Students of ACS
Katie Teleky, University of Michigan Law School, ‘21
“Your pain leads you to your passion to do your purpose.” The first time I remember hearing that phrase, I was sitting caddy-corner from Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, trying to prove I had the requisite passion to work in his office. The words resonated with me then, but it is only recently that I have come to fully grasp their meaning.
I had the privilege of working for Rep. Cummings on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform for five years. As the lead staffer on census issues, I investigated the Trump Administration’s proposal to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Upon returning to the Committee as a staff member for my 1L summer, I continued that work as the House held Secretary Ross and Attorney General Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with the Committee’s requests. I also worked on a myriad of healthcare issues, ranging from staffing hearings on the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, to protecting the Affordable Care Act from repeal, to drafting provisions of the CARE Act—a bill focused on addressing the opioid epidemic through treatment and prevention efforts. While I learned so much from each of these experiences, perhaps nothing was more rewarding than learning what it was like to wake up every day knowing that my actions had the potential to make a very real difference in the direction of both peoples’ lives and the law.
This passion for legislation, congressional investigations, and, ultimately, public service, drove me to law school and prompted me to join ACS upon my arrival. ACS has provided me an opportunity to continue engaging with the progressive policy issues I dealt with during my time on the Hill and to expand my network of individuals similarly committed to ensuring that the law works for everyone. In my tenure as a President of Michigan Law’s Chapter, I hope to facilitate a similar experience for other students.
As I pass on that torch and finish my 2L year, I am consistently reminded of Rep. Cummings’ words about pain, passion, and purpose. Those simple words have taken on a new meaning as I watch this pandemic expose the stark disparities in our healthcare systems, the gaps in our social safety nets, and the breakdown of our democratic norms. In these times, though Rep. Cummings is no longer here to call us to be our better selves, the pain of his absence has amplified my passion for public service and made clear my purpose. I honor his legacy by fighting for healthcare access, government accountability, and, as he often termed it, “the soul of our democracy” every day of my career.
Shelby Smith (she/her/hers), Georgetown University Law Center, '20
Brett Graham (he/him/his), Georgetown University Law Center, '21
My law school career began eight months into the Trump presidency. Although I was already planning to pursue a legal education in 2016, many facets of the election illuminated the urgent need for me to fight for a progressive vision of the future. But I came to Georgetown with no real concept of what that fight would look like. Three years later, ACS has been an integral part of discerning my career path and allowing me to meaningfully contribute to the resistance.
In undergrad, I never wanted to be a lawyer. Being the first attorney in my family, my previous perception of lawyers was a caricature of argumentative, self-centered workaholics. By the end of my senior year, with some encouragement from friends and professors, I had come around and decided to apply to law schools. Once I got to Georgetown, it took two and a half years to find excitement about and confidence in a career path. But during my 1L year, I decided to join ACS as a Chapter Liaison, and ever since, ACS has been the biggest constant in my law school career. Despite not knowing how I would be serving my community after graduation, ACS allowed me to contribute to the progressive movement while still in law school—not just wait around for a degree to make a difference.
Through ACS, I engaged with like-minded colleagues, learned about the real-life consequences of the topics I was studying, and made a difference in my community. ACS was there every step of the way during my career search. The attorneys and professors I have met through ACS have always been happy to help me network, give me practical advice, and check in on my well-being. Members of other student chapters have become lifelong friends and have gone above and beyond to support me and the Georgetown chapter in general.
I am happy to be able to say that I finally found my path. In August, I am thrilled to be starting my legal career as a public defender in Florida. I look forward to joining the local ACS lawyer chapter and continuing the critical work of progressive litigation and advocacy.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” -Pirkei Avot
For the Class of 2021, calling the first four semesters of our law school experience "eventful" would be a massive understatement. We arrived on campus as the country descended into a bitter Supreme Court nomination fight, then witnessed the longest government shutdown in American history as we rounded the corner into the second semester. Just before our 2L year began, a whistleblower complaint lit the fuse of a months-long national discussion of impeachment, and we now end that year taking classes on Zoom amidst a global pandemic.
Digesting all of this while keeping up with the demanding nature of a legal education has not been easy. But at least one constant, for myself and many others across the country, has been ACS. From its programming on the legal and political consequences of each of these momentous events, to making it possible to continue looking for jobs and internships to connecting us to progressive attorneys in a wide variety of fields, ACS has made being a law student in a difficult time manageable.
Law students like certainty. We like being able to find precedent that squares perfectly. We like knowing that if we get this GPA and write on to that journal, the broad range of outcomes when we step off campus narrows, even if only slightly. In searching for this certainty, though, I think we often lose sight of what a legal education is in the first place and what the world will be like when we leave law school— anything but neat.
ACS has helped ease that uncertainty for me. As I head into my third and final year of law school, whatever it may bring, I know that I am part of a community of progressive lawyers doing incredible work who are happy to share their wisdom with me. My hope is to embark on a career in public interest litigation, specifically dealing with voting rights and election law. Though the time I have left on campus is limited, I know my time as a member of ACS has only just begun.
Rashmi Borah (she/her/hers), Emory University School of Law, ‘20
On November 8, 2016, I was working as a Research Associate for the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, established by former President Barack Obama. That evening, as results from across the country kept rolling in, my heart sank further and further with each state that fell. And once the election outcome was final, I made one phone call— “Mom, I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose my job.”
A few days later, I signed up to take the LSAT.
My experience working for the Presidential Commission was foundational for me. When I started, I had just graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Microbiology. The position presented my first exposure to lawyers with scientific and technical backgrounds. I realized the tremendous impact interdisciplinary lawyers can have across various legal sectors. I chose to begin my legal career at Emory because of the institution’s longstanding history of producing lawyers dedicated to public service.
I have always worked to ensure that my career choices and my interest in life sciences and patent law don’t stand in the way of my desire to be of service to the community. ACS gave me an opportunity to apply my technical background to areas of the law that impacted marginalized communities, such as disparities in healthcare, prescription drug pricing, and regulatory barriers at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. After seeing the horrific and inhumane policy changes that have taken effect since 2016, it is encouraging to know that there is still a community of progressive lawyers and law students from all backgrounds and areas of practice fighting to create an equitable society.
Without a doubt, being the Co-President of the Emory ACS Chapter has been the highlight of my law school career. ACS at Emory gave me and other like-minded students the opportunity to explore legal issues that we cared about. It has been heartwarming to see how much the Emory chapter has grown in the past three years and how much the progressive voice on campus has strengthened.
In addition to being involved with ACS, I am the first openly LGBT Editor-in-Chief of the Emory Law Journal. I also served as the Deputy Director of the Emory Law School Supreme Court Advocacy Program, where I helped draft petitions for certiorari and amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court. I’m so excited to continue my involvement with ACS as part of the incoming class of Next Generation Leaders.
Amanda Pescovitz (she/her/hers), George Washington University Law School, '20
Getting involved with ACS was part of my law school plan from day one, to the point that I startled the person tabling for our chapter at my 1L organization fair. I was excited that an organization existed dedicated to the progressive promise of the Constitution which had inspired me as far back as junior high, when I participated in the We the People civics program in my home state of Ohio.
At GW Law, I have had the honor of serving our student chapter for all three years of law school, culminating in being our chapter’s president this past year. As a student, leader, and soon-to-be attorney, I have always seen my job as helping others succeed and ensuring that I use the privileges and opportunities in my life to better the lives of all people.
ACS has been an integral part of that mission for me because of the dedication of its members to reforming areas of the law that have been and continue to be used to the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. Working with my fellow chapter leaders over the past few years has exposed me, and our greater law school community, to a diverse range of pressing legal issues that don’t always get mentioned in class, such as ADA compliance in web design and the effect of federalism on voting rights and reproductive justice. I’m grateful to be part of a community of kind, intelligent, and fiercely determined advocates for justice.
