Racial Justice Clinic

LW.10012 / LW.11764
Professor Claudia Angelos
Professor Jason Williamson (Fall semester)
Professor Dale Ho (Spring semester)
Open to 3L and 2L students; LLMs if space is available
Maximum of 8 students
Fall and Spring semesters
Fall: 6 credits; Spring: 5 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.


The persistence of racial injustice, deeply rooted in the history and structure of the United States, is undeniable in these times. The Racial Justice Clinic commits its students to identifying and implementing strategies for challenging the infrastructures that support this system and to learning first-hand from clients and communities about its impacts. Students work on landmark, cutting edge civil rights litigation with clinic faculty and in close partnership with attorneys from the national office of the ACLU. We examine current challenges to, and creative strategies for, engaging in racial justice advocacy and litigation, and learn case development and advanced lawyering skills through a series of simulations. We look to the work of critical race scholars to help us understand the landscape we occupy and to assess the potential outcomes of our work—whether those outcomes are beneficial or unintentionally counterproductive.

In the fall semester, the clinic will focus on race in the criminal legal system, working primarily on cases challenging the drivers of mass incarceration – policing, bail, public defense, prosecution, sentencing, and parole. Through our parole work, students will directly represent people in local New York State prisons who are serving life sentences and are in the process of seeking release. In the spring, students will not typically represent clients seeking parole, but the scope of the clinic's work broadens to include other important racial justice issues such as voting, immigration, and education.  

Student work on cases in the Racial Justice Clinic is supervised by Professor Dale Ho, Director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, Professor Jason Williamson, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, Professor Claudia Angelos of the full-time NYU faculty, and occasionally by lawyers on the ACLU legal staff. Clinic students work collaboratively with the faculty and each other on a range of litigation tasks, including making intake decisions, handling clients, investigating cases, engaging in planning and strategy efforts, drafting pleadings, motions, and briefs, and preparing depositions and motions arguments. The students also have primary responsibility for their parole clients.

Course Description

Racial Justice Clinic students work in partnership with lawyers and other staff from the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s leading advocate of constitutional and civil rights. The ACLU’s National Office and its state-based affiliates work daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend fundamental rights and liberties, all of which are currently under assault. The ACLU’s racial justice agenda is historical and broad, and includes ongoing impact litigation in state and federal courts, legislative and policy advocacy at the state and federal level, and a wide variety of public education and advocacy campaigns.

Fall Semester: Over-Incarceration

In the fall semester, the clinic’s work will exclusively involve challenging the drivers and addressing the consequences of over-incarceration. As is now widely known, the United States has the disturbing distinction of being the world’s leading jailer. Representing just 5 percent of the world’s population, we hold 25 percent of its inmates--more than 2 million people locked in cages. Over-incarceration has aptly been called “The New Jim Crow,” since racial bias in the criminal legal system, both implicit and explicit, disproportionately keeps people of color in prisons or otherwise enmeshed in the system. Indeed, one in three Black men in this country can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime, compared to one in 17 white males. Native Americans are incarcerated at a rate at least 38% higher than the national rate, including all races. The factors that have driven over-incarceration are many and repairing this broken system will require significant reforms in policing, bail practices, public defense systems, prosecutorial misconduct, sentencing, probation and parole, and reentry.

Clinic students will work directly with individual incarcerated people, as well as participate in broader impact litigation and/or policy reform efforts challenging over-incarceration. Work with the ACLU may include participating in challenges to policing, bail practices, public defense systems, prosecutorial misconduct, sentencing, probation and parole, and barriers to reentry. In addition, in teams of two, all clinic students will take full responsibility for representing incarcerated people in local prisons as they prepare for their parole proceedings. In New York State, irrational parole denials remain a primary driver of over-incarceration. As such, this work will involve building relationships with a client, mastering the client’s record, gathering support from their community, crafting an effective advocacy narrative, and counseling the client as they prepare to face the parole board. Because the individual client work is time-consuming, an additional fieldwork credit is awarded in the fall semester.

