Juvaria Khan

Washington, D.C. (Operating nationally)

Project Overview

The Appellate Project is focused on increasing diversity in our court system by equipping law students of color, particularly those most vulnerable to systemic racism, to overcome barriers to building a career in courts of appeal. Along with providing impactful resources, from legal writing workshops to mentorship, TAP engages ally attorneys and judges in its programming to foster students’ visibility among those who recruit and hire future appellate attorneys.

Five Questions

1What needs does The Appellate Project address and how?

The Appellate Project empowers law students of color to become the next generation of attorneys and judges in the highest courts of the United States. Courts of appeal—including the Supreme Court—decide what our laws mean and how they apply to us. These cases affect every aspect of our lives, such as voting rights, healthcare, tribal sovereignty, how we are policed, and more. By developing race equity-rooted networks and innovative training opportunities, The Appellate Project ensures students can thrive in this area of legal practice historically inaccessible to them. As appellate attorneys and judges, they will bring their diverse lived experiences into the room when deciding what U.S. laws mean and how they impact communities. The Appellate Project’s goal is to create a stronger, more equitable, and more representative legal system for everyone.

2Tell us about a moment that helped inspire your idea.

Growing up as a Muslim woman of color post-9/11 made me appreciate the importance of representation in the legal field. While that led me to law school, I was years into my career before I first realized appellate work existed as an area of legal practice. I was struck by the fact that my law school never informed me about this career path, especially because I immediately enjoyed appellate cases and the enormous impact they have on issues I cared about. I was also dumbfounded by the complete lack of diversity, particularly racial diversity, amongst appellate lawyers and judges. Appellate rulings often disproportionately impact communities of color, and I saw over and over how this lack of representation has a very real impact on the laws our highest courts shape. I founded TAP because I believe our highest courts are strongest when they reflect our communities.

3What is the biggest challenge you face right now?

Our biggest challenge right now is the “colorblind” climate in which we are operating and that is currently bolstered by the Supreme Court. Our students do not have the privilege of pretending the world is colorblind. The post-affirmative action landscape created by the SFFA v. Harvard ruling has created even more barriers for our students as they try to enter the elite, insular space of appellate practice. This decision has also encouraged litigation against organizations supporting race-conscious efforts, creating a chilling effect for anyone advocating for a more representative and equitable system.

4What other leaders have informed your work?

My parents instilled the foundational values that inform my work, including the importance of civic engagement and giving back.

Stacey Abrams has written powerfully about how once you identify the truth of what drives your work, you realize there are many creative ways you can achieve the change you wish to see. That guidance gave me a framework for understanding the thru-line that has driven my own work and pushed me to think beyond being a civil rights litigator, ultimately sparking the idea for TAP.

5Describe a participant, client, community member, or someone else who represents what your project is all about.

Our students truly drive our work. Simply having someone believe in your potential can change everything, and we see the impact of that every day. As one of our students recently shared, “One of my mentors encouraged me to run for my law review, something I never would have considered, and I ended up being elected Editor in Chief! I will also be arguing a motion for class certification for my clinic matter (not something I would have felt able to do without the coaching of my mentors). The impact of these opportunities on my future career is unquantifiable.”

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