Students of ACS
Ross Svenson (he/him/his), Harvard Law School '21
My peers and I came to law school in the wake of the devastating 2016 election and in the shadow of Donald Trump’s presidency. As a field organizer for Hillary Clinton, I felt the election loss acutely and as a U.S. Senate staffer I saw the policy consequences up close. To me, the harm caused by the Trump Administration’s radically conservative positions and policies wasn’t abstract. After each speech or policy enactment, I knew how it would affect the communities in which I had organized or that my Senator represented. Like so many others, the election experience in 2016 and its aftermath motivated me to attend law school so that I could explore avenues for effecting progressive change, be it through organizing, litigation, or policy advocacy.
Through ACS, I found a progressive home that not only supported that personal exploration, but also offered community through shared values. ACS never failed to remind me why I and so many other students came to law school in the first place. Whether that reminder came in the form of academic symposia on progressive constitutionalism or community action opposing Justice Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, I appreciated how the organization filled the gaps of purpose and perspective that can characterize law school. I learned as much about emerging legal theories and public policy through ACS events as I did in the classroom. The organization plays a critical role in developing progressive intellectual capital, and I’m so glad that our generation of law students can take our ACS experiences with us into the legal world.
Samantha Galina (she/her/hers), University of Richmond School of Law ‘21
Born and raised in New York as the daughter of Jewish parents—a political refugee and an attorney—I was drawn to public service from a young age, and they inspired me by the way they shaped my view of the world. My mother was my community’s dentist and she would
never turn away a patient who was in pain, regardless of their ability to pay. My father, in addition to running his own law firm, took on pro bono clients and volunteered his legal services to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. My parents’ service to our community undoubtably shaped my commitment to public service.
Before law school I studied public policy at the University of North Carolina where I became interested in housing policy and the inequities in access to safe and affordable housing in our country. In 2016, I was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute where I developed an alternative co-operative housing model specifically targeted to assist low-income single mothers and their children. This experience motivated me to attend law school. I knew that I wanted to assist vulnerable populations secure safe and affordable housing through the law, whether through litigation or legislation and policy. It is my firmly held belief that safe and affordable housing is a human right.
Upon arriving in Richmond for law school, I understood little of the deeply rooted and complex racist history of the former capital of the confederacy. My first summer of law school, I worked on policies intended to advance racial equity in Virginia, including drafting the executive order establishing the Governor’s Commission to Examine Racial Inequity. The Commission’s goal is to examine Virginia’s racist historical laws and remove them from the uncodified law books as well as examine laws that have a disparate impact on people of color.
My second year I completed an externship with the Virginia Solicitor General. After Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the Attorney General sued to recognize Virginia’s ratification. I was proud to contribute as an intern at the outset of that litigation. During that internship, I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with some wonderful folks at ACS. I contributed to the formation of the ACS Student Chapter at the University of Richmond School of Law and I most recently served as the Chapter’s Vice President. I plan to pursue a career in civil rights litigation, continue serving the people of Virginia and strive to create a more equitable future.
Alexander Farah (he/him/his), Brooklyn Law School ‘21
When I first started law school, I was overwhelmed and questioned whether I had made the right choice. However, I knew that I could not give up so easily after everything I had faced in getting to that point. I was then reminded of a quote by President Barack Obama where he said, “You can’t give up your passion if things don’t work right away. You can’t lose heart or grow cynical if there are twists and turns on your journey.” Law school certainly presents new twists for everyone, but I learned from past twists and turns in my life that perseverance can help you overcome any obstacle.
I became involved with the American Constitution Society after the 2016 election and I wanted to do my part in advocating for change, especially as the Trump administration tested the perseverance of our country. My first involvement with ACS was attending the 2019 ACS National Convention after my 1L year, and I was inspired by speakers like Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Bryan Stevenson, and so many others.
After the Convention, I wanted to become more involved with ACS, but Brooklyn Law School did not have a chapter. I went back to school and started an ACS Student Chapter that fall, and I have been President of the chapter for the last two years. Even though there have been many twists over the past year as a result of the pandemic, we have managed to host a number of incredible events for our chapter remotely, including events focused on qualified immunity, disability rights, and impeachment. I am so proud of the chapter that we have built at Brooklyn Law School, and I am very excited about the future of the American Constitution Society as a whole.
After the last few years, it is nice to feel hopeful for the future of the country. A lot of change is still needed because there are countless inequities that still exist, but I am happy to be part of an organization that works to address those problems. There will certainly be points where we get knocked down in the future, but it is important to get back up, continue persevering, and fight for what we believe in.
With graduation quickly approaching, I want to thank my family, Brooklyn Law School, ACS National, and our Brooklyn Law ACS E-Board for supporting me on this journey. It was also a pleasure to work with some incredible leaders from law schools around the country. I am very excited to pursue a career in public service, and I hope that my work can make a positive impact on the world.
Madeline Feldman (she/her), University of Pennsylvania School of Law '22
I came to law school unsure of where to find community, like-minded friends, and how to navigate my classes. I intended not to join any organizations, as I believed my sole commitment should be to academics. As a result, I found myself swimming in readings and without a community. That changed when I went to an ACS voting rights lunch event. The event not only gave me a new perspective on an important topic outside the scope of my 1L classes, but also enabled me immediately to connect with the students sitting around me in the audience.
This instant connection with likeminded people is what made me know I wanted to join ACS as a 1L Representative and it is where I have since found my home in law school. The core values of ACS, including protecting individual rights and liberties, the need for genuine equality, access to justice, democracy, and the rule of law, helped me clarify my beliefs about the role the law and lawyers must play in society. ACS has also personally given me student mentors, advisors, friends, and a supportive group that has shaped my law school experience.
When I became a president of my chapter last year, I knew shaping a community in a virtual environment would be challenging, but all the more meaningful and important. As a result, our chapter now holds its largest Board to date, after taking on all 24 students who applied to be First Year Representatives, a title that, for the first time, includes LLM and transfer students. I led my team in organizing an event series focused on 1L growth and assistance. The “How to 1L” series is now well known across the Penn Law community.
My personal goal as a leader is to provide community and mentorship, and I am thrilled to be able to continue carrying out that vision as an ACS Next Generation Leader, where I hope to support other future leaders from the organization that showed me how to be the lawyer I want to be.
Andy Su (He/him/his), UCLA Law '21
Hi, my name is Andy Su. I am a 3L at UCLA Law and Co-President of the UCLA Law ACS Chapter. Coming into law school I knew I wanted to join ACS to be part of an organization that is fighting for human rights, racial equity, and our democratic institutions. I have been involved with ACS since my 1L year and I have had the chance to engage with the topics that I came to law school to pursue. While spending my 1L summer as an intern at the United States Department of Justice, Public Integrity Section, I was able to attend the ACS National Convention in Washington D.C. It was one of the highlights of my law school career to meet and talk with so many progressive leaders, lawyers, judges, and students. Bryan Stevenson’s keynote address was one of the most inspirational and moving speeches that I have seen. The convention completely reaffirmed my desire to pursue a public interest career.
I am currently pursuing a career focused in energy, climate change, and environmental justice issues. I chose to attend law school because I saw the law as a vital tool to decarbonize our world, protect our environment from degradation and irreversible harm, and defend frontline communities from disproportionate environmental impacts.
I have long been interested in work challenging fossil fuel infrastructure as these projects lock in decades of carbon emissions and disproportionately harm communities of color by contaminating the land, water, and air. During law school, I have had the pleasure of working at the California Attorney General Environment Section and Earthjustice. I have focused on projects regarding fossil fuels and transportation infrastructure that harms the climate and fence line communities.
