Voting Rights Policy and Practice
The goal of this course is to provide students with an opportunity to learn, from start to finish, how to bring voting rights lawsuits in state and federal court. Students will participate in weekly seminar classes in which we will generally spend one hour devoted to teaching the history and doctrine of voting rights law and the second hour focused on the methodological and investigative methods for voting right suits. Students will then meet weekly with UCLA VRP staff in their assigned teams to continue develop their jurisdictions and assist with work product and research.
Throughout the semester, students will investigate cities, counties, school districts and other political subdivisions within the Western United States that may be candidates for voting rights advocacy and litigation. Students will be divided into 4-6 teams to work with the UCLA Voting Rights Project (UCLA VRP), which will serve as the students’ field placement. These teams will be roughly comprised of at least three law students and three graduate public policy or social science students. These teams will each work together on their selected jurisdiction and each student will learn every aspect of a voting rights suit but will be primarily focused on tasks that match their education and interests.
The faculty and staff at the UCLA VRP will use the students’ work product in prosecuting voting rights cases that have been located, developed and prepared by practicum students. Law students will work on legal research, drafting complaints, discovery, briefing and other projects incident to active litigation. Law students will participate in field investigation when possible, deposition taking and witness preparation as well as occasional court appearance and trial work. The non-law students will prepare district maps, demographic studies, racially polarized voting analyses including drafts of expert reports and discovery disclosures. These students will also assist in preparing expert witness direct testimony and cross-examination.
UCLA VRP is a new voting rights center located within the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. UCLA VRP was founded in August 2018 by Professor Matt Barreto and voting rights attorney Chad Dunn. The UCLA VRP was conceived as a way to fill three equally important needs within the civil rights community: teaching a new cohort of civil rights attorneys and expert witnesses; advancing methodological research in the voting rights field; and advocating for better voting and democracy-centric public policy. UCLA VRP’s project focus is on the underserved Western United States.
This class is cross taught, with students from the law school, public policy school, and schools of public health, geographical studies, and political science. Students will work on interdisciplinary teams in order to mimic the ways in which experts and legal advocates collaborate to bring these cases.
The 2020 presidential election and 2021 redistricting process sets the stage for an exploration into the types of voting rights suits that can be brought, and the challenges raised to ensure that citizens are both franchised and equally counted for the purpose of political power. We anticipate that each law student will either be engaged in active investigation, working on ongoing suits that UCLA VRP is litigating, or working on policy papers that will be sent to suspect jurisdictions ahead of redistricting to put these jurisdictions “on notice” of their potential VRA violations.
It is anticipated that this practicum will be a regular course offering, as a similar course has been offered for the past two years in the Luskin School, and will be a tight partnership between UCLA Law, Luskin, the School of Social Science and UCLA VRP. VRP has already successfully handled three voting rights cases and this year will file the first cases discovered and prepared by students. As UCLA VRP grows, we expect this practicum structure will also grow.