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Summer Fellowship Report by Gary Redding, '15

Monday, August 19, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Libertelli
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Please read the following final report on his summer pubilc interest fellowship experience by rising 2L Gary Redding, who devoted his summer to striving for a more sustainable and more equitable food production system with the Rural Coalition in Washington, DC.  

If you read his report, we think you will agree that Gary's experiences and contributions were outstanding, and we hope that if you have not already done so, you will join alumni, friends of the School, firms and foundations in supporting this worthwhile program described in more detail at http://www.law.udc.edu/?page=Fellowships, by donating at www.law.udc.edu/donations

  

EJW Final Essay by Gary Redding

On June 3, 2013, I began my summer legal internship with the Rural Coalition in Washington, D.C. The Rural Coalition "is an alliance of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous, migrant, and working people from the United States, Mexico, Canada, and beyond working together to build a more just and sustainable food system which brings fair returns to minority and other small farmers and rural communities, establishes just and fair working conditions for farmworkers, protects the environment, and brings safe and healthy food to all consumers.” My time at the Rural Coalition has been a tremendous and educative experience from start to finish. As I conclude my internship, it is my pleasure to reflect on a few highlights that will continue to be learning experiences for me.

Since my midpoint reflection essay, I have composed several documents for the Rural Coalition, the most rewarding and challenging probably being my written testimony on the Voting Rights Act and recent Supreme Court case Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder submitted to Congress on behalf of the Rural Coalition. The Supreme Court in Shelby County voted 5-4 to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional. Its formula can no longer be used as a basis for requiring certain jurisdictions to "preclear” changes to their voting laws with the federal government. Following my attendance at the Voting Rights Act hearings in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, I asked Lorette Picciano, the Rural Coalition’s executive director, if I could write a report on my experiences at the hearings and she instead suggested that I compose written testimony to be submitted to Congress. I was almost as excited as someone who had just won the lottery and went to work immediately, partly because my maternal grandmother, Florenza Moore Grant, was the first African American to register and successfully vote in Halifax County, North Carolina, where I grew up, in 1955. She was required to read and interpret a section of the U.S. Constitution, randomly chosen by the white registrar. My thesis statement was, "This statement provides a brief overview of past and present voting conditions and limitations in rural and farm communities, the implications of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder U.S. Supreme Court decision, and provides conclusions and recommendations for updating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and making the process for reporting voting rights violations more straightforward and practical.” We are happy to report that one statement was submitted to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary for inclusion in the record for the hearing entitled "From Selma to Shelby County: Working Together to Restore the Protections of the Voting Rights Act” and the other to the United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice for inclusion in the record for the Hearing entitled "The Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s Decision in Shelby County”. Currently, members of Congress are figuring out whether and how to update the Voting Rights Act, specifically Section 4. After completing this assignment, it was back to work on Congress’ farm bills.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have not jointly passed a farm bill yet. That has not deterred us from continuing to follow the debate, conducting more research, writing a coalition letter to urge Congress to pass a "full and fair farm bill,” and writing policy pieces about each stage of the legislation. Three major concerns of ours have been the House Republicans, who are the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, decision to separate the nutrition title from the agriculture title of their farm bill, the House Republicans push to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly known as the food stamp program), and the House Republicans attempt to remove nutrition education from the bill. The last time House Republicans, led by Senator Jesse Helms, tried to separate the agriculture title from the nutrition title was in 1981. Separating the nutrition title from the rest of the farm bill is mainly done to try to defund partially or altogether the SNAP program. Senator Jesse Helms explained "that many 'able-bodied' workers were exploiting the [food stamp] program; that 'hard-working' taxpayers were fed up with it; that 'great harm' could come to the recipients themselves because accepting benefits would 'destroy their initiative.’” Although they were unsuccessful in 1981, current House Republican leadership is using the same strategy. In response to false claims that SNAP is being exploited by "freeloaders,” Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack recently reiterated, "Only about 8 percent of SNAP (food stamp) recipients are on welfare. The rest are children, the elderly, disabled people or the working poor.” Next, a $40 billion cut would be devastating to the SNAP program and the 47 million Americans that depend on it. For example, SNAP ensures children across America have free school lunches, participants can buy seeds to grow their own foods and edible plants, and participants can purchase food products. Lastly, House Republicans want to remove Nutrition Education from the farm bill or a separate nutrition bill. To help improve nutrition education among youth, "the [United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)] provides nutrition education through five of its programs” and provides access to "a variety of teaching materials, [including curricula and lesson plans, nutrition education materials, and reports and studies].” We hope to keep nutrition education in the farm bill. We are now working on a conference letter to submit to Congress before they return from their summer recess after Labor Day and meet to reconcile the House and Senate farm bills.

Two other recent highlights were attending a "Disaster Relief Workshop” in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, with Rural Coalition staff and conducting legal research on the Black Farmer’s lawsuit, In Re Black Farmers. The workshop, organized by the Rural Coalition, brought together local Hispanic and African American farmers, youth gardeners, USDA officials, local citizens, and interpreters for the Hispanic famers. The farmers and gardeners shared with the USDA officials challenges, such as insect infestations, they face when growing their crops and produce. In response, the USDA officials shared with the farmers the financial assistance they provide to help farmers grow and better maintain their crops, and recover from crop losses. My role in the meeting was as a photographer and note taker. Secondly, I conducted legal research for our board chair, John Zippert. He was concerned that some applicants who have been denied access to the lawsuit were being denied due process, so I located court orders and rulings by the presiding judge, provided brief reports on those rulings and orders, and helped in determining whether people have been unjustly excluded from the lawsuit and/or its settlement.

Lastly, I cannot thank the Rural Coalition’s Executive Director Lorette Picciano and Attorney Woody Colbert enough for diligently, patiently, and thoughtfully being available to me daily to improve my understanding of the Rural Coalition’s mission and membership, Congress, agriculture, writing and research skills, social justice work, and much more. They both believe that hands-on experience is the best way to immerse an intern into legislative and policy work. Finally, I also want to thank Professor Dena Bauman, Esq., and Ms. Vanita Saleema Snow, Esq., for the invaluable internship orientation they provided for me and the other Equal Justice Works participants, and the David A. Clarke School of Law and the funders for my fellowship. I will forever appreciate all who were involved in making my summer legal internship a great success.

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The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law,www.law.udc.edu, is among the nation's most racially, ethnically, class and age-diverse law schools. Its minimum of 740 hours of clinical public interest legal service - a sum exceeded by most of its students - is clear evidence that the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law is America's preeminent public interest law school.



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