Skip to main content

Defending Democracy

February 06, 2023

Through the Cozen Family Voting Rights Fellowship, Penn Carey Law graduates will spend two years advocating for and protecting the democratic process.

Many Americans, including historically high numbers of young voters, exercised their right to vote during the midterm elections on November 8. Yet, though the right to vote is fundamental to America’s central philosophy of self-governance, access to the polls continues to be fraught with complex systems of discrimination and exclusion. Many people, especially those in communities of color across the country, continue to face pervasive disenfranchisement of their right to participate in this essential democratic process.

At the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, we are dedicated to supporting graduates who seek to advance and protect this crucial right. Made possible through the generous support of Sandy and Steve Cozen C’61, L’64, the Cozen Family Voting Rights Fellowship provides two years of fellowship funding for graduates who will use their law degrees to safeguard and promote voting access, protection, and rights. Cozen, who is a co-founder of the Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor, serves as a member of Penn Carey Law’s Board of Directors and has previously taught as an adjunct professor.

“From healthcare options to environmental protection, nearly every aspect of day-to-day life is impacted by Election Day results. The far-reaching effects of the right to vote — and unjust restrictions of it — cannot be understated,” Cozen said. “Sandy and I are committed to supporting Penn Carey Law students working to uphold and advance this right in communities across America so that they have meaningful opportunities to contribute their voices to a truly representational democratic process.”

“The Cozen Family Voting Rights Fellowship provides recent graduates with the opportunity to make invaluable contributions to America’s democracy,” said Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger. “We’re deeply grateful to Steve Cozen and his family for empowering our graduates to engage in this incredibly important work.”

On November 14, Lecturer in Law Deuel Ross L’09 delivered the keynote address as the Honorary Fellow of this year’s Public Interest Week. Ross, who argued Merrill v. Milligan in front of the Supreme Court on October 4, underscored the importance of supporting law school graduates interested in contributing to the essential work protecting and upholding the right to vote.

“The fight for the right to vote has been long, and it is far from over. Discriminatory voting laws and practices continue to disenfranchise communities of color,” said Ross. “It is crucial that young lawyers have the opportunity to gain important experience that will prepare them to continue to defend our most fundamental right.”

In the fall of 2023, two Cozen Family Voting Rights Fellows — Andrew Bernstein L’23 and Victoria Ochoa L’22 — will commence their work advancing and protecting voting rights.

Andrew Bernstein L’23

Andrew Bernstein L'23 Andrew Bernstein L’23During his Fellowship, Bernstein will work in partnership with the ACLU of Delaware to challenge a provision of the Delaware Constitution that disenfranchises people who have not fully discharged their felony sentences and people who have been convicted of particular felonies. Alongside advocates at the ACLU, including legal director Dwayne Bensing GEd’09, L’12, Bernstein will also seek to ensure those currently enfranchised under the felony disenfranchisement provision are able to cast ballots.

“I have been a staunch proponent of voting rights my whole life; the courses, clinical experiences, and pro bono work I have taken on through the Law School have prepared me to immediately step into a voting rights position at the ACLU of Delaware,” Bernstein said. “In particular, the Democracy Law Project provided me with the opportunity to support the ACLU of Delaware in a pro bono capacity on various voting rights matters, including helping to write an amicus brief to Delaware’s Supreme Court.”

Bernstein emphasized that he is especially eager to participate in voting rights work in Delaware, where some citizens face inordinately burdensome barriers to voting.

“The ACLU of Delaware and I look to focus on expanding and protecting the voting rights of those impacted by the criminal legal system in Delaware, as Delaware is the only state north of the Mason-Dixon line which permanently disenfranchises a portion of citizens based on prior felonies,” Bernstein said.

Victoria Ochoa L’22

Victoria Ochoa L'22 Victoria Ochoa L'22Ochoa will partner with the ACLU National Voting Rights Project. Starting in Texas, Georgia, and Florida, Ochoa will represent voters of color and election administrators who face intimidation at the polls; she will also challenge laws that expand the ability of private poll watchers and vigilantes to exclude voters of color from the electoral process. To do this, Ochoa plans to work with local communities to provide know-your-rights trainings and materials while advocating for policies that expand the right to equal access to the polls.

“The right to vote is deeply personal to me. My grandmother paid a poll tax to vote, and my predominately Latinx hometown on the Texas-Mexico border has historically been subject to numerous attempts to dilute our political power,” Ochoa said. “I am humbled to honor the legacy of the people who came before me and fight voter intimidation with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.”

Ochoa emphasized her gratitude to the many people who supported her in obtaining the Cozen Family Voting Rights Fellowship.

“Through generous financial support, Penn enabled me to learn from incredible civil rights attorneys through internships at the ACLU of Texas, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Department of Justice. On campus, my understanding of voting rights and civil rights litigation was enhanced by taking ‘Election Law,’ ‘Federal Courts,’ and ‘Constitutional Law’ with [Lecturer in Law] Jason Abel L’03, [David E. Kaufman & Leopold C. Glass Professor of Law] Catherine Struve, and [Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Law] Seth Kreimer,” said Ochoa. “Throughout the fellowship process, countless Penn professors, staff, and alumni supported, edited, and provided feedback on my project. I am very grateful to Penn for continuing to help me serve marginalized communities like my own.”

“I am incredibly proud of our incoming fellows for their commitment to reducing barriers to voting throughout our country, particularly during this time of heightened need for voter protection,” said Director of Public Sector Careers and Government Programs in the Office of Career Strategy Neta Borshansky. “Victoria and Andrew are highly skilled and zealous advocates already. These fellowships will support their ability to advance the fundamental right to vote for their clients while also supporting their continued development as lawyers for social change. We are grateful to Steve Cozen for the generous gift that has made this all possible.”

Learn more about the vast array of public interest opportunities at Penn Carey Law.