Students of ACS

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.

10/19/2020

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.

10/12/2020

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.

These experiences informed my decision to pursue a legal education and to become a civil rights attorney. This summer, I had the opportunity to learn from the brilliant litigators at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. Despite the remote nature of the internship, I gained invaluable skills. The experience only solidified my desire to work in reproductive rights impact litigation and to expand my advocacy outside of my home state. I know the road ahead will be filled with uncertainty and challenges when it comes to protecting this fundamental right. But as the late, great RBG once said, "real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time."

10/5/2020

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.

9/28/2020

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

 

9/21/2020

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.

9/14/2020

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.

9/7/2020

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.

8/31/2020

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.

If you have a story you would like to share through Students of ACS, please e-mail us at campus@acslaw.org.

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