Jean Picker Semester in Washington Program

Last year, I spent my summer and fall semester in Washington D.C., where I participated in the Jean Picker Semester in Washington Program. During my time there, I worked at America Votes researching past U.S., state and local elections, updating databases and writing press releases. I also had the opportunity to represent America Votes at the "Take Back America 2007 Conference."

During the fall semester, I took classes through the Picker Program at the American Political Science Association. I also worked as an intern on the Employment Discrimination Project for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law. As an intern, I assisted in all aspects of trial preparation including investigating plaintiffs' backgrounds, conducting legal research and responding to discovery. I also had the opportunity to participate in the Congressional Black Caucus Conference as an "Emerging Leader."

My internship at the Lawyers Committee inspired my research paper, entitled Section 5 and the Implications for the Future of the Voting Rights Act. I initially began researching my paper after attending the hearing of Namudno v. Mukasey in early September by a three-judge panel in the District Court of the District of Columbia. Namudno, a municipal district in Austin, Texas, called on the District Court to reevaluate the effectiveness and relevance of Section 5. The special provision of Section 5 requires covered states to secure approval from either the attorney general or the district court for any planned changes to voting rules or practices. The intent of Section 5 is to combat disenfranchisement and vote dilution. The plaintiff in the case sought exemption from Section 5 as well as to have it declared unconstitutional.

In my paper, I looked at the history of voting discrimination against African Americans, especially in the South. I explored the evolution of Section 5 by reviewing voting rights litigation and the past reauthorizations of the VRA. Ultimately, I determined that although Section 5's interpretation has evolved through the history of voting rights litigation, the persistence of racism and other forms of discrimination as well as first and second generational barriers all support the continuing need for Section 5 of the VRA. (Incidentally, on May 30, 2008, the Court unanimously rejected Namudno's challenge.)

Both of my experiences during the Picker Program allowed me to do extensive research, assist with campaigning and fundraising, and gain a better understanding of the legal field as well as the non-profit field.

Ashley Lawrence is a senior double major in government and Afro-American studies.