Spring Semester: The Integrated Racial Justice Agenda

In the spring semester, students will work with clinic faculty and with ACLU lawyers on projects in an area from the full range of racial justice work. These include not only criminal justice reform projects but also groundbreaking work in the areas of voting rights, immigrants’ rights, education and the school to prison pipeline, and economic justice.  

Racial Justice Clinic students have worked on a variety of racial justice cases and projects over the last several years in all these areas. These have included cases involving: criminal justice fines and fees in Alabama; bail reform efforts in Oklahoma, Texas, and Hawaii; systemic discrimination against Native children in a Montana public school district; the constitutionality of prison labor, particularly given its status as a clear vestige of slavery; abusive police practices in Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and other jurisdictions around the country; dysfunctional public defense systems in New Orleans, Missouri, and Idaho; the religious rights of Native inmates in New York State prisons; the census questioning of residents’ citizenship status; a Voting Rights Act challenge to the Ferguson, Mo school board, and a challenge to a Kansas voter proof of citizenship requirement. This year students are working on race and redistricting in the wake of the 2020 census. Much of the clinic’s past work is described on the ACLU’s web site, which we encourage you to visit.

The Clinic Seminar

The clinic’s fieldwork is supported by a weekly seminar that considers the challenges that face civil rights plaintiffs, their lawyers, their adversaries, and other participants in the process. The seminar involves a series of simulations in pretrial skills that provide students with an opportunity to engage in concrete lawyering activities. The simulations include 1) interviews with potential clients; 2) media advocacy; 3) initial court appearances; and 4) depositions. We also consider the larger issues often raised by impact civil rights work and racial justice advocacy through reading and discussion of critical race theory and other theories of racial injustice and remediation. As part of that process, teams of students also will be responsible for planning and facilitating discussions with experts in the areas of advocacy and law in which the clinic works. Finally, we will often engage in collaborative “case rounds,” which gives students the opportunity to work through challenges that they are facing in their cases in order more effectively to advance the interests of the clinic’s clients, and so that the rich field work in which each clinic student is involved becomes a basis for broader student learning.

Through the clinic’s seminar and field work, we hope to develop in our students a critical outlook on the work of social justice organizations, the ability to apply racial justice theory to its practice, a familiarity with the range of strategies for advancing racial equity, and with basic skill in client representation and federal pretrial litigation.

Application Procedure

If you are interested in applying to the Racial Justice Clinic, please submit the standard application, resume and transcript online through CAMS. Selection of students is not based on interviews; however, you are welcome to come to a small group meeting of applicants and faculty so that we can have the opportunity to meet each other, and so that we can answer the questions you may have. We will get in touch with you once all applications are in to set up those meetings.

Student Contacts

Below are listed students who are currently or were recently in the Racial Justice Clinic. They can give you a good idea of the clinic and case work experience.

Fall 2019 Spring 2020 Fall 2020 Spring 2021
Mario Alvarez
Liza Batkin
Lilly Hecht
Emily Kaplan
Vishal Reddy
Dillon Reisman
Allison Scharfstein
Renee Schenkman
Anna Applebaum
Richard Chung
Teddy Fenster
Eli Goldman
Hannah Grace
Nina Loshkajian
Gabriela Schneider
Hannah Umansky-Castro
Mickey Desruisseaux
Alex Howell
Shirley LaVarco
Zack Mason
Leah Motzkin
Kevin Muench
Matt Nussbaum
Emani Pollard   
Elena Anderson
Vedan Anthony-North
Eli Ashenafi
Tahlisa Brougham
Alison Ge
Pia Levin
Zoe Ridolfi-Staff
Esther Taati 

* Fall credits include 3 clinical credits and 3 academic credits; Spring credits include 2 clinical credits and 3 academic seminar credits.