A just transition away from fossil fuels, and to renewable energy is vital to address the climate crisis without creating additional harms on marginalized communities. In law school, I have expanded my knowledge by taking a class on energy law and regulation, and I am currently taking renewable energy project finance. Last year, I wrote a law journal comment that analyzed the state policy tools that could promote floating offshore wind development on the west coast. The paper, recently published in the UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, focused on the legislative and executive actions that
east coast states have taken to support offshore wind development, including renewable portfolio standards, offshore wind mandates, infrastructure investment, and tax credits.
I am particularly interested in environmental justice issues and the disproportionate environmental harms that are placed upon communities of color. Growing up, I would talk with my dad about his experience being a first-generation immigrant in Los Angeles, and the structural racism and inequality that our family faced due to the city’s historically racist housing policies. Through his stories and my family that still lives in Southern California, I gained insight into the inequitable environmental burdens that BIPOC communities continue to face. I also learned how these communities have been historically marginalized and ignored by the mainstream environmental movement, a problem that I want to help remedy. I believe we must incorporate environmental justice into all environmental work because everyone has a right to a healthy environment.
Being part of ACS has been one of the best parts of my law school career and I am sad to think that my time as an ACS law student is coming to an end in a few weeks. However, I am extremely excited to continue to be a member of the ACS community as I embark on my public interest environment and energy career, fighting for front-line communities and ensurng a just transition away from fossil fuels.
Olivia Van Nest (She/her/hers), New England Law Boston '22
I remember the feeling of overwhelming shame as I listened to a man describe his experience as a child living in an Indian residential school. I was attending a conference on the Indian residential school system and the process of reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples in 2016. I was invited to participate as an interested young academic by my mother, who is a local pastor. I heard firsthand the stories of fear, sadness and long-lasting struggles resulting from years spent at the schools. Individuals provided vivid descriptions of cultural extinction through dehumanizing punishments such as starvation, assault, and abuse. I also learned that the Indian Act still binds all status First Nations Peoples to strict regulations that continue to invade and limit their traditional way of life. The conference ignited in me a desire to learn more about oppressed communities and the legal structures that maintain that oppression.
As an undergraduate, I wanted to nurture my growing interest and expand my knowledge of how seemingly neutral laws and regulations can disproportionately affect certain groups. I took a seminar titled The Politics of Rights to better my understanding of our liberties under the law. The class took a broad international approach and our discussions focused on groups around the world that face marginalization. For my final paper, I identified three critical transitions between the relationship of Canadians and Indigenous peoples while assessing the loss of Aboriginal identity within each stage. I discovered significant flaws in the Canadian procedure, and I wanted to learn more through an entirely new lens.
I applied to New England Law Boston, and when I received my acceptance letter, I decided to uproot my life in Canada, move to the United States and learn about how the democracy of a different nation treats their Indigenous population. In my first year of law school, I remember seeing a group of people passionately advertising for an event entitled “Bagels and Ballots,” the students offered bagels to their peers while showing them how to vote in the national election from out of state. I remember feeling inspired seeing that there were opportunities to engage in tangible efforts to promote change and effect the democratic process by getting involved with a group like the ACS. The next year I ran for President and since my nomination I have been provided countless opportunities to get involved with ACS members from across the nation. This year I ran a book club focusing on racial disparities following George Floyd’s murder and the BLM movement, I hosted an event with nearly 200 attendees to discuss the new Supreme Court appointee, and I planned and facilitated a three-part series on the death penalty. Since I became an active member of ACS I have felt empowered to take what were once just ideas and promote action. Finally, I found a group that shares my passion for the law and using it as a tool for change. Through ACS I have been afforded the opportunity to provide a platform for discussion and implement programs within my community that promote a progressive interpretation of the American Constitution and equal justice for all.
Nicholas Vachel Williams (he/him/his), University of North Carolina School of Law ‘22
As a native of rural eastern North Carolina, I developed a strong sense of understanding of the economic and social pressures in rural communities across America. Both of my parents were public educators in rural school systems. Because of their work, I witnessed the individual and communal empowerment, and liberation, that a good education can provide. I decided to follow my parents’ footsteps of service to the people, but rather than teaching in the classroom, I wanted to advocate for others in the courtroom.
Before attending law school at the University of North Carolina, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Appalachian State University. It wasn’t until I started attending Appalachian State University that my consciousness of class and economic disparities grew, later informing my advocacy of progressive values and reform. However, most of these realizations developed outside of the classroom. I realized that I, my family and many of my neighbors from back home were not afforded the same opportunities as many of my peers simply because of geographic location and economic status.
While at ASU, I harnessed these realizations with local government advocacy. I served as the University’s student advocate through the Student Government. In that position, I worked with local attorneys to establish flood victim legal clinics, fought to keep the on-campus voting site, and collaborated with community members to repeal an over-intrusive town skateboarding ban. As a result of this work, I decided that I would like to advocate for others as an attorney.
Since attending UNC School of Law, I’ve had many great experiences that have furthered my understanding of my place in the legal profession. I’ve researched rural access to justice issues, interned with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Eviction Diversion Program during the height of the pandemic, externed with the Governor's rural initiative, and studied under many great progressive legal thinkers. As I continue to grow as an advocate, one thing is clear to me: the law should be constructed to reflect the personal and economic realities of its citizenry, not to uphold antiquated systems of power and ideology.
I joined ACS as the Chapter’s 1L Class Coordinator, quickly discovering the importance of creating and maintaining a progressive network of lawyers in North Carolina — a politically diverse state with judicial elections. Since I became President of the Chapter, we have worked to expand our ACS-UNC alumni relationships, state judiciary interaction, and connections with local activism networks. Programming over the past year has focused on environmental justice, voting rights, criminal justice reform, and other pressing legal issues. I look forward to continuing to work on collective progressive legal advancements with ACS.
After law school, I want to serve underrepresented and low-income clients in plaintiff's litigation and community development. The law, if used correctly, can be a powerful tool to hold rampant corporate influence and bad-faith actors accountable. With our work through ACS, we can achieve plenty with an articulate, strong vision for an equitable and just future.
Vicky Saliu (she/her/hers) Chicago-Kent College of Law, ‘21
Going from table to table at the Student Organization Fair, one question lingered in my head – where does a white, immigrant, Muslim woman fit in? As a first-generation college and law student, the answer to this question was vital. For me, the answer was the American Constitution Society.
ACS represented everything I believed in and wanted to fight for. ACS’s progressive stance on abortion rights, the death penalty, immigration, and LGBTQ+ rights attracted me from the start. Best of all, it is one of few organizations that addresses current issues – something you do not get from simply attending classes.
I have wanted to become an attorney for as long as I can remember. In high school, my interest in criminal law, specifically wrongful convictions, peaked during my internship at Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic. The Clinic's work with exonerating innocent individuals was inspiring and eye-opening. It allowed me to see the racial injustices embedded in our criminal justice system. At the Clinic, I met Johnnie L. Savory who was wrongfully convicted of double murder. Johnnie and I clicked – but not only because we share the same birthday. Naturally, when I got the opportunity to plan an event for ACS as Program Director, I immediately reached out to Johnnie. I wanted ACS members to learn from Johnnie’s unique experience with the criminal justice system. The event was successful and personally special as it gave me the confidence to run for Chicago-Kent’s ACS President.
