The American Constitution Society is the nation’s leading progressive legal organization, with Lawyer Chapters in nearly 50 cities and active organizing efforts in a number of other locations. Through a diverse nationwide network of progressive lawyers, judges, scholars and many others, we work to uphold the Constitution in the 21st Century by ensuring that law is a force for protecting our democracy and the public interest and for improving people’s lives. Our chapters hold public programs across the country each year, generating “intellectual capital” for ready use by progressive allies and shaping debates on key legal and public policy issues. A list of all ACS Lawyer Chapters is available here. If you are interested in helping to organize a Lawyer Chapter, please contact us at LCEmails@acslaw.org or 202-393-6181.
ACS also works to cultivate the next generation of progressive leaders. We use our extensive national network to assist our members with career development, mentorship, and job assistance. Our members get access to job banks, special conference calls, and the opportunity to network with progressive leaders throughout the country. Access our member job bank here.
Lawyers of ACS
Jamila Johnson (She/Her)
Advisory Board, New Orleans Chapter
The drive down the winding Tunica Trace Road in rural Louisiana is a long one. The 40 minutes along this stretch is heavy, and dead ends at Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola. The trees part at a security gate. A small museum sits off the parking lot, and a brick sign announces your arrival at the largest maximum security prison in the country.
Angola is a working plantation prison, situated on 18,000 acres along the Mississippi River. You could fit the island of Manhattan on the sprawling Louisiana land.
Angola began as a convict-leasing plantation. After emancipation Black Louisianans often had to make a difficult decision—stay in the location where someone had been enslaved, or journey out in search of a new home and a new job. Doing the latter was treacherous. Louisiana’s Black Codes meant a person could be arrested if you did not have stable employment or stable housing. An arrest meant a conviction, and a journey to the very land at the end of Tunica Trace Road. In 1881, 20 percent of the people who stepped foot onto the convict leasing plantation died there.
Much of my work these days involves the U.S. Constitution, this very land, and the people who serve hard labor sentences there today. But this isn’t how my career started.
My trajectory changed dramatically after the 2016 Presidential election. At the time of the election, I was a partner in a regional Pacific Northwest law firm, and one of only a handful of Black women in partnership at larger Seattle law firms. I had been an ACS Student Chapter leader at the University of Washington School of Law, participated heavily in my community through service on various boards, and helped to administer my law firm’s pro bono program. I also ate a lot of rubbery plates of banquet chicken.
A month after the election, frustrated, and in a progressive political bubble, I applied for one job: a position running the criminal justice work of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the State of Louisiana. They hired me.
When former President Donald Trump gave his report on his first 100 days in office, I had already left the law firm, sold my condo and my bright yellow Mini Cooper, made arrangements for my son in his junior year of high school, moved from Seattle to New Orleans and was driving a white pickup truck through the rural Deep South.
Today, nearly five years later, I am the Deputy Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative where I work to end the injuries from more than a century of Jim-Crow law, address the policies that have made Louisiana the incarceration capital of the country, and litigate Eighth Amendment class actions over the conditions of confinement in plantation prisons in the Deep South. I worked heavily with the Constitution in my private practice, but the meaning of the Constitution has never mattered as deeply to any one I had ever worked with, as it does for the men at Angola.
There are also few people I can imagine in the Country who have been more deprived of the promises of that Constitution.
For instance, our office represented Evangelisto Ramos in his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Ramos was one of many men and women in Louisiana who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, despite two jurors at his trial finding him not guilty. In April 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court called this practice a Jim Crow relic passed to silence the voices of Black jurors and to convict more Black people.
Since that decision, it has been my job, and my colleagues’ jobs, to try to extend this ruling to the more than 1,500 men and women who remain in prison, even though the U.S. Supreme Court said the law deprived them of their Sixth Amendment rights and was racially motivated. The majority of the more than 1,000 men our office represents on this claim sleep each night at Angola. We have done these representations with the help of more than 780 volunteer lawyers from Seattle and Singapore, including lawyers who volunteered with ACS. We continue to fight for them each and every day.
ACS’s vision is to realize the promises of the U.S. Constitution. I want to thank those who volunteered from chapters across the country to fight for those who have seldom seen the promises within the Constitution. The drive on Tunica Trace Road can be lonely: the things seen at the end of that road are isolating. But 15 years after my first exposure to ACS, I carry the ACS community with me each time I make that drive.
Read more from Marie and previous Lawyers of ACS here.
Although ACS Chapters can be found in almost every major metropolitan area, there are many who are unable to join one of our existing, location-based chapters due to a variety of circumstances such as a disability, physical location, or work schedule. That is why we launched our At-Large Chapter in 2019: to provide access to progressive programming on critical issues and create avenues to engage with the entire ACS network through an innovative and online-based platform.
Learn more about the At-Large Chapter here.
Join ACS or renew now and your membership will be current through the end of 2021, a critical year of growth and impact for ACS. Help us invest in ACS chapters, chapter programs, networking, pipeline development, and mentorship work. Thank you for your support!
2022 ACS National Convention
Join us June 16-18 for the 2022 National Convention. Learn more and register here.
2022 ACS Student Convention
Continuing Legal Education (CLE)
CLE Credits are a great way to attract new members to an ACS Lawyer Chapter event as well as encourage and incentivize programming attendance for busy ACS lawyers. More on how to apply for CLE here.
If you need ideas for an event, try checking out one of our program guides!
2022 Model Calendar
ACS’s Tax Exemption Federal Letter
Lawyer Chapter Handbook
Membership Form (One Pager)
Sample Event Sign-in Sheet
Sample Lawyer Chapter Constitution
Social Media Guidelines
Speaker Release Form
Meghan Paulas, Vice-President of Network Advancement, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peggy Li, Director of Chapters, email@example.com
Jordan Blisk, Associate Director of Chapters, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Herd, Associate Director of Chapters, email@example.com
Christopher Lin, Assistant Director of Chapters, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jampa Lhasawa, Chapters Associate, email@example.com
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All of our Lawyer Chapters are listed here.