February 28, 2019
February 2019: Craig Mastantuono
Craig Mastantuono (he/him)
Chair, ACS Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter
The assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions, guaranteed by the 6th Amendment to our Constitution, means that anyone accused by our government shall have access to a lawyer. To someone that will stand between that person and the government as a legal advocate, to assert all defenses, and ensure that all other constitutional rights of the accused are honored. I’ve spent my career in that role, and the American Constitution Society (ACS) is a powerful institutional ally in my work on behalf of my clients.
My name is Craig Mastantuono, and I am a partner at Mastantuono & Coffee, SC, a firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, focused on defending people under investigation and accused of crimes. I am the son and grandson of immigrants from Italy and Mexico, and, like many people of recent immigrant backgrounds, my generation was the first in my family to receive a college education. In law school, I became interested in issues involving the enfranchisement of full citizenship privileges to recent immigrants as I participated in constitutional law class discussions, leading me to a research assistant position with my constitutional law professor, and later to an internship with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in Chicago. Working with smart, disciplined, talented public defenders, the value of a Constitution that requires the government to pay for lawyers to fight against it when seeking to convict someone of a crime was not lost on me. What could be more enfranchising than providing a lawyer to fight the government at the moment when that government (and the world, it sometimes seems) is against you?
Inspired by the work, I began my career as an Assistant State Public Defender in Wisconsin, and after seven years, opened a private practice. Today our firm is women/minority owned and has employed members of our community among whom are first-generation Americans, who have fought in the Iraq War, and who are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, all important members of an energetic litigation group. In addition to our practice, we involve ourselves in shaping policy around criminal justice reform. ACS is an important part of that effort, providing research, networking and informational support on a wide variety of important issues.
ACS started its Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter in the early 2000’s under the leadership of several judges and lawyers from the generation just ahead of me, progressives who wanted to affect the local debate and legal landscape with ACS’s fundamental vision: that the Constitution works best when it serves as a force to improve the lives of all people. I have served as the Chair of the Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter for the past two years, as we attract and engage the next generation of progressive lawyers who share this philosophy, and who work in a wide variety of practices, public and private, large firm and small. In the fall of 2017, the ACS Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter hosted the ACS National Lawyer Convening, a gathering of ACS leaders and members from chapters across the country for a three-day conference. The support and enthusiasm shared by the 125 attendees for our Constitution as a progressive force for good, for the concept that our government is at its best when it helps the most people, for a shared vision of a diverse and independent judiciary, and for the robust debate of constitutional theory, was self-evident and motivating.
In my opinion, ACS provides the associational home and progressive infrastructure for those who want to use their law degrees to fully enshrine and protect all the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. It’s a necessary part of our firm’s efforts to be a voice in our community. It’s the place for those lawyers who want to make a difference.