Looking back at my experience with ACS – from being my chapter’s 1L Representative to now President – I know that it played a tremendous role in my professional, academic, and personal growth. Although my role with my chapter’s ACS is coming to end with my graduation this semester, I am excited to continue my involvement with the national organization. I look forward to continuing our fight towards a more progressive and just society!
Marielle Sider, Pepperdine School of Law, '22
On Women’s History Month
As a feminist and proud ACS leader on a white, Christian, conservative campus, it is an honor to be asked to write this blog post. But it also made me extremely self-conscious to reflect on the theme that seems to run through those identifiers: resistance. Who would I be if I had nothing to fight against?
Laura Mulvey coined the term “the male gaze” in the 1970s to define the traditional, male cinematic point of view. The spectator, particularly in classic Hollywood cinema, is put in a masculine subject position, and the women on screen are always the objects. Even female spectators subconsciously internalize that perspective. The worlds we see and the stories we enjoy are from the perspective of men.
So too were all of the major systems in which we exist today. They were established by and for white men, including the legal system. There would not be a Women’s History Month in a nonpatriarchal society and Justice Amy Coney Barret would not have “replaced” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Similarly, there would not be a Black History Month in a non-white supremacist society and Justice Clarence Thomas would not have “replaced” Justice Thurgood Marshall.
We cannot realistically (for now at least) change the fact that the U.S. Constitution, system of government, and legal framework were created and dominated by white men. What we can do, like Laura Mulvey did for the film industry, is, at the very least, identify and label that reality so that we can reevaluate and change the status quo, hopefully a little freer from its influences. Mulvey called for a feminist avant-garde filmmaking that would destroy the pleasure of classic Hollywood filmmaking. In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey wrote, “Analyzing pleasure or beauty annihilates. That is the intention.” We cannot be afraid of a little discomfort for the sake of a more expansive perspective, and, naturally following that, more freedom and justice.
In regards to Women’s History Month, expansion involves acknowledging and celebrating the entirety of womxn and the gamut of the female experience. We can resist objectification by embracing and respecting intersectionality. We can annihilate a little more of the status quo by acknowledging complicity and ignorance. We can move towards freedom through progressivism. Only a living constitution can protect and serve the rights of our explosively diverse citizens and their interests. Women’s History Month for me means looking at how much of my ambition and drive comes from resisting male institutions and exploring the implications of that.
You might be surprised to learn that Women’s History Month was established by President Ronald Reagan via proclamation in 1987 at the direction of Congress. The irony of this origin might be as physically repugnant to you as it is to me. As a direct result of Reagan’s War on Drugs, women, especially Black and Latina women, have been the fastest growing prison population for the past 30 years. The United States accounts for one third of the world’s female prison population. But at least we have March!
The women that are traditionally offered to us as role models have, for the most part, been able to skillfully navigate and succeed in this male-created framework. For example, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has been a personal hero of mine for years, was famously able to attend Harvard Law School for both herself and her ill husband, come out at the top of her class, and raise a family. Among the words that she left us are: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” “Disagree without being disagreeable.” Admittedly, I have not been entirely successful in following these directives. In fact, I naturally resist against these somewhat patriarchal ideas that, to make an impact, women must be agreeable and palatable. Disagreeable to whom? Lead others to what? How can I fight effectively without compromising my values to assuage the powers that be? Isn’t that very compromise part of what we’re fighting against?
Some feminist heroes have succeeded using Justice Ginsburg’s model, but countless others have changed the course of history through more aggressive challenges and resistance. We must also learn about these other womxn, because they, too, have paved the way for us. Like Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, who is sometimes remembered during this month but too often forgotten the rest of the year. Murray, decades before Justice Ginsburg, fought against the systems built to exclude Black, queer, transgender women. They worked to dismantle segregation both personally and systemically by organizing sit-ins and creating arguments for its demise that would eventually be successfully deployed by their professor. They resisted misogyny at historically black institutions by coining the term “Jane Crow” and co-founding the National Organization for Women. Murray personally challenged their rejection from Harvard Law School, asking the admissions department to reconsider changing their minds because changing their sex would not be as easy.
Pauli Murray also suffered emotional consequences from their resistance against gender norms. They had mental breakdowns yearly and was frequently hospitalized. The language, awareness, and respect for their complaints simply did not exist at that time. And so, Murray suffered.
Murray insisted on a full recognition of their integrated identity, which today would translate to intersectionality. While Murray and Ginsburg had extremely different paths, Ginsburg’s work would not have been possible without Murray’s unflinching drive. In “Reed v. Reed,” the first time the Equal Protection Clause was applied to sex discrimination, Ginsburg credited Murray as inspiration for her brief and put them down as honorary co-author. Some of us are Ginsburgs and some of us are Murrays, but most of us are somewhere in between. It takes all of us to create lasting change.
This Women’s History Month, my intention is to celebrate all of my experiences and dimensions as one full identity. I have been motivated by resistance to the status quo, ever since my mother taught me to ask “why?” I came to law school after #MeToo as a means of resisting and challenging the misogynistic Hollywood system of secret sexual abuse. I work at a public defender’s office to defy our state’s criminalization of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness. And I use my voice to ask my professors why originalism is the most “valuable” mode of constitutional interpretation.
Part of my identity includes resistance, but it also includes connection, warmth, hope and excitement. Part of me hates the very idea of Women’s History Month because of its implicit tokenization of half the population, but another part loves the opportunity to focus on the gamut of accomplishments that women have achieved and the obstacles that still exist. I first acknowledge that I’m the object, and by so realizing I become the subject. Women may have been given this month, but we’ll take it all.
Jon McLamb (he/him), Wake Forest University School of Law, ‘21
To me, life is all about public service. The amount you give back to your neighbors and community can bolster your well-being more than any other resource. I’m happy that God gave me a servant’s heart and led me to a career path where I can enhance the public good.
My public service began in high school when I started a job as a Youth Counselor at the local YMCA. I would continue working for the YMCA for several years, interacting with children from all different backgrounds and in many different roles. My most personally transformative role at the YMCA was my time as a summer camp counselor at a camp for underprivileged youth. Here, I witnessed the realities and hardships that many families faced. I spoke with the children’s families and heard stories about how hard it was for these families to simply provide the basics of life.
I also observed the inequity between the camps attended by predominantly white children and those camps attended by children from marginalized communities. The predominantly white camps were held at state-of-the-art facilities and had unused equipment and substantial resources while the camp attended by children from marginalized communities had the exact opposite. Even in my high school years, I knew this unequal treatment was wrong. Children from all walks of life deserve equality; it should not matter what family or community you are born into. I decided that summer to dedicate my life to public service, which led me to law school. I knew having a law degree would give me the ability to help marginalized individuals in an impactful way and enhance equality in society.
Although I have not decided on a specific legal path of public service that I will serve in the future, I know that I have developed the tools that I need to help another individual in legal need. This is in no small part thanks to the American Constitution Society and its community. Through this community I have connected with many other public servants around the country and learned much about society’s injustices and its solutions. I am forever grateful for ACS.
Andre Milton (he/him/his), University of Denver Sturm College of Law, ‘22
Hello! My name is Andre Milton, and I am from Moline, Illinois. I attended the University of Northern Iowa for my undergraduate degree, where I majored in Political Science. I went straight from undergrad to law school at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law where I am currently a 2L. I am interested in criminal law, constitutional law, and civil rights.
