Students of ACS
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, ‘20
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!”
If you have a story you would like to share through Students of ACS, please e-mail us at email@example.com.