Connor Clegg, University of Wisconsin Law School, 2021
In 2014, I joined the American Constitution Society family as the national office’s Lawyer Chapter Fellow. Six years later, I now serve as the president of the University of Wisconsin Law School Student Chapter. While my role in this organization has changed, my faith in ACS and its mission has not. ACS plays a crucial role in securing and protecting the promises of our Constitution.
Nowhere is the importance of this mission more apparent than in Wisconsin, where corporate capture of the state courts and legislature has eroded our democracy. In Madison, the University of Wisconsin Law School Student Chapter and the Madison Lawyer Chapter have teamed up to educate the legal community about these threats. In 2019, our chapters organized a panel on the lawsuits challenging the 2018 Wisconsin lame duck legislative session. Attorneys representing each party in the multiple lawsuits—the Governor, the Legislature, labor unions, and individual voters—shared their perspectives to an audience of more than 100 law students and lawyers. This year, the University of Wisconsin Law School Student Chapter has educated the student body on a number of issues, including the role of state attorneys general, critiques of originalism, and a discussion on court packing.
I was drawn to law school because of my interest in workers’ rights and labor unions. The University of Wisconsin Law School’s Neighborhood Law Clinic was my first chance to work in that area. As a clinical law student, I represented a worker seeking to recover unpaid wages. That experience confirmed my interest in wage and hour litigation. I am fortunate enough to continue that work as a law clerk for Hawks Quindel, S.C., in Madison. When I graduate, I will pursue a career in plaintiff-side labor and employment law. If the past is any indication, I know ACS will be with me every step of the way.
Natasha Martinez (she/her/hers), University of Missouri School of Law, '21
Creating a better life for others in my community and my family is something I have dreamed about. I think about how truly privileged I am to be sitting at law school (currently via Zoom School of Law) taking Education, Property, and Immigration Law classes. As a first-generation college and professional student, I never underestimate how much education has created a pathway for myself and my family. Through my experiences, I have become a passionate advocate who is driven to ensure all voices are represented in the legal system.
During undergrad, I worked a variety of shifts at different jobs and then would come home and study until I started the cycle again. This work led to my first opportunity to intern with the League of Women Voters of Kansas, an organization that showed me my passion for voting rights. This organization displayed how important grassroots organizing can be in a community. The experience also revealed how disenfranchising election law changes and restrictions can be for a community. I started getting the opportunity to bring my ideas and strengths to life and my spark was ignited. From that point, I had a mission and it was to support others in their right to access the vote.
While law school had been on my mind since high school debate and student council, this was another reason added to my list (thanks ACLU Voting Rights Project team for that inspiration). I knew I could support newly naturalized citizens like my dad; young voters like myself; and communities like my own, to have access to the ballot. Since going to law school, I have learned so much more. I have learned how important getting an education is to getting a seat at the table. I appreciate the opportunities ACS has given me to have these crucial conversations within the legal community, both through formal events and informal conversations with fellow ACSers. The current state of affairs displays how important it is to have ACS members on the forefront of future legal and policy conversations. Last summer, I interned with the ACLU of Missouri, which fueled my passion for legal advocacy in Missouri. This summer, I will be interning with the team who originally inspired my dreams for law school: the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
Ryan C. Sedgeley (he/him/his), University of Wyoming College of Law, '21
I recently stood at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers, knee deep in snow and enmeshed in the calm murmur of the headwaters of the sleepy, meandering Madison River. It is a place I have returned to year after year in both service and appreciation. Under the silent gaze of National Park Mountain with its swirled, dark obsidian rock, the specialness and magnitude of what our public lands stand for seizes my heart and invigorates my passion.
Whether it’s the Madison River or any of the innumerable landmarks across our public lands, the clean air we breathe, or clean water we drink, we cannot take our natural resources for granted. Their protection and responsible use require constant vigilance by those who will be a voice for the voiceless. My love for public lands has fueled my advocacy for them. I have worked with conservation organizations and volunteered with our federal land management agencies. This passion has also led me to pursue a master’s degree in environment and natural resources at the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming, where I am also earning my J.D.
Along with my devotion to our public lands, I am also engaged in advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, women’s rights, and legal education reform. Outside of advocacy, I am an artist specializing in watercolor painting and sculpture, and I also run a small custom jewelry business.
Savannah Kumar (she/her/hers/they), University of Texas School of Law ‘20
As a teenager, I worked alongside individuals incarcerated at San Quentin Prison to support their idea of raising funds for leadership training for young people who experienced violence and trauma. At San Quentin Prison, I learned about the horrors of peoples’ experiences with solitary confinement, being transgender women in an all-male prison, and experiencing cultural isolation.
I decided to attend law school after realizing that lawyers were often given the near-exclusive privilege to enter certain hidden spaces and advocate in certain formal settings. I hoped to attend law school to bear witness to violence and oppression and use the law to creatively advocate for individuals and groups experiencing injustice.
My 1L year was not the critical, intellectual academic experience I had hoped for. I felt stifled in classes that omitted critical race theory perspectives and that seemed to celebrate uncritical thinking about doctrines that continue to do violence to real people. I felt frustrated by a final exam in constitutional law that asked students to write a memo defending school segregation. In response, I talked with other students and alums and wrote an open letter asking the law school to respond to racism on campus. And to emphasize that the law is just one tool to address oppression, I exhibited art in my community on social justice themes during my 1L year and my 2L years. In addition, I worked with other students (including many ACS members) to organize a 2-day conference, “Getting Radical in the South”, during my 2L year to highlight innovative, progressive, and radical approaches to public interest lawyering in the South.
As the president of ACS at Texas Law, I have had the opportunity to work with other students to challenge our law school community to consider how the law is perpetuating injustice. With ACS’s support, I led an ACS call/podcast titled “The ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy: Raising Awareness and Crafting a Response Through Student Organizing”. On it, I discussed my clinical experience representing asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico for months while their cases are processed. I also shared organizing strategies based on our on-campus teach-in designed to mobilize students to respond to the Trump Administration’s dangerous “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy. Our ACS board has organized discussion-centered events on a range of critical topics that are not covered by courses at the law school. In addition, I am proud that the current and incoming ACS boards recently wrote and published a statement in support of LGBTQIA+ students at Texas Law who have faced attack by another student group at the law school. I am thrilled to have worked with the ACS board to create two new positions for next year’s board: VPs of Racial and Social Justice and a VP of Community Organizing.
As law students, we are privileged to have access to spaces that are hidden from view and access to platforms for our voices. ACS has provided incredible support to our Texas Law ACS chapter to advocate hard on our campus and in our community and to make the law more accessible to all people.
Radhe Patel (she/her/hers), Harvard Law School, '20
As the first person in my family to go to law school, I arrived as a 1L eager to help support movements for progressive change but unsure where to start. There were so many organizations dedicated to different, critical issue areas—reproductive justice, environmental law, immigration, criminal justice—and as an academically curious person, I felt pulled in so many directions. Joining ACS was an amazing way to engage with all of these topics while also digging into other structural conversations and activism around the rule of law, democracy, and what a just Constitution demands of us.
I come from a city government background, where I worked in education and healthcare policy. These experiences colored my vision for our ACS Chapter as President this year—I was eager to bring more focus to state and local issues as the federal picture becomes increasingly troubling, and I was excited to collaborate with faculty and other chapters on how to make the work we do actionable and operable by providing diverse touchpoints for engagement and action beyond panels and talks. The thing I love most about ACS is how it provides a platform to do these things and more, so that as chapters we can be supporting and starting projects focused on reforms beyond our campuses and our states.
This is an interesting time to be a 3L—I don’t think any of us were expecting to finish our time at law school like this. Though many things are shifting, I’ve had some time to reflect on how I hope to incorporate staying involved with ACS in D.C. next year, as well as what we can all still be doing virtually the next few months. As the election looms large, I hope those of us who have the capacity will keep our sense of urgency to organize and act however we can as the world around us changes in unprecedented and scary ways.