I was inspired to attend law school after a poignant high school experience. One day I was called down to the office where there was the school resource officer, dean, and vice-principal. They told me they had video of me assaulting another student in a hallway and that I was essentially expelled. They also said that I should plead guilty and participate in a program called peer justice. Because I refused, after the summer break, the city charged me with battery. My 18th birthday present ended up being an attorney to defend me against this charge, and I was found not guilty. Because of that experience, I was convinced that I wanted to be an attorney, even though I was not always sure it was a possible path for me.
I was not familiar with ACS when I got to DU but was encouraged to go to the meetings through one of my TAs in my legal writing class. I originally wanted to join ACS because of the great community I found at those meetings. It started with the meetings and eventually, I found ACS has amazing events here at DU like last year's Western Regional Convening. As a 2L, it has been a weird year with COVID-19, but it has provided unique opportunities for events where we got to co-host with other student chapters such as the Western Regional Convening with Arizona State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. We also had an event on the election with the University of Wyoming and the University of Colorado Law School. It has been great to connect with other chapters and know there are other people out there interested in building a progressive legal community and doing great work.
Morgan Maloney (she/her/hers) University of Virginia School of Law, ‘22
My first semester of law school, I, like many other 1Ls, questioned if I made the right decision to come to law school. In tackling hours of lectures each day and mountains of reading at night, I grew increasingly exhausted. Latin terms jumbled together in my head with various multi-prong tests. All the enthusiasm for the law I had brought into the building in August seemed to seep away as the semester went on. I couldn’t help but ask myself,“What was the point of all of this?”
On a particularly bleak day, I took a break from the library to go to an ACS event. Our then-Director of Programming had brought in a speaker, a former member of President Obama’s White House Counsel’s office. I listened as he described the work he did in the government and how he used the law to influence the course of our nation’s history. He reminded me of what a privilege it was to get a legal education and how much change I could make if I spoke the language of the law. I realized the power inherent in our degrees and our profession. The hours I spent with my casebooks finally felt worth it.
This year, I serve as my chapter’s Director of Programming. In my position, I try to plan events that will remind students of why they went to law school and what they can achieve as lawyers. This year, our chapter has Zoomed in judges, professors, and practitioners from around the nation to speak with our students. I’ve sought to remind our members of all the good they can do as lawyers while also reminding them, and myself, of our responsibilities as members of this profession.
I’m excited to use my ACS connections and education to build a career in government service.
Bebe Thomas (she/her/hers), 1L, University of Houston Law Center, ‘23
There is a red cowboy hat that hangs in my office as a reminder of why I chose to work in the pharmaceutical research industry and why I ultimately decided to pursue law. It is the hat I wore when I was three and spent more than one year at Stanford Children’s Hospital undergoing life-saving treatment for cancer. I am alive because I received cutting-edge therapy at a world-class hospital. I am the product of cancer research. Yet, my survival was a privilege. Many people just like me are not provided this very basic human right.
I started my career in clinical research in 2001 at the University of Washington. After transitioning to the pharmaceutical industry, I specialized in immuno-oncology trials for patients with hematologic malignancies and solid tumors. While the work was exciting, I was disheartened by the overwhelming lack of availability of effective treatments for low-income patients and people of color. My passion for affordable care inspired me to work within the industry to increase access to care by recruiting physicians of color to trials and incorporating advanced technology to identify potential patients. In 2017, I was honored to receive the Clinical Researcher of the Year Award from the leading clinical professional society.
Choosing to leave my career to pursue law was a difficult decision, but I am confident I will have more impact as a lawyer focused on health law and policy. While I am a new member of the ACS Student Chapter at the University of Houston Law Center, I am committed to advocating for increased access to care. Progressive, impactful change in the health care industry is necessary to ensure affordable care is available to everyone. While society navigates its first global pandemic, this is even more pressing an issue. There is so much work to do, and I am excited to partner with my student ACS chapter to ensure healthcare becomes a right, and not just a privilege.
Damonta D. Morgan (he/him/his), Columbia Law School, '22
I grew up in the Mississippi Delta. And while I think about that experience often for various reasons, this Black History Month-and in this political era-I'm thinking about some of the courageous leaders who sprang up from that rich soil to defend American constitutionalism. Today, I would like to introduce Fannie Lou Hamer.
Born to sharecroppers in Ruleville, Mississippi, Mrs. Hamer became active in the civil rights movement in her early thirties after having learned about the right to vote from Freedom Riders who visited Mound Bayou in August 1962. Even though she had failed the so-called “literacy test” twice (before passing it on the third try), Mrs. Hamer traveled throughout her community teaching Black Mississippians how to read and write, so that they could pass these same tests and secure their right to vote. For her audacity, she was fired, beaten, and ran out of her home by the Klan. But like so many strong women, she persisted.
She brought national attention to the deprivation of civil rights in Mississippi by testifying at the Democratic National Convention of 1964, where she lamented being "sick and tired of being sick and tired." Fannie Lou Hamer's toil on the ground and before the cameras of the nation was pivotal to the passage of the Voting Rights Act and ensuring Black political representation in Mississippi and other intransient communities across the South. Though the circumstances that brought Mrs. Hamer to national acclaim were less than ideal, each time I consider her life, I am nevertheless filled with the sense that if our society and our system could create a soul as big as Mrs. Hamer's, then maybe there is hope.
I share this story today because we are in a moment that calls for more Fannie Lous. Fannie Lou Hamer was a nation-builder. She inherited a country that reneged on its most fundamental promise and instead of abnegating or abandoning the Constitution, she sought to make it more real. Today, we are inheriting a similar country, where injustice and inequality yet persist, and instead of confronting them head-on, our "leaders" prefer to incite insurrection and undermine constitutional democracy for personal gain. In the face of such recklessness, I think we are called to summon our inner Fannie Lou Hamer. We cannot give in to prolonged bouts of despair, hopelessness, or pessimism. These things will come, yes, but, in the robust tradition of the Black civil rights leaders of yesteryear, we must "keep [our] eyes on the prize, hold on."
Jaclyn Waara (she/her/hers) 2L, University of Wyoming College of Law, ‘22
My passion for progressive change started long before law school. As an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, I majored in International Studies and Spanish. I realized during my studies that rural areas in this country, such as the one I came from in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, were far behind their more progressive and populated counterparts in having conversations surrounding issues such as systemic racism, indigenous rights, LGBTQ+ rights, sexual health, civics, and the origins of economic disparities. This gap in knowledge and understanding has come at a high price for our society. As the past four years have shown, bigotry, misinformation, an education system focusing on white and colonialist viewpoints, along with far-right aggression, have devastated our democracy. Unfortunately, the aforementioned issues have been ongoing in the United States since its inception. As future advocates, I believe it is our duty to act and help solve the problems facing our democracy. As advocates in rural areas of the country, it is also our duty to promote progressive change in these sometimes overlooked spaces.
Through our ACS Student Chapter at the University of Wyoming, we’ve taken this duty to heart. We’ve focused on promoting progressive change in rural communities such as our own and have been very active this past year in advocating for progressive policies and ideas. We’ve strengthened our voice by collaborating with ACS neighbors in Denver, Boulder, and Chicago to host a Transition of Power event that focused on the challenges our democracy faced in the recent transfer of power. We also helped to build the progressive community by hosting an event to promote the abolishment of the death penalty in Wyoming, and providing mentorship for incoming 1L students. I am very proud of the work our student chapter has achieved. I am also grateful for our ACS Student Chapter Advisor, Professor Stephen Feldman, along with 3Ls Nathan Yanchek and Ryan Sedgeley, who, just a few years ago, started our student chapter. Without them, my fellow students and I would not have the opportunity to participate and be a part of the ACS community. Our team efforts have created friendships that I am very thankful for, and has also demonstrated to me that a sense of community, teamwork, and collaboration are essential to success in our field.
