ID case that Myrna Pérez and I tried as a prime example; voter purge cases, such as the Hancock County case, where we succeeded in obtaining a consent decree that stopped a purge of Black voters in a small Georgia County; and the various COVID-19-related cases, where we and others, including panelist Sophia Lin Lakin, have sued jurisdictions to ensure that absentee ballot eligibility criteria and procedures do not unconstitutionally stop people from voting this year.
Why did you speak for PLI?
I’ve been practicing law for over 45 years, and I take real pleasure in sharing my knowledge and experience with others. I’ve been lucky, in my career, to always have had others who have done that for me — including in the past decade, when I began to work intensively in the voting rights arena. PLI provides a stellar vehicle for sharing knowledge.
Can you share some insights about what you think attorneys can do to protect voting rights, particularly when there are so many unusual challenges facing the electorate this season?
Attorneys should reach out to any of the many voting rights organizations and volunteer their services. And these services can include volunteering to work on hotlines, such as the Election Protection hotline 866-OURVOTE, which the Lawyers’ Committee helps coordinate.
To learn more and to register for the PLI CLE program Voter Rights 2020, available on-demand, visit PLI.edu.
Practising Law Institute is a nonprofit learning organization dedicated to keeping attorneys and other professionals at the forefront of knowledge and expertise. PLI is chartered by the Regents of the University of the State of New York and was founded in 1933 by Harold P. Seligson. The organization provides the highest quality, accredited, continuing legal and professional education programs in a variety of formats which are delivered by more than 4,000 volunteer faculty including prominent lawyers, judges, investment bankers, accountants, corporate counsel, and U.S. and international government regulators. PLI publishes a comprehensive library of Treatises, Course Handbooks, Answer Books and Journals also available through the PLI PLUS online platform. The essence of PLI’s mission is its commitment to the pro bono community. View PLI’s upcoming live webcasts here.