In addition to being involved with our ACS chapter, I served on the board of our South Asian Law Students Association and am a Notes Editor on the Law Review.
Courtney Clayton (she/her/hers), University of Cincinnati College of Law, ‘20
Growing up, I always wanted to go to law school but never really dreamed of being a lawyer. To me, going to law school meant that people would listen to me and that I would have the chance to make laws. Up through my undergraduate time at Marshall University, I never really liked to talk about politics because I grew up in a small town environment where the vast majority of people in my life had different views on hot topic items than I did and were never open to differing opinions in conversations. Not being comfortable voicing my opinion on these matters made the transition to law school difficult because all of a sudden, other people were well-spoken when it came to their positions and were able to have open conversations.
One thing that helped with my transition was getting involved with ACS. While I was not ready to add the commitment of being the 1L representative for ACS my first semester, I continued to attend every event they held and became close with the executive board. Going into my 2L year, my friends on the board convinced me to run for Treasurer, which led to another fantastic year of events put on by our chapter. I even had the opportunity to attend the National Student Convention along with three 1Ls and helped to build their interest in ACS. Coming back from Student Convention, I was named President for my 3L year and started to plan for the year ahead. When coming into my 3L year, the most important thing for me was to make ACS welcoming to all students.
As my time in law school is wrapping up, I have been looking back on the opportunities that ACS has given me. I have been able to receive scholarships to attend the Student Convention twice and have also been part of my chapter’s executive board for two years which, by the time I graduate, planned at least 45 events. Being a part of ACS not only helped me transition into law school but also helped to shape me into a better leader. The one piece of advice I have for all incoming law students is to find an organization that makes you feel at home and fully embrace everything it offers. That is exactly what I did with ACS, and I am thankful for every moment of it.
Bobby Larsen (he/him/his), Nebraska College of Law, ‘21
When asked to describe me once in a single word, one friend used the word “opinionated.” Another friend once described me as “exhaustingly positive,” and my second-grade teacher, when she ran into me years later, told me that she remembered me for being the only kid who “knew yourself, even then.”
I do know myself, and I believe that continuing to get to know myself better every day is the catalyst for everything else I do. I have been interested in politics since I was eleven years old. I would have my parents drive me to see politicians at book signings or rallies, wear my Obama button to school, and even got in trouble for circulating Obama vs. McCain polls in my sixth-grade class.
Being interested in politics is fine, but being involved just for the sake of being involved has always made me uncomfortable. In 2014, as I was on the cusp of going to college, I was at the lake with friends, kicking around the soccer ball with a guy who was also interested in politics. As we got to talking, he said that he would be fine working as a lobbyist, even for causes he didn’t believe in. That didn’t sit well with me.
When I really became involved for the first time, it was 2016, and Nebraska, my lifelong home, was having a referendum on the death penalty. When I started interning for the anti-death penalty campaign, people asked if that was actually the side that I was on. I thought that was a ridiculous question—of course it was! Why else would I be part of the campaign? I later found out that people I knew interned with one of the presidential candidates that year only to vote for another candidate; they just took internship with the candidate who would look the best on their resumes.
It is so easy to grow cynical. In the past four years, I have continually run into situations where I feel like nothing is actually being accomplished and that the people involved are fine with that. I am sure I’ve been guilty of it as well. It’s easy to want to change your school, your community, your country, your world, but it’s harder to actually take the first step in doing so.
I hope that my career in law allows me to make actual change in some way. It is a cliché, to be sure, but I have seen myself shut down when I’m in situations where no one around me cares about anything but a line on their resume. It’s a good thing I’m exhaustingly positive and know that better days are yet to come.
Nina Oat, University of Virginia School of Law, 21
After a recent ACS program at UVA, I had a conversation with a 1L that reinforced why the organization is such an important part of my law school experience. She told me that she had been doubting whether law school had been the right decision for her, but that speaking with a dedicated progressive advocate at the ACS program had re-motivated her.
I know that doubt she was experiencing well. Before law school, I was on staff at Constitutional Accountability Center, an organization dedicated to a progressive understanding of the text and history of the Constitution. This meant that I spent the first two years of the current political landscape working with brilliant advocates unwilling to back down from our mission. When I came to UVA, I struggled with the transition because I had become accustomed to being surrounded daily by the people I leaned on when the fight for progress seemed like a losing battle. Joining the ACS community was the solution to that disconnect. On days when my resolve was high, I had like-minded peers and mentors with whom to game plan. On days that brought particularly troubling headlines, I knew where to turn to regroup.
As a 2L and ACS chapter leader, I was so glad to speak with that 1L because it meant she was finding the same support and motivation that ACS provides me. It is undeniably a challenging time to be a progressive aspiring lawyer, and I have found that the importance in carrying the load together—professionally and personally—cannot be overstated.
In addition to working with our ACS chapter, I serve on the board for Lambda (the law school’s LGBTQ+ organization) and both coach and compete in moot court. I am also a Peer Advisor and a member of the Virginia Law Review. I spent my 1L summer interning at the Office of the Solicitor General for the District of Columbia and will spend my 2L summer as a summer associate at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C. I look forward to my continued involvement with ACS both as a law student and an attorney.
Delino Miller, Florida A&M University College of Law, '21
I was born in Augusta, Georgia and raised in Sandersville, Georgia with my mother, my little brother, and my grandparents. Early on, I observed the negative effects of drug and alcohol abuse in my community. As a result, I knew I didn’t want to end up like those individuals who I felt were struggling mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. Despite not having many positive role models to emulate, I had a lot of examples of what not to imitate, which deterred me from drugs and alcohol. I knew I wanted to be healthier, help others, and be the good role model for others that I did not have.
Consequently, I aspired to go to college to gain more knowledge and remove myself from my negative environment. I attended Augusta University, and became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, a historically black community-oriented fraternity, because of the organization’s involvement and positive impact in the community. Joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated assisted me in my goal to become a better role model, especially for other black men. At Augusta University, I worked in the university cafeteria, and as a student assistant and as a resident assistant in order to financially support myself through school. I majored in biology with dreams of becoming a pharmacist. I was told this was a great field to go into if I wanted to help others and be financially stable. After a few science-related classes, however, I realized I lacked interest in science-related subjects. I made the decision to switch my anatomy class for my first criminal law class and I fell in love with the law. I changed my major to criminal justice.
After graduating from Augusta University, I worked at the Augusta Public Defender’s Office as an administrative assistant. After my experience with the Public Defender’s Office, I decided to apply for law school. I haven’t regretted that decision since.
I am currently in my second year of law school at Florida A&M University College of Law. I am currently the Treasurer of the American Constitution Society and the Vice President and Treasurer of Black Law Student Association. I also serve as the Secretary of Entertainment Arts and Sports Law Society and a BARBRI Representative. I strive to be a better person every day. Upon graduating, I aspire to get my LLM in Tax Law.
Sabrina McGraw, UC Berkeley School of Law, ‘20
I started out with a starry-eyed view of our government and the Constitution. In high school, I had competed in a civics competition called “We the People,” where I was able to study the Bill of Rights and show off my knowledge to judges on a mock-congressional panel. Through that program, I fell in love with the law and the potential good it could do. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I felt excited to become a lawyer and work towards more positive change.
At UC Santa Barbara, I did everything I could to prepare for law school. I studied political science and philosophy, became president of the pre-law fraternity, represented students as a caseworker for the Student Advocate General’s Office, interned for the local newspaper to cover the legal news for the area, and listened to just about every true crime and constitutional law podcast I could find.