Although we have a lot more work to do to create progressive change in rural areas all over the country, witnessing the passion from my fellow ACS classmates has continually inspired me in my law school journey. I remind myself that no matter where one lives, and even in the most unlikely of places, there are always going to be progressive voices. That being said, please feel free to connect with your rural ACS allies and we will try to do the same. Our small but mighty ACS Student Chapter from Wyoming is yearning to collaborate with others from across the country and time is of the essence.
Gabby Tong (he/him), University of Illinois College of Law, ‘22
I was oblivious to the concept of privilege until I moved to America from Hong Kong. I had been in the racial majority for 17 years, but all of a sudden, I became a racial minority in a new country. I started to feel the need to represent my race everywhere I go. I would find myself having to work and ask for things that others take for granted, and I would constantly have to overcome expectations and stereotypes just to be treated and respected the same way as others. For the first 17 years of my life, I was too privileged to understand all this until I got to experience it myself from the opposite end as a racial minority.
Whether one is privileged is a matter of degree. Even as a minority, I might still be more privileged than someone from another racial minority group, someone who is less educated, or someone who lives in poverty. Everyone must recognize that they are privileged one way or another and work to eliminate bias. The law is not any different. The law is a product of human relationships — it evolves over time when people think differently and as we progress as a society. Changes in the law are slow and can work disproportionately in favor of the elite and majority. As lawyers, we will have the privilege to shape the law for the betterment of all people and to eradicate biases and injustice. Therefore, as President of the Illinois College of Law ACS Student Chapter, I am committed to reviving our chapter and educating our law school community on this enormous power and responsibility.
Nara Gonczigsuren (she/her/hers), Detroit Mercy Law, ‘21
Nara Gonczigsuren is a 3L and President of the American Constitution Society at Detroit Mercy Law. She applied to law school because she saw gaps between where our society is and where she wanted it to be. It was only natural that these beliefs drove her to attend law school to fight for justice through using the law as an agent for structural change. Now in her final semester of law school, she is on a career path to be on the front lines of compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.
Prior to law school, Nara was an immigrants’ rights organizer and helped organize a local DREAM Act campaign through press conferences, town halls, direct actions, and community education programs that mobilized constituents and targeted elected officials locally and in Washington, D.C. She also provided Undocumented high school students with support and resources for pursuing higher education, led Know Your Rights presentations, and organized DACA renewal workshops.
In law school, Nara has worked as an immigration law clerk, a student advocate in an immigration law clinic, and as a volunteer at the ACLU of Michigan where she helped gather evidence on how the 100-mile zone border policy leads to racial profiling, detention, and deportation. This past summer, she returned to the ACLU of Michigan as a Voice for Justice Fellow and legal intern dealing with detention practices, facility conditions, and seeking release of medically vulnerable incarcerated individuals during COVID-19. She also served as the President of the Detroit Mercy Law Immigration Law Association, which allowed her to continue her immigrants’ rights activism on campus.
For as long as Nara can remember, she has had progressive views and believed in equality for all,—traits that led her to join the American Constitution Society in law school. As a 1L, she was very happy to find this progressive outlet and became a committed ACS member. As a 2L, she served as the ACS Secretary of the student chapter. Now as a 3L, she proudly serves as the ACS President at a time where it is critical—especially as a soon to be lawyer—to fight for our democracy and the Constitution to protect the rights, humanity, and dignity of all people. During her term as President, she has guided her chapter in successful events discussing criminal justice reform, immigration reform, voter advocacy, and the electoral college.
With her passion for social justice and commitment to serving others, she is committed to the ACS vision of ensuring that the law is a force to improve lives and create an America better for all.
Elorm Sallah (he/him/his), Howard University School of Law, ‘22
Elorm Sallah is a 2L at Howard University School of Law. Elorm credits the two years he spent at ACS’s national office as its executive assistant as the main reason why he successfully navigated the admissions process and felt prepared to tackle common obstacles in law school. Since joining Howard Law, Elorm has passionately applied theory to practice by participating in a legal clinic, serving on law review, and assisting 1Ls with legal writing.
A member of the District of Columbia Superior Court Student Bar and Howard Law’s Child Welfare Clinic, Elorm fervently represents the interests of his clients who are accused of child neglect. Elorm is also a staff editor for the Howard Human & Civil Rights Law Review, where he is drafting a note on Social Security’s disability determination and hearings process. In addition, Elorm is a research assistant for the law library where he creates research guides and advises 1Ls on draft development.
Elorm hopes that the skills he is obtaining at Howard will lay a foundation for a career in public service. Elorm, a proud child of Ghanaian immigrants, was born and raised in Northern Virginia but calls DC his adopted home. He received his undergraduate degree from George Washington University. In his free time, Elorm enjoys running, reading, and cooking and he is always eager to receive recommendations for traveling and meditation.
Ardalan ‘Ardy’ Raghian (he/him/his), Santa Clara University School of Law, ‘21
I am dedicating my life to defend people's civil liberties and advance the public interest. My parents fled to this county during the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution to seek freedom from a regime devoid of liberty. My grandfather stayed and was killed for speaking out against the injustice he saw. I aspire to serve as a bulwark that both protects some of our most vulnerable people and defends sacred constitutional principles from those who seek to undermine them.
In pursuit of that goal, I have been working with various attorneys on a range of social justice cases since before I began law school at Santa Clara, where I am now a 3L. I began as a paralegal protecting protestor's rights during the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, and during my 1L summer, I worked on protecting water rights for the Standing Rock Sioux and Rosebud Sioux Tribes related to the Keystone XL Pipeline and DAPL. During my 2L year, I began working as a clinical student for the Northern California Innocence Project, where I still work today on freeing those who have been wrongfully convicted. This past summer, I began working with the ACLU of Northern California as a Criminal Justice Litigation Intern, and I am continuing my work with them this spring. Recently, I also began interning with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, where I am working on a case related to the police's mishandling of recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
I am the Co-President of our law school's ACS Chapter and the President/Founder of our ACLU NorCal Club. Last year, I brought our law school the 2020 ABA Law School Newspaper National Award of Excellence as the Editor-in-Chief of our legal newspaper, The Advocate. I stepped down after our victory to focus on my internships, and I am now an Advisor to the newspaper, as well as an Advisor to the Social Justice Coalition on campus. One of my passions is giving back to the community, and I enjoy volunteering with various organizations, conducting Know Your Rights trainings for high school students and parents, and planning informative events for our greater community. I am proud of the work I’ve done so far to protect vulnerable communities and I aspire to keep learning and growing as a future attorney to defend our constitutional principles.
Carolyn Welter (she/her), University of Denver Sturm College of Law, ‘22
As someone who constantly fears being complacent in a broken system, I oftentimes feel overwhelmed by my desire to change every failing institution at once. I was compelled to attend law school after volunteering as a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kansas City and seeing all the ways in which my spunky, smart Little Sister was oppressed. We grew up less than 15 minutes apart, yet the opportunities I received as a white, middle-class girl from the suburbs of Kansas were vastly different than the opportunities she received as a Black, working-class girl from inner-city Missouri. I knew I could no longer sit idly by while these injustices continued.
