Uruj Sheikh ’22 and KB White ’22 are recipients of a 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellowship, one of the most prestigious and competitive post-graduate fellowships in the country.
In May of 2022, Equal Justice Works (EJW), the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, announced its 2022 class of Fellows. Each year, EJW selects a class of passionate public service leaders who have designed two-year projects in partnership with legal services organizations to help build sustainable solutions in the communities where they serve. These projects are funded by the generous support of law firms, corporations, foundations, and individuals. This year, 84 new public interest lawyers were selected from over 385 applications, with two being from CUNY Law.
“We are honored to welcome Uruj and KB to the Equal Justice Works community and look forward to seeing how their Fellowships will help create ripples of hope in the communities where they live and serve,” said Jessica Ryckman, Equal Justice Works Director of Fellowships. “Many thanks to CUNY Law for nurturing and supporting their passion and commitment to public service.”
Uruj Sheikh ’22
Hosted by: NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
Sponsored by: Latham & Watkins, LLP
Service Location: New York, NY
Uruj is a 2022-2024 Equal Justice Fellow at NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., sponsored by Latham & Watkins, LLP.
At LDF, Uruj will 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; 49 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, to 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.
Uruj’s project will support 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 elections this fall, 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 includes (1) using strategic targeted litigation to enforce voting rights protections under federal and state constitutional and statutory protections; (2) rapid response advocacy at polling stations by monitoring for suppression and identifying organizing and legal interventions; and (3) advocating for expansive legislation and against restrictive voting bills in partnership with grassroots coalitions.
As an Equal Justice Works Fellow, Uruj will work with her host organization the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., to use model litigation and advocacy to challenge the coordinated assault on the right to vote by discriminatory voting laws in the Deep South. Her Equal Justice Works Fellowship is sponsored by Latham & Watkins LLP.
KB White ’22
Hosted by: Legal Action Center
Sponsored By: The Leonard & Robert Weintraub Family Foundation
Service Location: New York, NY
Despite the growing population of people barred from quality employment due to their criminal record, there has not been a proportionate increase in legal representation to assist people with conviction histories to overcome barriers to occupational licensure.
New York law provides some protections to people with criminal records facing potential licensure denials, including the requirement that licensing agencies evaluate mitigating factors such as a person’s age at the time of their offense. In practice, however, the statutory process means that people undergo onerous and lengthy investigations without the aid of counsel.
Yet, their employment prospects often turn on proving their “good moral character” through “evidence of rehabilitation,” personal interviews, and testimony in formal hearings. For decades, many of the 2.3 million New Yorkers living with a criminal history have been routinely denied licensure, discouraged from the application process, or had their licenses revoked due to their criminal records—this is the case even after people have paid hefty fees, taken required educational courses, and committed themselves fully to the vision of their future career.
Hosted by the Legal Action Center, KB’s will focus on increasing access to occupational licenses for low-income New Yorkers with arrest and conviction records through direct representation, community outreach, and policy advocacy. KB’s Equal Justice Works Fellowship is sponsored by The Leonard & Robert Weintraub Family Foundation.