Law student makes an impact through the Voting Rights Initiative

U-M Law School

Third-year law student Kaylie Springer is the student project director for Michigan Law’s Voting Rights Initiative, a student-faculty research collaborative assessing the impact of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act since the 1982 congressional amendment. Ellen Katz, the Ralph W. Aigler Professor of Law, created the Voting Rights Initiative to provide data about the past and present status of minority participation in the political process. The findings have served to inform courts, Congress, and public debate.

Can you provide background information on the Voting Rights Act?

Springer: In 2006, the Michigan Journal of Law Reform published “Documenting Discrimination in Voting: Judicial Findings Under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act since 1982” (39 U. Mich. J. L. Reform 643). This project covered Section 2 claims brought between June 29, 1982, and December 31, 2005. In total, the project categorized 331 lawsuits and 763 individual cases.

Since that publication, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) underwent many substantive changes, including Congress’s vote to extend the expiring portions of the VRA in 2006, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (2006) and Bartlett v. Strickland (2009), which changed the way SCOTUS reviewed redistricting cases, and Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which struck down section 4(b) of the VRA. The effective elimination of Section 5 of the VRA through the Shelby County decision increased the amount of discriminatory claims brought under Section 2 of the VRA, i.e., Voter ID Laws.

Describe the purpose of the Voting Rights Initiative and the work you do.

Springer: The current purpose of this project is threefold:

To compile a complete list of Section 2 VRA claims;

To create an online database of all Section 2 VRA claims from January 1, 2006, to the present. The database will include searchable/filterable fields describing basic information about case history, outcomes, and the various factors courts used to evaluate Section 2 claims; and

To offer a resource for future litigants bringing Section 2 claims, especially in preparation for the 2020 census.

Why did you join the Voting Rights Initiative?

Springer: I took the Voting Rights course taught by Professor Katz as a 2L, and became deeply interested in the topic. Beyond that, anyone who has taken a class with Professor Katz knows she’s an expert in the field, and I was excited at the prospect of working alongside her. I started as a researcher before eventually taking over as the student project director of the Voting Rights Initiative during the fall semester of my 3L year. Getting involved in such a large research project has been extremely exciting. Though the work is challenging at times, I believe in the project’s purpose. As we get closer to completion, I’m looking forward to our work being utilized by litigants across the country.

Has working on the Voting Rights Initiative influenced your post-graduate plans? If so, how?

Springer: My immediate plans upon graduation involve working at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in New York. As a summer associate at Gibson Dunn after my 2L year, I learned that the firm has been involved in pro bono voting rights and election law cases. I’m excited to get involved with these cases upon joining the firm. I even heard one story about a second-year associate who, through his pro bono work on a voting rights case, got to assist when the case eventually went to trial in federal court. I’m excited to put the knowledge I’ve gained to use both at Gibson Dunn and in future endeavors.

How can interested students get involved?

Springer: Email law-votingrightsinitiative@umich.edu for more information.