But, like many others on the night of November 8, 2016, I felt anger and hopelessness as the final presidential election tallies came in. As Trump took office, it was hard not to become cynical when there was a constant stream of news reports on all the ways he was systematically undermining constitutional rights and obliterating protective norms. But the ways that people were starting to fight back gave me some glimmer of hope. When I watched attorneys rushing to airports to offer individuals support in the chaotic aftermath of the Muslim ban, I started to see how a law degree could be used as a tool to effect positive change. Moments like this reenergized my interest in attending law school and gave me a sense of direction.
When I came to Berkeley Law and heard about the American Constitution Society, I knew I found an organization that could give me the tools I needed to become the kind of lawyer that would ensure that governments would fight for people and not against them. While we still face many challenges ahead, I am proud to be part of an organization dedicated to making things right. As one of the co-presidents of the Berkeley Law chapter, I am proud of how far our chapter has grown and the events we have been able to put on for our student body. I look forward to spending my career surrounded by the wonderful ACS network I have been so welcomed into.
Julia Crawford, University of California Hastings College of Law, ’21
I am not one of those people who knew since infancy I would become an attorney. In fact, I hated talking about legislation, politics, and policies all the way through my first year of undergrad. I grew up in a small conservative town. For me, growing up in a small town meant growing up with small minds. I was surrounded by people who did not like change and attacked anything that went against the status quo. I experienced people vandalizing the homes and schools of those who were not what the majority deemed the proper sexual orientation, race, or religion. I saw the bullying that caused countless young people to take their own lives. Because of all of this hate and being surrounded by people unwilling to open up to new ideas, conversations about politics, the constitution, and legal issues made me angry. I was so angry that my mom, knowing the numbers were stacked against me, used to send me to school with candy to prevent me from speaking up too much in my high school government class.
I went into undergrad with the idea of making a career out of helping people. I thought about becoming a doctor and saving lives. I took a year of premedical courses when it finally hit me— I have absolutely no passion for chemistry. That summer, I switched directions and took a wide range of classes, including a class on the American legislative process. Every time I left that class, I was just livid at how much change needed to occur. It was walking home from that course with my mind racing when it all started to make sense, and I realized my new path. This anger I had was actually just my passion being expressed in an unfinished, unpolished way. I knew at that point that the best way I could help people and save lives was by becoming someone’s voice and being an attorney. I began taking every single legal, constitutional, and human rights course I could. I wanted to be prepared and to understand a wide range of issues to create the starting point of sympathetic advocacy for what others are going through.
I made my way to law school. I knew right away that I wanted to find a group of people who shared my passion and ideals. ACS is just that. Through it, I am able to become involved in my school’s chapter and invest in the community around me. One of my favorite law school memories is when ACS held a #MeToo event for lawyers in the city. To be a part of this safe space for people to share their experiences and be involved in steps to shift the culture of legal workplaces was unforgettable. ACS has allowed me to start doing what I have always wanted to accomplish before I had even started my legal career, helping other people. For this I will always be grateful. Movements have power in numbers, and ACS has given me a community ready to create change. I hope one day to give back as much support as ACS has given me.
Andrew Lindsay, Duke Law School, '21
“You’re just not a good fit,” my college advisor concluded. “You’d do better in chemistry for non-majors.” It didn’t escape her that my high school chemistry class in Jamaica — with its straw pipettes and nonexistent fume hoods — was markedly different from those of the others at Amherst College. I had loved that class and was awestruck by the drama of the fizzling of bubbles and the pungent haze as vapors filled the classroom. My grades made the cut, but as I checked a box for the entry-level course under her gaze, I swallowed a bitter reality. For some, it would never be enough.
My father, the son of yam farmers, left Jamaica to study in the U.S. He had managed, even thrived. What was it that he had that I didn't? I thought about the stories he told, stories of the circle of supporters who shaped his path, from one of the few black teachers at his high school to his dissertation advisor. He sought supporters who understood his background and cared about his success, and I badly needed some of my own.
Having changed my major to law, I took a page out of my father’s book – cold emails, office hours, sheer luck – and I was never short on guidance and mentorship again. My first supporter, the department chair, helped me get an internship at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute at Harvard Law School, pushing me into more diverse spaces to find more role models. That experience also pushed me to be more engaged in public policy in college. After I graduated, I worked as a researcher at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School for two years; it was there that I learned about the American Constitution Society for the first time.
I joined the Class of 2021 at Duke Law School as a Dean’s Scholar and Ruffa & Gallagher Scholar. At Duke Law, I’m president of the American Constitution Society. As ACS President at Duke, I hope to continue to build a community of legal professionals who—in addition to believing that the Constitution should work for all of us—are champions for diversity and inclusion like those I had, like those my father had, and like the one I hope to become one day.
Hayley Hahn, University of Virginia School of Law, ‘21
Before law school, I spent nine months conducting research as a Fulbright student at McGill University. There, I investigated social service provisions and legal protections for First Nations children. Through this experience, I gained a deeper appreciation of how federalism can complicate, frustrate, and further the realization of social justice for marginalized groups.
Although my research focused primarily on the Canadian context, I have found ample opportunity to apply the lessons I learned as a Fulbright student to my current work as a law student in the United States. For instance, as an intern with the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren program this summer, I gained experience navigating the federal and state laws governing educational accommodations for students with disabilities. Understanding the relationship between federal and state statutory schemes was vital to advising clients. Similarly, participating in UVA Law’s Civil Rights Clinic has underscored the interrelated and, at times, contradictory relationship between federal and state laws. Throughout my career, I hope to continue to develop my understanding of federalism to effectively advocate on behalf of the clients and communities I serve.
ACS serves as an important touchstone in these efforts. From organizing an ACS event for Native American Heritage Month during my first year of law school to serving as ACS at UVA Law’s current President, I have been honored to lead and support efforts to further a robust, progressive understanding of the Constitution. I believe that the promise of “We the People” applies to all people. I am grateful that ACS supports students, lawyers, professors, and judges who seek to honor the Constitution’s promise through work that affirms the inherent dignity and equality of all people under our Constitution. In my current studies and future legal career, I am committed to furthering the realization of this, thus far, unfulfilled promise.
Julie Preciado, Willamette University College of Law, '20
After completing my undergrad education, I promised myself that I would go back to finish grad school once my daughter got older. In the interim, I ran a small business and worked in everything from sales and service industry jobs to case management and medical interpreting, always working with the Spanish-speaking community. When the time came to go back to school, I was not sure which path to take. Choosing law seemed like a logical choice to marry several of my different areas of experience. I felt that I could either continue to help, on a more elevated level, the Spanish-speaking Latino community I had worked with for years, or I could continue to work on the business interests I had been developing with my siblings. A law degree offered me the flexibility I was looking for.
Once in law school, however, I found the principles of equity, inclusion, and other “progressive” ideals I had taken for granted in previous jobs were lacking from our curriculum and classroom discussions. Finding the group of buena gente that made up the Willamette Law ACS Chapter was part of what kept me feeling connected to a bigger purpose, and reinforced that what I was learning in class could be used to make a positive difference in the community and in the lives of regular people. Through ACS programming, I got to hear from experts in the field about relevant, timely, real-world applications of the law that we learn in class – from the fate of DACA, to court appointments, to LGBTQ+ rights.
I have fulfilled my promise to myself to go back to school, and in so doing have become the first in my family to attend graduate school and become a licensed professional. In pursuing my goal, I have accomplished more than I thought possible. Now, as a 3L, I am clerking with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and preparing to graduate. I have had the opportunity to present my research on language access at LatCrit, intern for a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, intern with the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, assist Willamette’s General Counsel with research projects, and serve as president to the multicultural student association, the regional representative for the National Hispanic Bar Association, and the American Bar Association representative for Willamette.
As I look forward to graduation and my job at an employment law firm in Portland after the bar, I have the community of ACS, in part, to thank for my success because it provided me with a supportive nationwide network. It has allowed me to participate in national student conferences and to meet attorneys and judges locally and throughout the nation. I am proud to be part of the ACS family.
