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Professor Benson and NAACP Coalition Obtain Victory at United States Department of Justice

January 17, 2008

Prof. BensonDETROIT (Jan. 16, 2008) – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a rare ruling stopping Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land from closing the Secretary of State Branch Office in Buena Vista Township, Mich. Wayne State University Law Professor Jocelyn Benson, along with the Detroit Branch NAACP, Michigan State Conference NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and Michigan State Representative Andy Coulouris, filed the request to stop the closing.

The proposed closing would have created difficulty for Buena Vista Township residents to register to vote, update their voter registration and comply with Michigan’s Photo ID law. If the Buena Vista Secretary of State Office had closed the next closest Secretary of State office would have been over 90 minutes away assuming no delays via public transportation. 

“The Detroit Branch NAACP along with its partners are very pleased with this recent decision from the Department of Justice,” said Rev. Wendell Anthony, president, Detroit Branch NAACP.  “Although it is not a victory in every area, it is a victory for the right of the people to continue to be represented and heard in the electoral process. It serves notice to Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land that the will of the people must still be respected.” 

According to the Department of Justice, “Several factors establish that the State has failed to sustain its burden of showing that the closure of the Buena Vista office will not have a retrogressive effect on minority electoral participation.”  Buena Vista Township’s population is 55.6 percent African American and 9.6 percent Latino. The proposed closure of the Buena Vista Township Secretary of State would be in violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This ruling by the DOJ upholds the pre-clearance section of the VRA. Buena Vista Township is one of the two jurisdictions in Michigan covered by the VRA.

Professor Benson joined the Wayne Law faculty in 2005. She teaches courses in Election law, Education Law, Race and the Law, Sports and Inequality, and Civil Procedure.  She has also published numerous articles on election administration and voting rights for English Learning voters.

Some of Professor Benson’s past professional experiences include: serving as an adjunct faculty fellow at the University of California Berkeley Law School’s Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity; serving as a law clerk to The Honorable Damon J. Keith on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; and serving as the National Field Director for Election Protection for the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 presidential election.  

This past year Harry Belafonte appointed her to serve as his Detroit Director of the Gathering for Justice program he founded in 2006. Her work for Belafonte culminated in a 2-day conference at YouthVille Detroit that brought together 130 high school students and 200 community members, including Congressman Conyers and Grace Lee Boggs, to build an agenda for grassroots economic and educational empowerment in Detroit.  She currently serves on a number of boards and committees including the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Election Law, and the board of directors for Community Legal Resources and Transportation Riders United.

Professor Benson graduated from Wellesley College where she founded the now-annual Women American Political Activism conference and was the first student to be elected to serve in the governing body for the town of Wellesley, the Town Meeting. She earned her master’s degree in sociology as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, conducting research into the sociological implications of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. She received her J.D from Harvard University Law School, where she was a general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

Wayne State University Law School has served Michigan and beyond since its inception as Detroit City Law School in 1927. Located in Detroit’s re-energized historic cultural center, the Law School remains committed to student success and features modern lecture and court facilities, multi-media classrooms, a 250-seat auditorium, and the Arthur Neef Law Library, which houses one of the nation's 30 largest legal collections. Taught by an internationally recognized faculty, Wayne State Law School students experience a high-quality legal education via a growing array of hands-on curricular offerings, five live-client clinics, and access to well over 100 internships with local and non-profit entities each year. Its 11,000 living alumni, who work in every state of the nation and more than a dozen foreign countries, include leading members of the local, national and international legal communities. For more information, visit www.law.wayne.edu. 

* Much information in this release was taken from a release by the Detroit Branch NAACP on the same subject.

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