We represent voters in a PA Supreme Court lawsuit to extend the mail-in ballot deadline due to COVID-19

A voter using a mail-in ballot 
Pennsylvania voters are relying on our state's new mail-in voting system in unprecedented numbers due to COVID-19, with hundreds of thousands requesting ballots. But the rules for this system were written for a pre-pandemic world. Due to factors beyond their control--like a postal system under immense strain and a backlog at county boards of elections--tens of thousands of voters are at risk of disenfranchisement, even if they follow all the rules.
On April 27, we filed suit in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, demanding that Pennsylvania allow all mail-in and absentee ballots sent or postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days to be counted during this public health emergency. Petitioners represent voters who face particular risk from COVID-19 and specific challenges when voting by mail: Disability Rights Pennsylvania, the SeniorLAW Center, the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC), the Barrister's Association of Philadelphia, and voter Suzanne Erb. 
We have partnered with Arnold & Porter as pro bono counsel, bringing together the legal time that successfully took on partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. "An election is not 'free' when voters must risk their lives to ensure that their vote will be counted," said Dan Jacobson, an attorney with Arnold & Porter.  Read more about our case in the Philadelphia Inquirer .  
This lawsuit is an initiative of the of the Jeffrey Golan & Frances Vilella-VĂ©lez Voting Justice Project.

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Detainees at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center demand protection from COVID-19 in our class action lawsuit

The Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia
With the rapid spread of the virus throughout federal prisons and jails, pretrial detainees are at risk. On April 15, we filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all the detainees at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Philadelphia, representing three people with serious health conditions. The suit, filed with pro bono counsel from Dilworth Paxson LLP and attorney Jim Davy, seeks the rapid release of medically vulnerable inmates to home confinement and further action to safeguard those who remain incarcerated. 
Philadelphia FDC's response to the crisis and preparations for a potential outbreak have been inadequate. Our clients and others in the facility report that use of personal protective equipment is sporadic, and that they are responsible for cleaning common areas without adequate supplies. A lockdown of the jail has made it nearly impossible for inmates to communicate confidentially with their attorneys to prepare individual requests for emergency relief.  Read more about this case in coverage from Billy Penn .  
This lawsuit is an initiative of the Richard Berkman & Toni Seidl Health Care Justice Project. 
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We join PA Schools Work to demand that Congress take action to stop a school funding disaster in Pennsylvania

An empty classroom in black and white 
According to a report from the PA Association of School Business Officials, Pennsylvania public schools could be facing a shortfall of up to $1 billion in lost local revenue next school year due to COVID-19. We must do everything we can to prevent this loss of revenue from devastating our students' schools for years to come. Substantial federal support to fill in the gaps is an imperative. On April 21, we joined other members of the PA Schools Work coalition to send a letter to Pennsylvania's congressional delegation, demanding at least $200 billion in federal aid to K-12 schools nationwide. 

" Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, Pennsylvania's public schools were found to be among the nation's most inequitable," the letter read. "The COVID-19 school closures have revealed the full nature of these inequities." Stay tuned--as we learn more, we will be sharing ways that you can get involved to make sure we rise to meet this urgent challenge.
Small business owners with criminal histories are shut out from federal COVID-19 aid. We're demanding change.

A kitchen open sign at a small business
Thousands of small business owners across the country found themselves blocked from receiving federal aid to pay their employees and keep operating, all because they have a criminal history. Unemployment is already high for Americans with criminal histories, and a significant number of these individuals start their own businesses after struggling in the job market.

On April 10, working with Community Legal Services (CLS) and the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, we drafted a letter to congressional lawmakers and advocates urging Congress and the Small Business Administration to remove the arbitrary barriers that these business owners face. In an April 27 op-ed with CLS attorney Jamie Gullen, staff attorney Claudia De Palma wrote: "A pandemic is not the time to create additional barriers to desperately needed aid, particularly to small businesses that are part of the fabric of communities across America."

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Remembering Bob Smith, a plaintiff in our case against partisan gerrymandering.

Bob Smith_ second from right_ receives our 2018 Thaddeus Stevens award with other plaintiffs in our case against partisan gerrymandering at our annual celebration.
Bob Smith, second from right, receives our 2018 Thaddeus Stevens award with other plaintiffs in our case against partisan gerrymandering at our annual celebration.
We were sad to learn of the passing of Bob Smith, a lifelong supporter of service to the community and social justice who served as a voter plaintiff in our successful 2018 challenge to partisan gerrymandering. Bob died on April 4, 2020 in Wilkes-Barre at the age of 75.

Bob was motivated to join the case and fight for fair redistricting when he learned that is own home district, the old 11th Congressional District, stretched from his home in Luzerne County down past Harrisburg. Bob and his wife, Ellen, remained steadfast friends and supporters of the Law Center, joining us for events in Harrisburg and Philadelphia and creating strong bonds of friendship.  "Bob's kindness and intelligence were obvious from the moment anyone would meet him," said staff attorney Ben Geffen. "We will miss him dearly." All of us send our sincere condolences to Bob's wife Ellen, and all of his family and friends.

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Your support can make a big difference for #GivingTuesdayNow on May 5th. 

Giving Tuesday Now_ May 5
The #GivingTuesday global philanthropic movement has designated Tuesday, May 5 as Giving Tuesday Now.  As you have read in this newsletter, we are stepping up to take on the new and urgent challenges the our neighbors who face discrimination, poverty, and inequality are up against during this generational challenge. Your support will help us stay strong and keep fighting. 
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