Julia Manacher, Arizona State University, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, '21
I have always been vocal about my opinions, but I began considering myself to be a full-fledged activist in November of 2016. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election inspired me, along with a group of other highly motivated women, to engage politically; however, we weren’t certain where to begin. After considerable effort, we founded Women to the Front (WTTF), a progressive social action organization aimed at identifying organizations of limited means which protect, defend, and elevate the progressive ideals that we value. The women of WTTF pour our collective time and talents into throwing fundraisers for the organizations that we support to raise awareness and funds for their causes. Working with WTTF has strengthened my commitment to public service and helped me recognize how much I value being involved with an organization that contributes to the public good.
When I went to law school, I knew that I wanted to find a progressive organization where I could continue contributing in similar ways to my work with WTTF. ACS fit the bill. The moment I joined ACS, I realized that I had found a group that felt very much like the women I worked with back home. The other student members of ACS are equally committed to the progressive ideals that are so important to me. It has been an amazing experience to bring various speakers and programs to our campus that highlight our commitment to progressivism.
As an activist and future lawyer, my personal passion is for immigration reform. ACS has given me phenomenal opportunities to pursue my passion for immigration while enjoying the community that I have come to respect and appreciate so much while in school. The road to immigration reform is constantly changing and far from certain; but what I do know is that the progressive ideology ACS sets forward directly supports the reforms I believe are necessary in the battle for equitable immigration laws. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found ACS, a group that ties together my work with WTTF, my passion for immigration, and my progressive ideology, all while pursuing my dream of becoming a lawyer.
Dustin Weber, Santa Clara University School of Law, Class of 2020
I have long been captivated by the law. My fascination dates back to shortly after my diagnosis. Over 25 years ago, I was diagnosed as a Type-1 diabetic. As I grew older and became intimately acquainted with the inhumanity associated with this country’s health care system, I yearned to learn how to correct the system’s inequities. This brought me into the worlds of politics and law.
A brilliant and thoughtful undergraduate professor further inflamed my passion for the law, especially constitutional law. So, given my lifelong progressive proclivities and ongoing dedication to serving my community, joining Santa Clara’s American Constitution Society Student Chapter as a 1L seemed like a logical step. While I knew a bit about ACS prior to joining, what I did not fully expect was the genuine desire of the organization, at all levels, to encourage, foster, and support the development of students.
I have felt blessed and humbled by the support of ACS. At Santa Clara, with ACS’s support, we have been given the opportunity to advance conversations on a wealth of progressive issues. Without ACS, these opportunities to learn, converse, and network would not have been possible.
Furthermore, beyond the opportunities to bring events to campus, ACS makes it possible for students to get involved outside of campus through community engagement activities, conventions, and networking events. Additionally, it has been encouraging to be a part of an organization that values inclusion. As a first-generation law student whose previous professional life was largely disconnected from the legal community, the opportunities provided by ACS are priceless.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my law school experience. A significant portion of that enjoyment must be credited to both ACS National and our local ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter. As I take the next step in my career, I intend to continue supporting and staying involved with ACS. In such politically, economically, and socially challenging times, ACS and the many progressive voices who animate the organization, remains an imperative bulwark against further regression. The constitutional protections that inhere in all of us would be devoid of significance without organizations like ACS, so I am proud to be one of its members.
Priscila D. Abraham, Rutgers Law School, Class of 2020
New Jersey is home to the fifth-largest immigrant population in the country. I am proud that my family makes up a portion of that population. As the child of immigrants and a New Jersian, I feel that I have a responsibility to my community to advocate for immigrants’ rights.
Over the last decade, I have worked with a grassroots organization accompanying folks to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) check-ins, drafting favorable immigrant-related policies as a Legislative Assistant on Capitol Hill and, most recently, submitting briefs to the Board of Immigration Appeals on behalf of immigrant clients. As I round out my final year of law school, I am excited to continue working with immigrant populations.
I am thankful that the American Constitution Society has given me a mechanism to advance my advocacy. As ACS Co-Chair at Rutgers, I organized discussions about the constitutionality of adding a citizenship question to the US Census and utilizing national security funding to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. This year, the Rutgers Law School-Newark Campus ACS Student Chapter stood with DACA recipients on the steps of the Supreme Court and hosted a conversation on the future of the program with our in-house immigration law expert.
Reflecting on my law school experience, I am happy to have attended the People’s Electric Law School and be surrounded by my ACS Co-Chairs and other public interest students with a similar passion for public service. I cannot wait to see what this next year brings!
Rabiya Tirmizi, Cal Western, President, ‘20
After September 11, 2001, the climate in the United States changed. As a Pakistani Muslim American woman, this event permanently changed my life. I was seven years old at the time and became ashamed of my identity. As Islamophobia elevated, I continued to struggle with my identity. At fifteen, I began working at a law firm, and it was then that I began to gain confidence and decided to pursue law school to become a lawyer and advocate for others who have been similarly marginalized.
For as long as I can remember, I have had progressive views and believed in equality for all. It was only natural that these beliefs drove me to attend law school to fight for justice through the law. At the time, there was no leading progressive organization at my law school. As a 1L, I became exposed to my local ACS Lawyer Chapter and then to ACS National. This led me to initiate the revival of my ACS Student Chapter at Cal Western. ACS has allowed me to navigate law school while remaining true to my beliefs. Being part of the Cal Western ACS Student Chapter has allowed me to help create safe spaces for important discussions happening in our country today.
Angela Kehrig, Wayne State University Law School, '21
Shirley Rivas, Wayne State University Law School, '21
Shirley Rivas (she/her) and Angela Kehrig (she/her) are both 2Ls at Wayne State University Law School, which is located in Detroit, Michigan. As Co-Presidents for Wayne State’s ACS Student Chapter for the 2019-2020 academic year, Shirley and Angela have been working diligently to create a stronger presence of ACS at Wayne.
As a New York City native, I first came to Michigan in 2013 to pursue my undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was there that I met Amanda Alexander from the Detroit Justice Center (DJC) when she was my professor for a seminar titled “Law, Protest, and Social Movements.” Meeting her was a pivotal moment in my life because it was the first time I ever even considered what it would mean for me to be a lawyer.
A few years after graduating, I revisited the idea of becoming a lawyer and began the long process of applying to law schools. It only seemed right for me to learn and practice law in the state of Michigan because ever since I left, I had found myself coming up with reasons to return. I was thrilled to move back, and I was even more excited to be in Detroit during such a tense time in political history. I wanted to live in a city where my presence could have a positive impact, especially when the city is fighting tirelessly to stay alive and revive itself when many have already abandoned and disregarded it.
Last summer, I interned with DJC and was able to work in their Economic Equity Practice. While there, I explored my passion and interest in transactional law and saw firsthand how lawyers can use transactional legal skills in a social justice context. I plan to continue pursuing my interest in transactional law, and I am eager to see how I will utilize my passions in a way that aligns with my own personal moral compass.
I am originally from Southeastern Michigan, but I attended undergrad at Oakland University where I gained valuable leadership experience through Alpha Delta Pi sorority, researched the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, graduated with honors, and earned my degree in Political Science and Philosophy. From there, I took a year off to better prepare for law school and make sure that the struggles associated with being in law school were worth its benefits.
During that year, I worked two jobs as a chiropractic assistant and a legal assistant. Through the chiropractic assistant position, I found a wonderful community of people who taught me how to be a great boss and treat people who worked under me properly. As a legal assistant at a small firm, I also experienced the demands and struggles legal assistants deal with and learned just how difficult it can be for support staff at a law firm. Additionally, as both an undergrad and law student, I have always prioritized community service and volunteered with some fantastic organizations like Cass Community Social Services, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Friends of Foster Kids, and Humble Design.
