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ACLU of Missouri Fall 2020 Legal Fellowship Sponsorship, Racial Justice Program in New York, New York

For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. With more than one million members, activists, and supporters, the ACLU is a nationwide organization that fights tirelessly in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., for the principle that every individual’s rights must be protected equally under the law, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, national origin, record of arrest or conviction.

The ACLU Racial Justice Program (RJP) invites second- or third-year law students and recent law graduates to apply for a sponsorship opportunity to work with us as a Legal Fellow to advance a campaign to fight the criminalization of poor people of color. We seek to sponsor a candidate to apply for public interest fellowships from funders such as Skadden, Equal Justice Works, and Justice Catalyst to begin in the fall of 2020.


RJP is part of the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality, which works to combat racial discrimination; to ensure that our criminal justice system is effective, fair, and free of racial bias; to advocate for humane and constitutional conditions of confinement; and to abolish the death penalty as a legitimate form of punishment. The Trone Center for Justice and Equality also includes the Criminal Law Reform Project, Capital Punishment Project, and the National Prison Project.

RJP is dedicated to the advancement of a country in which people of color have full access to the benefits of American society and live with dignity, opportunity, and freedom from discrimination. Through litigation, advocacy, grassroots mobilization, and public education, RJP fights to dismantle barriers to equality for people of color in education, housing, the economy, and the criminal legal system. RJP has filed strategic litigation challenging the school-to-prison pipeline, attacks on educational diversity and inclusion programs, discrimination in housing and lending, racial profiling, debtors’ prisons, and the violation of the rights of Native Americans.

RJP seeks to sponsor a Legal Fellow to develop a project that advances our campaign to fight the criminalization of poor people of color through court fines and fees. The Legal Fellow will function as part of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program’s litigation team.

Across the country, poor and low-income people of color are driven deep into cycles of poverty, debt, and criminal legal system-involvement simply because they cannot afford to pay monetary penalties to courts. Since the 1980s, state and local governments have increasingly relied on court fines and fees to raise public revenue and pay for the legal system, creating powerful incentives to impose and collect excessive monetary penalties. As a consequence, throughout the country, poor and low-income people of color who cannot pay fines and fees experience wage garnishment, poor credit ratings, driver’s license suspension, prohibitions on the right to vote, and even incarceration in modern-day debtors’ prisons.

RJP uses litigation in federal and state courts, advocacy with legislatures and court leaders, and public education to challenge policies and practices that criminalize poor people of color who cannot afford to pay monetary penalties, including debtors’ prisons, for-profit probation abuses, and driver’s license suspension. RJP has advanced systemic reforms against such practices in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington. RJP has also secured national standards and guidelines guarding against the disproportionate punishment of poor and low-income people who cannot pay court fines and fees. The Legal Fellow will work with RJP staff to develop new and innovative litigation and advocacy to advance our campaign against court fines and fee practices that criminalize poor and low-income people of color.

The Legal Fellow’s project will focus on one or more of the following areas: 1) policies and practices driving unlawful incarceration for nonpayment of court fines and fees; 2) conflicts of interest resulting from overreliance on court fines and fees for revenue generation; 3) automatic suspension of driver’s licenses when people cannot pay fines and fees; and 4) the imposition of excessive fines and fees, such as fees for public or juvenile defenders, on poor and low-income adults and/or youth of color.

RJP staff will work with the candidate to develop a proposal for submission, helping to tailor the proposal to address strategically the civil rights and civil liberties of people of color. Proposed projects often combine litigation and advocacy with community outreach and public education. The candidate will be responsible for preparing application materials with the support of Racial Justice Program staff and identifying potential sources of funding for the proposed fellowship.

  • Conduct legal research and analysis and develop theories to support new litigation.
  • Conduct factual investigation to identify policies and practices that can be challenged through litigation, including through court observation, jail interviews, and records requests.
  • Work closely with the Racial Justice Program through the funding application process.
  • Draft legal memoranda, pleadings, affidavits, motions, and briefs.
  • Review and analyze documents to support litigation and advocacy.
  • Interview witnesses and potential plaintiffs.
  • Participate in discovery and trial practice.
  • Draft and edit public education and non-litigation advocacy materials.
  • Provide support and assistance to ACLU affiliates and cooperating attorneys.
  • Help manage summer legal internship program and supervise student interns.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to diversity within the office using a personal approach that values all individuals and respects differences in regards to race, ethnicity, age, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, ability and socio-economic circumstance.
  • Commitment to work collaboratively and respectfully toward resolving obstacles and/or conflicts.
  • J.D. degree at hire or by the Spring of 2020 of.
  • Demonstrated commitment to public interest law, civil liberties, and racial justice.
  • Excellent research, writing and verbal communication skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to conduct complex legal analysis and fact-finding.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Proven ability to work collaboratively as part of a team.
  • Self-motivated with the ability to take initiative, manage a variety of tasks and see projects through to completion.
  • Excellent computer skills including knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite.
  • Commitment to the mission and goals of the ACLU.

The ACLU offers a generous and comprehensive compensation and benefits package, commensurate with experience and within parameters of the ACLU compensation scale, to supplement the external funding.


If you would like to be considered for a sponsorship opportunity, please submit: a cover letter, explaining your interest in working with RJP to advance our campaign against the criminalization of poor people of color and any project proposals you may have;

  • a resume
  • legal writing sample
  • names and telephone numbers of three references

Materials should be sent to - reference “2020 Legal Fellowship Sponsorship – Racial Justice Program” in the subject line.

We will review applications on a rolling basis, but priority consideration will be given to those who submit applications by June 30, 2019.

Please indicate in your cover letter where you learned of this opportunity.

The ACLU is committed to providing reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities. If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need assistance applying online, please e-mail If you are selected for an interview, you will receive additional information regarding how to request an accommodation for the interview process.