ACS has been an incredible outlet to channel my hopes and dreams for our country and focus on tangible ways to solve problems. It has exposed me to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new people. It has shown me the ways in which our institutions are broken beyond what I could even have imagined before law school. But most importantly, it has taught me that I have the ability to shape our country’s future and that I am not alone in the fight.
One day, I hope to be a part of widespread changes to our education and child welfare systems. I aim to craft policies that give every child the opportunity to succeed.
Vatsala Kumar (she/her), The University of Chicago, ‘23
In undergrad, I majored in Dance and English Literature. I always thought I would join a modern dance company or go into English education. But over time, I found myself frustrated and disheartened by the cruelties and inequities in our world: police killing Black and brown people indiscriminately, unaccompanied immigrant children facing deportation without understanding why, queer individuals not being able to marry the person they love. I was often reminded of the Desmond Tutu quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I felt that if I had the opportunity and ability to make broader change in the world, that's what I should be doing. So I wound up in law school.
Joining ACS allowed me a place to channel my desire for change early on. Even before I knew anything about the law, ACS allowed me to engage with like-minded individuals, bring challenging and eye-opening speakers to campus, and participate in progressive initiatives. I am honored to be serving as our chapter’s co-president this year, and I am so proud to be supporting the many initiatives our members have spearheaded.
ACS has continued to be a home for me in law school, and I have been extremely grateful to have the ACS community through a devastating presidency and an overwhelming pandemic. I am constantly heartened by the enthusiasm of ACS members, and I am so proud to work alongside my ACS peers— who all feel, just as strongly as I do, that we have a duty to be on the side of justice.
Elizabeth Gooen (she/her/hers), Boston College Law School, ‘22
Growing up, I wanted to be a firefighter. I now realize that I came to law school to become one. Our country is facing unprecedented “fires”: crises and long-overdue reckonings. I felt that becoming an attorney would be the best way for me to make a positive impact. I hope to work as a civil rights attorney and find creative solutions to bridge the gaps in our Constitution and ensure a more equitable society.
My identity as an American Jewish woman has been instrumental in shaping my voice and who I hope to become. I was taught early on that “it is not our duty to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.” I recognize the moral imperative my history gives me to act in the face of injustice. The late Justice Ginsburg was also similarly influenced by her Jewish background and experience walking through the world as a woman. She paved the path for people like me, who still have work left to accomplish. The next generation of attorneys has a tremendous task in front of us; we will determine the future of the country.
I often say that ACS was my lifeline during my 1L year. The first-year curriculum can be overwhelming, obscuring all of one’s original reasons for coming to law school. ACS gave me a way to engage my intellectual curiosity and academic passion while also focusing on change-making. It has exposed me to the intersection of progressive lawyering and legal academia, two worlds that fascinate and inspire me. I am honored to be part of this network of law students, lawyers, judges, and individuals who are committed to a similar vision for a better society. The Boston College Law School Chapter has an incredible team, and I am proud to serve alongside them as President.
Ali Mahmood (He/Him/His), Marquette University Law School, ‘22
Throughout my life, my parents have always taught me that our time on this world is finite, and that with the limited time that we do have, we should spend it in service of others, doing good deeds, and to be the person we would want to be friends with. Like many in this country, I have been heavily focused on politics and have been particularly intrigued by it since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. As a Muslim from near Chicago, hearing him spew anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric pushed me to understand how this person could even be party front runner, let alone a President. I was further captivated by the attorneys that flocked to O’Hare airport to provide counsel to the immigrants entering the country, filling out forms on the very floor that my parents came to this country on.
I attended University of Illinois at Chicago and graduated with a political science degree, with a concentration in courts and law, as well as a minor in anthropology. Since graduation, I have volunteered, interned, and worked for political campaigns and candidates that share my progressive goal. At Marquette, I have become even more interested in public law, civil rights, administrative law, and international law. One of the challenges that is found at Marquette Law School, as well as most law schools across the country, is a major lack in diversity. At Marquette, I have worked towards creating inclusive spaces as well as hosting events that supports the diversity on campus. I have been active in Marquette’s pro bono volunteer legal clinic and also serve on the Student Advisory Board for one of its clinics. Most recently, ACS’s Student Chapter at Marquette has hosted events detailing the detention centers at the Mexican American border, and another on Roe v. Wade and the unfortunate challenges it faces with the new Court. Please be sure to follow @ACSMarquette on Instagram for the latest information about our organization.
Tejas Dave (He/Him/His), Emory University School of Law, ‘22
In college, based on research work I was doing on consumer credit, I became interested in using policy tools to build a safer and more equitable financial system. Before law school, I spent time interning on Capitol Hill and at a think tank, working at the Federal Reserve, and volunteering on campaigns to figure out where I could best fit into the policymaking world. Specifically, my time at the Federal Reserve got me interested in banking law and regulatory rulemaking. Guided by this interest, and after a short stint in risk management at Capital One, I applied to law school.
I joined ACS my 1L year to become part of a network of law students and lawyers similarly interested in using legal and policy tools to realize progressive goals. Since then, I’ve been inspired by the work done by my peers at Emory and throughout the broader ACS network. I’ve also enjoyed working with the Georgia Lawyer Chapter and ACS National to host and participate in events related to elections and voting rights.
This year, I’m proud to serve as a Co-President of the Emory Law ACS chapter. Along with our Board, I hope our chapter provides a space to discuss progressive ideas and helps remind students why they went to law school. In the upcoming months, we plan to host events that help guide the discussion around how to achieve progressive policy goals after the election.
Megan Raymond (she/her), Berkeley Law, Class of 2021
The one sure thing about law school is everyone has opinions about it: whether to go, where to go, why to go, what to do when you’re there, and what to do when you’re out. Though I wanted to be a lawyer when I was younger, I heard enough from the anti-law-school crowd that I decidedly was not going to law school upon college graduation.
But I knew I wanted a job that aligned with my progressive values, and I was influenced by a mentor's advice: "If you want to most quickly and deeply impact the issues you care about, work in electoral politics." So I did, spending the next four years as a political media consultant helping candidates, nonprofits, and other campaigns reach voters, shape public opinion, and elect progressive leaders.
A few years in, I helped produce a TV ad criticizing an opponent’s economic record, which became the subject of a cease and desist letter from his campaign. It questioned the factual basis of our claims, but we stood by them. As a result, I had a few phone calls with our legal counsel, who advised us how to tweak the ad and wrote cogent response letters that settled the issue. I remember thinking, “I want to be the one giving that advice, not receiving it.” Soon after, I made the decision to go to law school and am proud to now attend Berkeley Law.
Part of what has made my law school experience so meaningful is the ACS community. ACS was the first group I joined on campus—since then I have held the positions of 1L representative, vice president, and now co-president alongside my friend and classmate Francesco Arreaga. ACS has allowed me not just to stay involved in the policy issues I care about—what drew me to electoral politics in the first place—but also to develop the legal tools necessary to be an even stronger advocate.
My favorite thing about ACS is the diversity of interests, expertise, experiences, and passions it brings together in one community. At Berkeley Law, I think of ACS as our progressive home base: our members are interested in a wide variety of areas of law, but what bonds us is our commitment to fighting for equality, justice, democracy, and the rule of law. ACS members across the country give me hope for the future, and I look forward to a career surrounded by the support, collaboration, and resolve of the ACS community.
George Rhoden, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School (Tampa), ‘20 (December)
We all have experiences that shape our story. Because of my personal experiences throughout my early educational career, I noticed some deficiencies in the educational system and how it doesn’t always work equally. When people are not properly equipped to handle educational issues, they need someone to advocate for them. This is what led me to want to practice education law. No one should feel as if they can’t be heard. No one should feel dismissed.
