April 20, 2020
Efforts to get out the count for the 2020 Census have begun despite severe headwinds. While the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question last year, concerns about the safety of participating in the once-in-a-decade count could still depress response rates. Also threatening the count are concerns about how the coronavirus will affect responses. The stakes are significant: the Census will determine the distribution of political power for the next decade. And America’s immigrant communities and communities of color face the biggest challenges to being counted fully and fairly. To keep the Census on track, a national network of lawyers and allies has been working around the clock on advocacy, organizing, litigation, communications, and more.
This program was produced in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice, the Brooklyn Historical Society and New York University's John Brademas Center.
Leading experts joined for an important conversation about the efforts to guide the 2020 count safely.
Adriel Cepeda is a staff attorney in the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
Adriel litigates voting rights cases nationwide, including challenges to unlawful voter purges and discriminatory barriers to voting. Adriel also focuses on issues related to the census, minority vote dilution, and the disenfranchisement of residents of non-state jurisdictions like Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories.
Before joining the ACLU, Adriel was litigation counsel in private practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. Adriel also served as a judicial law clerk, first to Judge Juan R. Torruella, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and then to Judge Theodore A. McKee, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Adriel received his J.D. from Columbia Law School, where he was an editor for the Columbia Law Review. He holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Williams College.
Janai S. Nelson is Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). As an organizational thought-leader at LDF, Nelson works with the President and Director-Counsel to determine and execute LDF’s strategic vision and oversee the operation of its programs, including having served as interim director of LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute. She is also a member of LDF’s litigation and policy teams, and was one of the lead counsel in Veasey v. Abbott (2018), a federal challenge to Texas’s voter ID law. Prior to joining LDF in June 2014, Nelson was Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship and Associate Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University School of Law where she was also a full professor of law.
During her eight years at St. John’s, Nelson launched and led an annual student program at the Supreme Court of the United States and assisted in the direction The Ronald H. Brown Prep Program for College Students, an award-winning law school pipeline program, among countless other service activities.
Nelson is recipient of the 2013 Derrick A. Bell Award from the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Section on Minority Groups and was named one of Lawyers of Color’s 50 Under 50 minority professors making an impact in legal education. Her scholarship centers on domestic and comparative election law, race, and democratic theory and she has taught courses in Election Law and Political Participation, Comparative Election Law, Voting Rights, Professional Responsibility, and Constitutional Law. Nelson’s most recent scholarly publication, Counting Change: Ensuring an Inclusive Census for Communities of Color, 119 Colum. L. Rev. (2019), advances a theory of representational equality in which all U.S. residents “are to be counted — and served — as constituents” and that centers the Census and the accurate count of the country’s most vulnerable populations in the functioning of our democracy. Prior to that, she published The Causal Context of Disparate Vote Denial, 54 B.C. L. Rev. 579 (2013), which examines Section 2 of Voting Rights Act as a disparate impact standard and the racial dimensions of modern vote denial. Her article, The First Amendment, Equal Protection, and Felon Disfranchisement: A New Viewpoint, 64 Fl. L. Rev. 111 (2013), explores the intersection of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause in reconsidering the constitutionality of felon disfranchisement in the United States. She also has several ongoing writing projects, including a chapter in a forthcoming book and a law review article on partisan gerrymandering in the wake of the decisions of the preceding Supreme Court term.
Prior to entering academia, Nelson was a Fulbright Scholar at the Legal Resources Center in Accra, Ghana, where she researched the political disfranchisement of persons with criminal convictions and the advancement of democracy in Ghana. Her research as a Fulbright Scholar is the basis of a publication entitled, Fair Measure of the Right to Vote: A Comparative Perspective of Voting Rights Enforcement in a Maturing Democracy,18 Cardozo J. Comp. & Int’l 425 (2010). Prior to receiving the Fulbright award, Nelson was the Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group where she oversaw all voting related litigation and matters, litigated voting rights and redistricting cases, and worked on criminal justice issues on behalf of African Americans and other under-served communities. While at LDF, she argued en banc before the Second Circuit and served as lead counsel in Hayden v. Pataki, a felon disfranchisement case that challenged New York State laws that deny the right to vote to people who are incarcerated and on parole for a felony conviction. She was also part of the team of civil rights attorneys representing African- and Haitian-American voters in NAACP v. Hood (a class action suit that arose out of the 2000 general elections) and one of the counsel representing a death row inmate whose sentence was commuted in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Banks v. Dretke.
Nelson began practicing law as the 1998 recipient of an NAACP LDF/Fried Frank Fellowship. She received a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from UCLA School of Law where she served as Articles Editor of the UCLA Law Review, Consulting Editor of the National Black Law Journal, and Associate Editor of the UCLA Women’s Law Journal. Upon graduating from law school, Nelson clerked for the Honorable Theodore McMillian on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (1997-1998) and the Honorable David H. Coar on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (1996-1997). She has been published on issues of domestic and comparative election law, democracy, race, and criminal justice and is a contributor to Thomson Reuters and Huffington Post. Nelson has also appeared on CNN, InsideOut, public radio and other media as an election law expert and regularly speaks at conferences and symposia nationwide.
Bio to Come
Thomas (Tom) Wolf is counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where he focuses on the census and redistricting.
An experienced constitutional lawyer and strategist, Wolf advises civil rights, immigrant rights, and good government groups on litigation strategy and legal policy. He also leads amicus campaigns and authors amicus briefs for lawsuits in federal and state courts throughout the country, including high-profile cases before the United States Supreme Court.
Wolf’s articles, op-eds, and commentary on the census, redistricting, and other legal issues have appeared in major media outlets nationwide and globally. He routinely speaks and lectures on law and policy at leading universities, law schools, and public policy schools.
Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Wolf was a member of the Supreme Court and appellate group at Mayer Brown LLP. He began his legal career as a clerk for Senior Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Wolf received his JD from Yale Law School. He also holds advanced degrees in political thought and intellectual history from the University of Cambridge and urban development planning from the Bartlett faculty of University College London, which he attended as a Marshall Scholar. He graduated summa cum laude with an AB in history from Harvard College.
- 2020 Census Self-Response Page: https://2020census.gov/
- Getting the Count Right: https://bit.ly/2Vb3Fhb
- A Fair and Accurate Census: https://bit.ly/3aXWWO4
- Federal Laws That Protect Census Confidentiality: https://bit.ly/2yLHYN7
- You Can Protect the Census from the Coronavirus: https://bit.ly/2yLBH42
- 2020 Census: What’s at Stake for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: https://bit.ly/2xeAlOO
- How the Supreme Court Messed Up the Census Case: https://bit.ly/3e4DbXa