I am now working in the Wayne Law Admissions office, taking classes, and preparing for my upcoming Summer Associate position. I have been fortunate enough to find a firm where I can explore multiple practice areas and figure out where my talents are best suited. All my past odds and ends jobs have prepared me to approach this upcoming opportunity with confidence, optimism, and humility. I’m excited to keep learning, meeting colleagues, and exploring coffee shops in the Detroit-metro area.
Suman Malempati, M.D., Emory University School of Law, ‘21
My path to law school has been highly unusual to say the least. For me, law school is the start of a second career after I had a previous career as a pediatrician and pediatric oncologist. After several years of being a physician, researcher, and educator, I decided to change careers because of my passion for social justice and my desire to work for change. It might be surprising to people who don’t know me well, but my new career in law may have nothing do with my previous career in medicine.
I had not heard of the American Constitution Society until I started school at Emory Law. At Emory, I quickly discovered that ACS’s mission aligns completely with my values and with the reasons I decided to leave a successful career to go to law school. I have a strong interest in constitutional law, and I believe the law should be a force to protect the rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees. One of the highlights of my law school experience has been the opportunity to be a co-President of the Emory Law School Chapter of ACS. I’ve enjoyed getting to interact with other progressive-minded law students and to make connections with some amazing lawyers in the ACS community.
So far, the ride has been amazing. I am fortunate to have an extremely patient and supportive family who have somehow allowed me to take this crazy leap! Moving forward, I am highly motivated to use my law degree to work towards a more just world. I’m still determining my exact career path, but I’m interested in a career that combines policy work and civil rights litigation. I know for certain that I will always stay connected to ACS.
Nitisha Baronia, Stanford Law School, '21
I always considered myself an institutionalist. As an undergraduate, I helped run the Student Advocate’s Office at UC Berkeley, where I navigated students through a vast bureaucracy as they fought for justice. I worked with sexual violence survivors, victims of harassment, and homeless students. For their sake, I strove to be a careful, deliberate advocate, rarely challenging the system. Those systems, while flawed, I still relied upon to deliver the right adjudicatory and administrative outcomes. Attending law school was the natural next step. I knew I wanted to be a public advocate, helping people leverage our legal institutions for good. I never considered myself a progressive, always hoping to fight for justice within the comfort of well-established systems. But what happens when those very institutions collapse?
That question gnawed at me throughout my first year in law school. In 2018, law school became an academic exercise somewhat removed from the real world: I was learning to operate in legal institutions that were under attack, by unforeseen levels of bitter partisanship and a transformation in the global media landscape. ACS offered a space to bridge these two worlds. Through the organization, I hope that law students can begin to apply foundational legal principles to a new era of partisanship and technology that threatens to erode institutions and exclude those who need them most. This year, our chapter has grown and exponentially increased programming from previous years. My Co-President and I hope to continue to build a community of scholars at Stanford who believe—no matter where they fall on the political or ideological spectrum—that the Constitution should work for all of us.
Kristina Beske, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, '21
At the age of 4, I saw Legally Blonde for the first time. Through watching the main character, Elle Woods, navigate her first year of law school, I immediately knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be feminine and powerful, and to give a voice to the underdog . . . or maybe I just wanted all my things to be pink. Either way, I somehow ended up accomplishing my goal and making it to law school; what, like it’s hard?
Now, two years in, I still cannot believe my childhood dream has become my reality. My family has supported me every step of the way, and when I say “it takes a village,” I mean it. The love and support I receive from my family, friends, and boyfriend keep me going each and every day. Law school is a daunting task, but my village is always cheering me on.
I hope to be a criminal attorney and one day, a judge. Working as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney are on my list of goals. I hope to bring perspective from both sides to the bench one day. I am currently externing with a District Court Judge. I hope to be an extern at the Clark County Public Defender’s Office in the Spring. I will be spending my second summer with the City of Henderson Criminal Division in the City Attorney’s Office.
Being the President of the ACS Boyd Law School Chapter in Las Vegas is exciting and inspiring. My progressive values and this wonderful organization allow my board and I to host important panels and debates about things important to us as a chapter. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, and I appreciate all the help we receive in making our events possible.
Kevin Witenoff, Vanderbilt Law School, ‘21
My introduction to and involvement with the American Constitution Society is proof of the network’s success. After graduating from college with a degree in social policy, I expressed to one of my cousins that I was having trouble finding a job; I was hoping that she would let me shadow her to gain experience. Instead, she connected me with one of her law school classmates who would know how to help me. My cousin’s law school classmate worked for ACS national and suggested I apply to one of the open fellowship positions with the organization. After rounds of interviews, I found myself a part of the ACS team.
My time working in the national office exposed me to ideas, practitioners, and academics that I could never have anticipated while struggling through my job search. When I began applying to law schools, ACS connected me with students at each of the law schools in which I expressed interest. These introductions provided me with a much better understanding of each school’s culture and, ultimately, made the challenging decision of where to go to law school much easier.
Once I arrived on Vanderbilt’s campus, I was immediately connected with the ACS chapter President who gave me great advice and made me feel comfortable with my new home. The ACS network continues to provide me with resources to make the most out of every step in my journey as a young lawyer.
I have experienced firsthand the power of this organization’s network and have also witnessed how it has helped other ACS members across the country. As Vanderbilt’s ACS Chapter President, I have made a concerted effort to not just bring engaging programming to campus, but to also connect the Vanderbilt Chapter members with ACS national and other chapters in cities where they seek employment. Interacting with interesting people and connecting them with my chapter is the greatest joy of being an ACS chapter leader. ACS is about bringing people together for individual and common advancement. And, as is evident through my ACS journey, we can accomplish so much more together than we can on our own.
Jenny Choi, Yale Law School, ‘21
Before law school, I worked as a Voting Rights Associate at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which ran one of the nation’s largest voter protection programs during the 2016 election. By nurturing long-term relationships with election officials and community organizations nationwide, our team conducted both preemptive advocacy and on-the-ground election monitoring to report illegal behavior by election boards and poll workers. This work taught me how dangerous subtle voter disenfranchisement can be. Operating under the assumption that Asians could not also be American, poll workers targeted Asian Americans with illegal requests for proof of citizenship and turned away voters who could not produce their birth certificates. At a more structural level, this limited and outdated image of American citizenship continued to swing resource allocation choices against immigrant voters of limited English, forcing them to return home without voting because the election board had failed to provide in-language help as legally required.
I joined ACS because I believe that our Constitution is elastic in its embrace and, in turn, derives its meaning and significance from those that it expands to embrace. Even though the Constitution is the work of an exclusive group of landed white men, many groups have argued for their enfranchisement—in its thickest sense, both at and beyond the ballot box—precisely by making claims under the Constitution (as our faculty sponsor, Prof. Reva Siegel, has argued!). Today, we rightly continue to struggle with the infinite project of inclusion. When I arrived at law school, I wanted to join a community of students, professors, and practitioners who were actively invested in this project, and I was grateful to find ACS.
The work stretches far and long ahead. Despite my choice to invest in the law as a way of affecting change, I know from past experiences that the law is only as powerful as our shared narratives allow it to be. As a naturalized American citizen, the way that I wish to live out my citizenship is as a translator of experiences, infusing my own immigrant perspective and others collected from within communities on the ground into the more technical languages of litigation and legislative advocacy. To that end, I believe that ACS students should aspire not only to help maintain the rule of law (especially in these harrowing times!), but constantly challenge and push the law by thinking critically about who it serves.
Michael Mermelstein, Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law, ‘21
My family’s acts of moral dignity and compassion motivate me every day. When my great-grandmother arrived at Auschwitz as a new prisoner, she left her processing line to comfort a group of unattended, crying children that, unbeknownst to anyone, were designated to be gassed. My grandfather, also a Holocaust survivor, has dedicated the rest of his life to combatting Holocaust deniers and white supremacy. In 1981, he and a lawyer named William Cox successfully sued a Holocaust-denying Nazi group, the Institute for Historical Review, and got the Superior Court of Los Angeles County to take judicial notice of the Holocaust’s existence as a matter legal fact.
