Engage18 Amicus Brief
In the 2018 case Michigan Gun Owners v. Ann Arbor Public Schools, a gun advocacy group challenged the Ann Arbor school district's policy prohibiting weapons on campus. They argued that every school district in the state should be required to allow open carry on school grounds, with little regard for the consequences.
When the case reached the MI Supreme Court, which at the time had a Republican majority, I grew afraid. The wellbeing of myself and my peers lay at the mercy of an institution far removed from the realities of what their decision would mean, a collection of Justices who had little understanding of how terrifying a gun in class would be to a student mere months after the Parkland shooting.
In response, I began drafting an amicus brief meant to convey at least some of this understanding. I had no legal experience myself, but I researched the relevant laws and copied the format from another brief I found online. With that, I constructed a short document, with a simple preface explaining the interest of Engage18 and a brief argument presenting legal considerations to the Court.
Most importantly, however, I structured my brief to be a container for the testimony of my peers. With the outline created, I was able to fill the rest of my allotted length with contributions from other high school students who wanted to participate. Contained in the brief from page 2 to page 14 are essays and poems submitted by students from around Michigan, students who wanted to make their voices heard, who wanted to know that the Court wouldn't make such a consequential decision without firsthand knowledge of the pain they might cause. I got in contact with a lawyer from the University of Michigan who agreed to help me polish and submit the brief, and in March of 2018 the brief was complete.
Ultimately, the Court narrowly broke party lines to rule 4-3 for the school district, a decision that was met by all my peers and I with enormous relief. The precedent from that ruling protects students to this day, and the ramifications extended even to this current election cycle; while agitators openly carried weapons into voting booths across the state, this ruling provided the legal authority needed to ensure precincts located in schools couldn't be threatened in such a manner.
This legal brief taught me that I could make a difference, even when I was still just a junior in high school. I'm incredibly proud to include it in my portfolio.
Sunrise Movement Amicus Brief
In the case Juliana v. the United States, a group of young plaintiffs brought a suit against the government over climate change. They argued that our climate was a part of the public trust, and that governmental actions which damaged it unconstitutionally deprived future generations of life, liberty, and property in a way that demanded immediate correction. The case was hotly contested, and frequently subject to petitions by the federal government designed to delay or kill the suit before it ever reached trial. During one such petition, the government requested a writ of mandamus from the 9th Circuit instructing the district court to dismiss the case.
The organization behind Juliana, Our Children's Trust, knew that the 9th Circuit's consideration of the petition could be a tipping point. If the government prevailed in their request, the case would end before ever even went to trial. To try and preempt this, they requested that organizations submit amicus briefs bolstering the plaintiff's case, and a large number of organizations responded to the call.
At the same time, the Sunrise Movement was gaining in recognition and popularity. I had been recently introduced to some members of the organization, and I encouraged them to submit a brief as well. I created a sample draft much like I had created my previous brief with Engage18, and again I solicited contributions from dozens of students, this time from across the country. Thus time, I worked less as the primary author and more as a facilitator, gaining diversity of experience in legal roles that helped broaden my understanding of what goes into making a successful brief.
Ultimately, my advocacy succeeded, and Sunrise submitted the brief attached on the right. It again proved successful; the petition by the government was denied, and the case returned to the district court to be argued. The case has since been dismissed, unfortunately, but its survival through years of challenges by the government speaks to the promise of ecological litigation to help defend our environment and ensure a future for our planet.
One of my earliest projects with Engage18 was to a debate for the 2018 gubernatorial elections. Working with a number of students from my high school, we successfully ran a debate with Democratic primary candidates Abdul El Sayed, Shri Thanedar, and Bill Cobbs. The debate was organized in the style of a townhall, and it was entirely organized, administered, and moderated by high school students. The event was free to access for members of the public, and reached a crowd of tens of thousands.
Setting MI Social Studies Standards
Following national outcry over the politicization of Michigan's social studies standards in late 2018, I served on the panel set out by the Department of Education to revise and restore academic rigor to the curriculum. Ultimately, the revision I helped draft was accepted by our state Board of Education with little revision, helping create a comprehensive and inclusive set of history standards for our state.
Poll Worker & Election Inspector
As part of my commitment to my community, I've long worked to ensure our elections are carried out smoothly and without issue. In the midterm elections of 2018 and the presidential primary of 2020, I served as a poll worker at a precinct, helping to run the Electronic Poll Book and ensure voting was as easy and smooth as possible.
In the presidential election of 2020, I instead worked on the absentee voter counting board, preparing ballots the day before the election and counting them the day of. My precinct worked from 6AM to 3AM, and successfully reported our complete results the night of the election.
What I've Learned
My involvement with my community has taught me so much about the value of hard work and perseverance. My greatest successes have come from times I've tackled ambitious projects and learned by doing, which has taught me that even when a problem might seem insurmountable, it can be overcome if it's approached with commitment and purpose.
I've also learned to look for resources and opportunities that might not be readily apparent. Had I failed to email a lawyer I'd never met one morning in 2018, I may never have been able to submit my first amicus brief. Had I assumed I'd be unable to get ahold of the gubernatorial candidates in Michigan, the idea for a debate would have died before it ever started. Instead, in both these cases I recognized that asking would cost me nothing, and that by making an effort I would earn at least a chance of success. While many similar attempts never panned out, perseverance and a willingness to try meant that at least some of them were successful. Taking a chance every now and then can lead to truly spectacular results.