Throughout my time in law school, I have met many amazing people who have become life-long friends. In law school, I have joined school organizations that facilitated growth in leadership such as ACS. Being the first president of my school’s ACS student chapter came with a lot of pressure and responsibility. However, during my time as president, I can definitively say that my leadership skills have strengthened. Law school has challenged me in ways like never before, but because of those challenges, I have grown , and for that— I am grateful.
Being an attorney is what I’ve always wanted to do. I believe I come from a diverse background of experiences that I could use to benefit other people. What I’ve come to learn is that people just want to be heard and related to. Communication really is key, not only at the attorney-client level, but also at the human level. If we can properly communicate with one another, we can be much more effective in our democracy.
Zoraima Pelaez (she, her, ella), University of Texas School of Law, '22
As someone who has had an abortion, I am dedicated to dismantling the stigma around abortion care and working to expand and protect the right to decide when, if, or how to parent. Prior to attending law school, I worked in outreach and advocacy for a Texas political nonprofit and served as the board vice-president of a Texas-based abortion fund. My time as a political activist and organizer deepened my knowledge of the effects of state restrictions on reproductive rights and introduced me to the creative strategies for combating these attacks. I have had the opportunity to organize protests, events, and trainings to mobilize and educate Texans. I have also worked in coalition with advocacy and non-profit organizations on direct-lobbying and grassroots-lobbying strategies to mitigate or stop harmful anti-abortion legislation.
Oluwatomi Ogunsanya (she/her), Howard University School of Law, ‘21
Growing up, I was no stranger to the saying that the Constitution needs amendments. Before starting high school, I was already of the belief that the Constitution’s intent was not to benefit people of color and certainly not women of color. As a pre-med student who could not get the concept of justice out of my head, I purchased a big constitutional law textbook and decided that I would work towards making the Constitution a document that was written by and for all Americans, not excluding women like myself. In preparation for my mission of making the Constitution more diverse, I became a sociology major and chose to go to law school to gain knowledge of the societies and perspectives that informed our past, exist today, and that will arise tomorrow.
While wheeling my textbook-filled book bag home after my first week of law school, I received a 35-page copy of the Constitution meant to fit in my pocket from a Lexis stand. Immediately, my interest peaked. "This short compilation of laws governs the whole country? Why was the textbook so long then?" I thought as I placed the Constitution in my back pocket. During my train ride home, I began reading my pocket Constitution—which surprisingly excluded all the statutes from my previously purchased con law textbook. By page 21, I realized that the current Constitution protects my God-given rights as an American citizen.
I joined ACS during my 1L year of law school, and due to my hard work and love for the Constitution, I became President in my 3L year. By then, I understood the Constitution to be the contract between the individual people of the United States that created and maintains the United States government. To achieve and preserve peace and prosperity for those bound by the contract, the Constitution charges the government with the duty of protecting the God-given rights of the people and demands that the people fulfill their obligations to the government. I was also of the understanding that I, and others like me, are individuals with rights and obligations under the Constitution. Although the drafters of the Constitution may have never intended for a man or woman of color to head or participate in the government created by the Constitution, today, the Constitution's drafters can not stop men and women of color like President Obama and myself from utilizing the Constitution to our fullest benefit.
Still, there are portions of the Constitution that can profit from amendments. However, many members of my community have been deprived of the potential and benefits of our current Constitution. I have been given the opportunity to learn that the laws of the United States recognize the fact that women of color have God-given rights and humanly negotiated obligations—irrespective of the Constitution drafters’ alleged intent. Once applied equally and then amended to fit the social constructs of the present day, the Constitution of the United States is a contract that makes for the best country in the world.
I am optimistic that historically disenfranchised communities will one day know and use all the rights and obligations provided to them by the Constitution. That is why we have been working tirelessly on initiating events such as Constitution in the Classroom, where we provide elementary, middle, and high school students of different socioeconomic statuses with an early introduction to the Constitution. Thank you, ACS.
Alexis Ramsey (She/Her/Hers), University of San Francisco School of Law, ‘21
I joined ACS in the end of my 1L year. The chapter at USF had dwindled, but our academic advisor, Julie Nice, was incredibly excited to get the chapter going again. My Co-President, then a 3L, wanted to run events about progressive lawyering. I didn’t know what progressive lawyering was at the time, but it has since become integral to my philosophies. We, as a country and people, cannot remain where we are now. Our legal system must change; we’ve been seeing the signs and now the signs are on everyone’s lawns.
This year, our chapter is focusing on how progressive lawyering can help to dismantle white supremacy. One part of that is ACS’s progressive pipeline to judgeships. Our system will change from the ground-up, especially given our political climate. Having judges in district and appellate courts who understand that our laws are currently unjust is the second step to that kind of ground-up change. While judges are bound to uphold constitutional laws, they can at least write opinions that give advocates a leg to stand on. We all have a duty to call out laws that keep the status quo because the status quo is detrimental to the vast majority of our population.
The first step to this ground-up change though is the advocates. Our chapter’s priority this year is getting students to see the need for change and how that change can actually happen, before and as they become lawyers. We think we’ll have an easy time motivating everyone this year, but we want to keep the momentum going. We have a lot of work to do and we’re excited to continue it.
Yours in Progress,
Alexis Ramsey ACS USF Student Chapter Co-President
Soo (“Sue”) Bin Ahn (she/her/hers), New York University School of Law, ‘22
In February of this year, I “officially” became an American. It was confusing, to say the least, being welcomed to a country that I have held as my own for the past eighteen years—being instructed through a pledge of allegiance and national anthem so familiar to me, threaded inextricably through the fabric of my childhood, by virtue of my upbringing within the New Jersey public school system. With images of Lady Liberty and Ellis Island plastered across the television screens in the room where the ceremony was held, I experienced the whirlwind of renouncing my motherland and becoming fully recognized by the country that I held as mine. In my hands was an envelope containing a welcome letter signed by the current president; simultaneously, on that very day, a small sliver on the front page of the New York Times sported the headline “Immigration By Legal Path Begins to Fall,” with the front page of the Politics section reading, “As Trump Barricades the Border, Legal Immigration Is Starting to Plunge.” The emotions during the naturalization ceremony were and always will be ineffable—however, I found a grounding force in my pledge to support and defend the constitution of this nation.
A casual Buddhist, by familial association, I find that the words that I hold on to more than any prayer are those of Chief Justice Marshall’s: “We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.” It is, indeed, a constitution we are expounding. And nothing is more gratifying, harrowing, nor interesting than analyzing how this outline of broad principles fares in the faces of divisive partisanship and societal changes. We are law students and lawyers in a time where it is more apparent than ever that the Constitution was written when so few were deemed as fully human, as deserving of fundamental rights and constitutional protections. Make no mistake—the Black Lives Matter movement is not a sign of the times. It is a mobilization around the lifelong lived experiences of Black Americans, living in a nation and systems that were architected to preserve white supremacy, in vestiges of Black enslavement that present themselves in modern forms such as voter suppression and the carceral state.
Constitutional law is and can be a difficult experience for students with marginalized identities. From sensationalized cases falling woefully short of their layman legacies (Brown’s “with all deliberate speed”) to the current Court’s slow gutting of the reproductive rights jurisprudence (June Medical) and selecting to distill racism down to an administrative law issue (Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California), it can be an all-too-glaring experience of realizing how little our nation has progressed from the days of its founding.
