A Fond Farewell to Ryan Cortazar

This week, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee says farewell to an exceptional lawyer, Ryan Cortazar.

Ryan Cortazar is interviewed by Univison to discuss voter access during the 2016 election.

Ryan Cortazar is interviewed by Univison to discuss voter access during the 2016 election.

Ryan is completing the prestigious Redstone Fellowship for Harvard Law graduates, and we are deeply honored that he chose to make Chicago Lawyers’ Committee home for his fellowship. We congratulate him on his upcoming clerkship with Judge David Hamilton on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Bloomington, Indiana.

In his year with us, Ryan achieved remarkable results for clients and communities in the areas of voting rights and police accountability. He helped train and deploy hundreds of volunteers for our 2016 Election Protection hotline and field program. He also worked directly with election authorities to resolve issues on the spot on Election Day and pursue systemic reforms as well.

In a letter-to-the-editor published in the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this year, Ryan wrote:

When I was in law school, I saw voting access as a problem limited to some former Jim Crow states and others that followed their lead. But after joining Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, I have seen firsthand the barriers that Black and Latino communities in Chicago too often encounter when trying to cast their ballots.

Post-election, Ryan played a key role in turning our Election Protection data into a website that reveals barriers at the polls in Illinois. Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project uses these stories and data to inform our legal advocacy, including work with the Just Democracy Illinois coalition to expand voter access across the state.

“Ryan made important contributions to the successful Just Democracy Illinois campaign for Automatic Voter Registration,” said Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr.          

When President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission sent a letter to election authorities across the country demanding private voter data, Ryan played a critical role in our advocacy urging the Illinois State Board of Elections to deny the unreasonable request.

Ryan speaks at a press event for the Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability (CPCA)

Ryan speaks at a press event for the Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability (CPCA)

Ryan also has been instrumental in Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s police accountability work, particularly in the Police Accountability Collaborative and Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability.

In another case, Ryan represented a Mexican American immigrant community member who alleged that he had been unlawfully fired from his job because of his race and national origin. The client spoke Spanish much more comfortably than English, so Ryan’s fluency in Spanish “was a godsend,” said Senior Counsel and Settlement Assistance Program Director J. Cunyon Gordon. Ryan ultimately secured a very favorable settlement for his client.

In the words of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Bonnie Allen:

“Ryan has the ability to quickly seize the substance of a topic and produce first-class legal work and policy analysis. He never turned down our requests to jump in, whether it was testifying at a press conference on police reform or cranking out a complex legal memorandum. Ryan is first and foremost a wonderful human being. As a lawyer, he leads with excellence and embodies social justice values. I am very proud to claim his as ‘one of ours,’ and I know that he will continue to excel and make the world a better place throughout his career.”

Ryan Cortazar testifies about voter access and voting barriers on a panel before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Ryan Cortazar testifies about voter access and voting barriers on a panel before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.