That was my family’s first exposure to the legal system. When I was in high school, my mother, Edie Mermelstein, began taking night classes to become an attorney. At first, I was resistant to making the law my profession, too, and I set off for a career in politics. At least, that was my plan until my bachelor party in 2017, when my friends and I awoke on Saturday morning to news of the now infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. I knew right then, in that moment, that I needed to apply to law school.
Today, I am in my second year of law school at the Chapman University School of Law, where I serve as President of both our Jewish Law Student Association and ACS Chapter. I have been an outspoken advocate against white supremacy and I have loved working with ACS to build a community with other likeminded students and faculty.
Morgan Higgins, University of Oklahoma College of Law, ‘21
I was born and raised in the South, and for as long as I can remember, I have had a progressive belief system, which, as you can guess, has been challenging at times. I hadn’t thought about law school until I graduated college in 2018. The political climate during that time was infuriating to watch, especially in the South where it was largely being embraced instead of rejected, so I decided to do something about it.
I came to law school because I wanted to challenge the oppressive political climate produced by our current administration. Whether it be banning Muslims, removing access to safe abortions, or blocking transgender troops from serving our country, I knew that what I was seeing was wrong, but I now know that much of it is illegal and unconstitutional too. I am dedicated to being a part of the fight to legally correct these wrongdoings. I believe in defending the rights of all people, especially those who the law has disenfranchised.
When I began law school, there were no political organizations that aligned with my beliefs, so I reestablished the American Constitution Society at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Being a progressive in the South can be extremely challenging at times, however, I quickly found a group of like-minded peopled that just needed an outlet to express their views. I wanted to create an organization where students could freely discuss and critique the current administration, the laws of our state, and actions of our college campus. Our chapter has grown quickly over the last year, and we have received tremendous support, giving me hope about the progress of our state and region.
I credit much of my personal success during law school to ACS. The resources and support that I have received from ACS National and my local chapter have been paramount to my law school experience, and I know that will continue as I begin my career as a progressive lawyer.
Grace O’ Meara, University of Minnesota Law School, ‘20
One night, in the fall of 2012, I vowed to never go to law school. As an English major, this vow probably worried my parents, but after spending a night bartending for the most pretentious, overconfident men at a “Barrister’s Ball,” I had become furious. These law students mocked and solicited my coworkers while partying the night away. Several swaggered up to my bar and said, “Did you know I’m a lawyer?” as if that announcement would immediately elevate their status and wipe away their rudeness. If this is what it means to be a law student, I thought, then I want no part of it.
Obviously, I have broken my vow to never become a lawyer. However, I have tried to maintain my vow to not become that kind of law student. After working as a healthcare software project manager, in foodservice, and as an operations director for a progressive political group, I realized my next step should be law school. I applied because I saw gaps between where our society was and where I wanted it to be, and it seemed like many of the people on the front lines of narrowing those gaps had law degrees. In law school, I hoped to maintain my interest in progressive issues and meet other students who had similar goals.
ACS has helped me in that goal by creating a group where I can meet passionate lawyers and future lawyers who share an interest in making the law work for all, not merely a few. It has been a privilege to collaborate and learn from the smart and ambitious board members in my chapter. As our chapter’s Treasurer and now President, I have worked with our board to create events that push the often seemingly apolitical student body at the University of Minnesota to critically evaluate how we as attorneys use and interpret the law. We have hosted events at our law school with the Minnesota Attorney General, the Minnesota Secretary of State, and many other local and national experts. In an effort to spark conversation, we also hosted two “breaking news” panels last year in which professors discussed current legal issues in the news: the President’s emergency powers and the Mueller report.
ACS has provided a place where I can meet fellow progressive students, discuss issues that are important to us, and prompt conversation in the greater student body. With ACS’s support, I’ve had the opportunity to become a law student focused on progressive change and improving justice for all, rather than just another jerk at a Barrister’s Ball.
Adriana Orman, 3L, Mitchell Hamline School of Law '20, St. Paul, MN
Tuba City, Arizona is nestled in the heart of the Navajo Nation in the remote part of Northern Arizona. I have the great honor of being able to call this corner of the world my home, but I have not always felt this way. Shortly after graduating high school to attend Arizona State University, I made a silent vow to never return. During my eight years away, I had the great fortune to travel the world and even live abroad teaching English for a year. I don’t know exactly why, but at the end of my stint abroad, I knew it was time to go home, and I was ready.
In 2014, I returned to the reservation to teach second grade at my elementary school, alongside some of my own former teachers. For the next three years, I watched as my students—some traveling over an hour each way on a school bus down a dirt road from a home without running water or electricity—face the day ahead with a smile, their curiosity and soft-heartedness never waning. My students taught me a powerful lesson about resilience and love for my community during my time back home: because of my community, I am who I am today. But it was also during this time that I became acutely aware of the severe inequities and culturally incongruent policies that stifle tribal progress and healing. It was through this realization that I decided to attend law school.
I am now a 3L at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I am on the Federal Indian Law track. Throughout law school, I have dedicated myself to studying the intersection of education and federal and tribal policy, with the hopes of returning to Northern Arizona to serve as both an advocate for education and tribal self-determination. My student note, which was published in the Mitchell Hamline Law Journal of Public Policy and Practice, is entitled “The Causal Effect: Implications of Chronic Underfunding in School Systems on the Navajo Reservation,” and examines the indigenous educational experience through a historical lens. I spent last summer working with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid with their Youth Law Project, and this past summer with the Center for Law and Education in Washington, D.C. Both experiences have reinforced my desire to continue working towards education justice on the Navajo Nation.
Joining ACS has been an illuminating experience: I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to join forces with fellow civic-minded individuals to foster dialogue about progressive issues and to combat the effects of the existential attacks from the current administration. I have come to understand that even the smallest of changes in circumstance can have a palpable impact on one’s quality of life, and ACS is a platform that can help facilitate those changes.
Melissa Araiza, University of Nebraska School of Law, Class of 2021
If you asked me just a few years ago what I wanted to do with my life, being a lawyer and going to law school were nowhere on my list. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Political Science, my family told me I should go to law school. I insisted that I was done learning, that law school was not for me, and I entered the full-time workforce while living in San Diego. It took me quite a while to find a steady job, and I ended up in a law firm as a receptionist. But once there, I pushed to move into any opportunities that came along. I was promoted to a records clerk, managed a records department, and then became a legal secretary. One day, one of the attorneys that I worked for sat me down in her office to tell me her plan for my future. I was going to stay at the firm, continue to work my way up the ladder, and someday lead her support team.
That day was the day I realized that I had made a terrible mistake – I was NOT done learning. It turned out that I enjoyed the legal field, but I felt like I was destined for a different role at the firm. I signed up for the LSAT, quit my job, and planned to move home.
On the day that my husband and I were moving out of our apartment to leave for Nebraska, I found out I was pregnant. We were thrilled, but terrified – we had just quit both our jobs! In Nebraska, I went back to work and weighed all my options at length, in case this was a sign that law school really wasn’t in the cards for me. I liked my new job, and I liked the attorneys I worked for.
Then, the 2017 travel bans took place. Lawyers all around the country showed up at airports to file habeas corpus petitions while I sat at home, infuriated. It was the worst feeling, knowing that I didn’t have the right skills and couldn’t help. That was my final straw – even if law school was the most difficult thing I would ever do, I couldn’t put it off anymore. I wanted to go, and I wanted to arm myself with the tools I needed to fight injustice, because that is what sparked passion in me.
In my first year, I made friends and joined a few groups, most importantly the American Constitution Society. This organization has become a centerpiece to my legal education, giving me opportunities and connections with like-minded progressives in a largely red state. As the new Chapter President for the 2019-2020 school year, I look forward to sharing our message with incoming students and to bring new opportunities to my campus. It keeps me on my toes and challenges me to do more, and it makes me learn something new every day.