But I find hope in our constitution and in its areas of silence and ambiguity. The fervent beliefs in freedom and representation, manifesting themselves into the structures of our government, are the principles of our nation that must be afforded to every individual. And it is our job, as progressive law students and attorneys, to utilize law as a tool for progressive change that will get our nation to where it needed to be, always. ACS allows me the platform, resources, and network to push for progressivism—and I am incredibly honored to serve in the co-president capacity at NYU Law, fighting for justice alongside my incredible peers, as the next generation of lawyers.
Robby Sisco (he/him/his), Santa Clara University School of Law, '21
I’ll never forget when I first read the quote, “Success is moving from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” My experience and observations have found these words to ring true.
In high school, it was a goal of mine to become a professional golfer, and I failed. I failed again when I wanted to enlist in the US Marine Corps, and again when I was medically discharged during Basic Combat Training for the Army. I went to community college with the intention of working in law enforcement, and I failed again. A spark went off, however, when Donald Trump won the presidency. The range of emotions I felt that night varied but surprisingly included a new desire — to get involved. It was that night I decided I wanted to be the most effective advocate I could be, so I made the determination to go to law school. I now feel as if my life has a greater purpose, and I am on my path to personal fulfillment.
I found a community of like-minded people through the American Constitution Society. While being a member of the organization during my 1L year, I was able to attend the Leaders from Law Workshop in Las Vegas where I learned techniques and strategies to balance running for office after law school and a legal career. During my 2L year, I was fortunate enough to volunteer through ACS and TIME’S UP to help a firm in Hawaii represent a victim of sexual harassment and assault. Now, as Co-President of the ACS Chapter at Santa Clara, I get the opportunity to lead a group of motivated law students as we spread progressive values.
To achieve my goal of growing and learning as much as I can to better serve my future clients, I began working with the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, where I received guidance and mentorship on drafting policies. During my fellowship, I drafted a policy advocating for an increase in government funding of FAFSA in an effort to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all. In a separate policy class, I advocated for limiting class sizes in elementary school to increase success and end the school-to-prison pipeline.
Each month of 2020 has brought forth new challenges, new opportunities for failure, and a continuous test of our resolve. Yet, our enthusiasm for progress is as strong as it has ever been. Stay motivated. Stay engaged.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Pamela Rattinger (she/her/hers), Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, ‘22
After completing my undergraduate studies, I started working as a paralegal at a Big Law firm in New York City. While many of my preconceived notions about working in the legal field were quickly confirmed, such as long hours, exciting hearings, and endless research, I was caught off guard by one thing in particular. Whether at the beginning of meetings or over a celebratory team dinner, I was shocked by how often the attorneys I worked with discussed politics, policy, and overarching theories of how our society should function. Up until then, I had been taught my entire life to keep my mouth shut and head down when controversial topics arose in a professional setting.
When I arrived at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law a few years later, I knew I wanted to explore how best to discuss these topics with my peers. ACS has given me the chance to dissect my own opinion on several topics and the opportunity to have lively and respectful debates with those I may disagree with. Last year, our chapter’s board had an active group message where we would examine local and national news, as well as legal doctrine we learned about in our classes. These discussions made me more confident in sharing my own views, while also examining what discussions were missing on our campus.
It is not surprising that many of the conversations I had with ACS members over this past summer have centered around racial justice. One day, while debating the merits of qualified immunity with my board, I stopped to reflect on whether these conversations were happening on our campus as a whole. Unfortunately, it seemed that up until that point, racial inequality was only a footnote at the end of panels or presentin the seldom-verbalized undertones of our casebooks. The omission of race created a massive gap in our educational learnings, and I knew that ACS would be the perfect organization to bridge that divide.
This year, our chapter will be hosting an event series that addresses the intersection of racism and the law. The events will explore topics such as prosecutorial accountability in police brutality cases, racism in reproductive rights, and how racial discrimination is written into the federal income tax code. These events will be run as group discussions, to allow all our members to engage with the material in a way that our board often does in group messages. My hope is that by highlighting these inequalities, my peers will begin examining how different laws can be discriminatory and what we as law students and future attorneys can do to make the legal system more equitable.
ACS has allowed me to not only become comfortable discussing controversial topics, but also has given me a forum in which to explore how to turn my thoughts into actions. I have been able to explore complex issues that previously eluded me alongside an understanding and compassionate group of my peers. ACS has also given me a place to bring the injustices that inflame my passions to the forefront of conversations happening on campus. I am incredibly honored and humbled to be serving as President this year, and hope that I can continue to make ACS a place in law school that accepts all people as they are and gives them a safe place to explore controversial topics in a professional setting.
Francesco Arreaga (he/him/his), University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, '21
I am very proud to be a part of the American Constitution Society and to help co-lead the student chapter at UC Berkeley School of Law this year. ACS has been a very important part of my law school experience because it has introduced me to a nationwide community of progressives who care about ensuring that our nation’s legal system serves the public good while advancing liberty, equality, and justice. Moreover, as a first-generation professional, I am deeply grateful for all of the support that ACS has provided me as I navigate the start of my legal career.
One of my favorite activities in law school has been volunteering for ACS’s Constitution in the Classroom program. Through this program, I have had the opportunity to teach kids in elementary school about our nation’s constitution. The most memorable experience I had was teaching a group of fifth-grade students in San Francisco’s Mission District about the separation of powers in both English and Spanish. After lecturing about the constitution, I had the class split up into the two chambers of Congress and come up with laws that they wanted to enact.
The students proposed rent control ordinances to reduce homelessness in San Francisco, banning plastic from schools to protect the environment, and providing all students locally grown organic food for lunch. One student also expressed the need to prohibit guns inside of schools because he did not want his school to be a dangerous place. Another student asked during our discussion if the President of the United States is above the law.
I was in awe by all of the students’ keen awareness of local and national issues. Children in fifth grade were imagining a world where people are safe, the environment is protected, housing is provided, and sustainable food systems are created! Members of Congress should consider consulting more with children across our nation because they would inspire them to take action! After convening the legislative session in class, the students asked me about what it was like to study law and why I wanted to be a lawyer. I told them that the path to a legal career is challenging but not impossible if you persist. I let them know about the variety of career options that lawyers have and described my goal to utilize my legal training in the area of public policy to help reimagine and rewrite the rules that structure our society.
At the very end of the discussion, the students asked me about my ethnic background, and I let them know that I am Hispanic. A second later, a bunch of the Hispanic children inside the classroom smiled widely and jointly screamed, “Latinooo!” At that moment, I learned about how important it is for kids to be able to see people who speak their language and share a similar background as them in leadership positions. I hope that through this activity I inspired these kids to be civically engaged, join the legal profession when they are older, and work to improve our society.
Civic engagement and public service have always been important to me. Growing up, my mother often told me, “It is better to give than to receive.” Throughout my time in law school, I have been involved in various pro-bono activities and have had the honor of interning for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign and Senator Sherrod Brown’s staff on the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs. Now, I am looking forward to interning for Senator Patrick Leahy’s staff on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this fall.
My goal is to utilize my law degree to advance bold progressive policies that will promote social, racial, and economic justice in our country. I also hope that I can help make the path to the legal profession easier for other first-generation professionals and students of color. As members of the legal profession, we must ensure that communities that have historically been excluded from the practice of law or systemically targeted by our legal system have their voices and experiences abundantly represented in our profession. Fighting for justice is not easy, but I know that I am not alone in this endeavor because the ACS network shares these values.
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