Penn Law creates fellowship to battle voter suppression

There's a battle over the ballot box. Some say it’s too easy to vote, while some say that’s the whole point; it should be easy.

One law school, The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is doing something about what many perceive is a backlash against voters’ rights. The Philadelphia school is launching a new fellowship to counter it.

Named after benefactors Steve and Sandy Cozen, the fellowship will provide two years of funding for a graduate working to advance and protect voting rights. 

The school noted the importance of such a fellowship in these times: “The timing of this fellowship is important as there is a growing need for advocacy to increase voter participation, access, and protection at the federal and state legislative levels, particularly as some states attempt to subvert voter protection mechanisms and Congress attempts to pass new and expansive federal voting legislation.”

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of late March, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states.

“Establishing this fellowship provides an important opportunity for our graduates to use their degrees to work in the critical areas of voter participation, access, and protection – in which there is currently much effort to restrict,” said Dean Ted Ruger.“The generosity and vision of the Cozens to help meet this moment ensures the law school’s continued commitment to access to justice for all, including protecting the ability and right to vote.” 

Projects funded through the fellowship will include legislative or legal reform aimed at addressing crucial voting rights issues, such as voter and felon disenfranchisement, barriers to voter registration and restrictions on absentee or mail-in voting, the school said. Projects will also include a direct service component where fellows will work directly with individuals or groups who are systematically disenfranchised to better understand the hidden barriers to voter participation and gather and analyze data to inform advocacy and drive real change.

“Sandy and I strongly believe that our democracy and its institutions and norms, including the rule of law, are being challenged as never before by legislative attempts to restrict or deny the right to vote,” said Steve Cozen L’64, who is a member of the law school’s board of advisors and has previously served as an adjunct professor at the law school. “That basic right, we believe, is the cornerstone of our democracy and we will do anything we can to help preserve that right in a fully unencumbered fashion.”

The fellowship will be open to applicants every other year beginning this summer. Third year Penn Law students and alumni who have graduated within the last seven years who can demonstrate that they have the commitment and skills to engage in this work are eligible to apply. 

Cozen is the co-founder and chairman of Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia-based law firm that began in 1970 with just four attorneys and now operates with more than 775 attorneys across 30 offices throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. His firm established the Stephen A. Cozen Professorship of Law at the law school in 2004.