David Adeleye, IU Maurer, 2021
It feels good to finally be here. When I say here, I mean law school. I was supposed to begin law school in 2014, but I took an interesting detour. With both my tuition and security deposit for my apartment submitted, I had a choice: go work for President Obama at the White House or start law school. Tough choice, right? Well, I decided on the former.
In 2014, I went from watching the news and the State of the Union in my dorm room to working on the issues that dominated the daily news cycle. I worked at the White House when the opioid epidemic first hit communities around the United States. I was also at the Department of Homeland Security during the Syrian refugee crisis, United States v. Texas, and the ongoing discussions of DACA. I was exposed to so many experiences at an early stage of my career that reaffirmed why I wanted to come to law school. I feel a sense of duty to learn the laws of the land so I can identify deficiencies and help make our nation more just and equitable for all.
What is transpiring at the moment is not normal. We have hyper-partisanship that is hindering meaningful reform, inflammatory rhetoric hurled toward those who seek refuge and opportunity in America, and blatant defiance of the rule of law by incumbent officials. But, despite all the turmoil, there is hope. President Obama instructed his White House staff to use all the tools we had to fight cynicism, unlock the possible, and make life better for the American people and individuals around the world. His resolve inspired us to work with a sense of honor and duty, knowing that people were counting on us and would be impacted by the outcomes of our work. This guidance also forced me to look beyond myself and the politics of the time to make sure I was fulfilling my duty as a public servant.
It is my objective to continue the work I started as a young White House staffer. As progressives, we are not always going to agree on issues, but I know that with our collective zeal, we can keep propelling this country forward.
Allison Lantero, University of Notre Dame Law School, 2021
I decided to go to law school out of a desire to better understand our democracy, to give a voice to the voiceless, and to eventually become a judge, like my maternal grandfather. As a well-respected judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit Court in DuPage County, Illinois, my grandfather had a reputation for consensus-building and fair-minded judgement. He taught me to always examine all sides of an issue before making a decision. His hero was Thurgood Marshall, and my grandfather is mine.
After spending seven years working for the federal government in Washington, D.C., I was ready to follow my grandfather’s footsteps and attend law school. At Notre Dame, I found a rigorous academic culture filled with students whose opinions and beliefs span the political spectrum. In other words, I found a place where I could learn to examine all sides of an issue.
But, in the American Constitution Society, I found, as they say, my people—a group of like-minded law students committed to promoting more progressive messages on our relatively conservative campus. I found students standing up for what they believe in, whether it be immigration, gun control, or simply opposing the rhetoric coming out of the White House.
My dreams of becoming a judge are still a way off, but as the current President of the University of Notre Dame Law School’s ACS Chapter, I’m excited and grateful for the platform to give a voice to the voiceless and better understand our democracy.
Danielle Michaels, UIC John Marshall Law School, '20
I started my journey to becoming a lawyer with plenty of interest but little knowledge of how to actually “get there.” As the first J.D. candidate in my family, I had to learn everything I know from those I have encountered along the way. On this path, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people who have helped me become a member of The John Marshall Law School’s Class of 2020, and I consider those people a part of my team. To me, having a team equates to increased success. As a chapter leader, the American Constitution Society (ACS) is now a part of my team.
I have always been interested in the foundation of law. ACS has equipped me with an increased knowledge of that foundation, the U.S. Constitution. I appreciate that ACS prioritizes all Constitutional issues; likewise, I, as a law student and future lawyer, strive to help as many people as I can by becoming proficient in more than one practice area. As I pursue a career in Employment Law and Criminal Law, I plan to advocate for ACS’s vision—that the Constitution works for all. By collaborating with my community to pursue these interests, I have already started making my mark in my roles as the Vice President and now President of John Marshall’s ACS Chapter.
I am grateful for the support and resources ACS has provided and continues to provide me while in law school, and I look forward to continuing my relationship with ACS as I begin my legal career as a practicing attorney.
Andrew Shulman, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, May 2020
It is one of the great tragedies of law school that we focus on the titans, not the teams. We learn about John Marshall, Thurgood Marshall, Brandeis, Warren, Fred Korematsu, the Lovings, and the warriors who populate the history of American jurisprudence and justice.
What we aren’t taught is that Brown v. Board was decided 9-0 because Justice Warren knew unanimous consensus was the only real victory. We aren’t taught that Lyndon B. Johnson had to recruit southern politicians, vehement racists, to pass the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We aren’t taught that justice, whether you are an advocate, an organizer, or a lawyer, takes a community.
If I am grateful for anything in law school, it’s the lesson that justice is a team effort. During my time in law school, I’ve had the chance to do a lot of great things. I spearheaded an inaugural Civil Rights Summit in Colorado that brought together over two-hundred members of the justice community. I co-founded a $100,000 impact fund committed to making socially beneficial investments. I created an “electoral reform blueprint” that will have national distribution and assist law students in effecting election reform in their communities.
But the Civil Rights Summit only came together because of a team of six law students, the support of dozen different student groups and non-profits, and over forty professionals who took the time to participate as speakers. The impact fund was the result of the tireless work of a small group of law students, committed faculty members from a number of graduate colleges, and special advisors scattered across Denver. The “electoral reform blueprint” came about because of the work of law students, professionals, and professors committed to creating significant electoral reform, and the unrelenting support of ACS. These projects have been some of the greatest joys of my law school career, and they were made possible by a team. Hell, even the very experience of law school itself is a team effort – I don’t know anyone who has had a happy and successful experience that didn’t go at it arm-in-arm with others.
While law school can be a process of narrowing and sharpening particular skills, it’s also a place where we can learn to see the whole board and come to understand that there is no army-of-one when it comes to progress. We have to be an army of attorneys, of advocates, of organizers, of intellectuals, and of leaders. ACS has afforded me the chance to expand, rather than contract, and to build skills I never thought I would have the chance to build in law school. I will leave law school as a builder and a warrior, and someone committed to legal reform using tools that go far beyond the courtroom. ACS has helped make training to be a “holistic” lawyer a reality.
Thank you to ACS, my family, and everyone else in my law school universe for making progress possible.
Ian Lamar Courts, North Carolina Central University School of Law, May 2020
“Each day holds us accountable. We cannot escape the day. And if the day had to witness how we spent it, what would it testify?” Mary E. Jackson’s preceding quote is one that I live by and one that encourages me in my life-journey. I am a first-generation law student who was raised by my grandmother (who was the first in her family to graduate from college) in a small North Carolina town named Reidsville. My desire to go to law school was formed as a young, African American boy being aware of the social injustices that affected my community and knowing that something needed to be done to solve the problems! I was surrounded by problem solvers such as my grandmother, my pastor, and the numerous family and church members that lived in my small community. I knew I wanted to be a part of positive change, and I declared my intentions at my 4th grade elementary school career day, where I stood up in my high school guidance counselor’s graduation robe and declared, “I want to be a judge like Mr. Thurgood Marshall!” From that day, I was committed to the dream and goal of becoming a lawyer to impact positive social change.
I became involved in my local church and in numerous school organizations such as the National Beta Club. I graduated from the Rockingham Early College High School in the school’s second graduating class where, at the age of 18, I earned both my associate degree and my high school diploma. From there, I enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) where I was a member of the Legal Professions Association, Neo-Black Society, Phi Beta Sigma, and the Student Conduct team. Upon graduating from UNCG in 2017, I made an important decision to attend the North Carolina Central University School of Law where I entered through the Performance Based Admission Program. NCCU School of Law, as a HBCU law school, has ignited my passion for social justice and created avenues for networking with other progressive minded individuals and organizations such as the American Constitution Society. Like James Brown penned, “I’m Black & I’m Proud!” I add: “I am a proud and loud member of ACS!”
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