We the People is a blog series that features the stories of members, supporters, volunteers, and allies of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota. Together we are accomplishing critical work in our state to protect and advance civil liberties across the Midwest and beyond.
Kali Pearson is the summer legal intern for the ACLU of South Dakota. But forget what you see in the movies about interns only fetching people coffee. Kali will be too busy working alongside ACLU lawyers and developing substantive skills through on-the-job learning to ask anyone if they want cream or sugar with their morning cup of joe.
But Kali’s not all work and no play. She and her partner love hiking on the weekends along the Missouri River and she enjoys reading fantasy books. (Her current favorites are “Priory of an Orange Tree” by Samantha Shannon and “The Jasmine Throne” by Tasha Suri.) She also loves scary moves and her pets, a leopard gecko named Marceline and a black lab named Mabel (who still lives in Nebraska with her family).
But nothing will distract Kali, who will be a third year student at the University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law, from her legal education.
“I’ve been interested in law since I was a kid stealing gumballs from my grandpa’s law office,” she says. “As I grew and learned about the inequalities many experience every day, I wanted to find a career where I could make positive change. For me, legal work is the answer. I hope to commit my legal career to changing policies and laws, bettering government funded programming, and ensuring access to competent legal aid.”
What excites you about legal work?
From what I’ve experienced, the majority of legal work is reading and writing. Fortunately, I love researching. I’ve never been a math person and could barely sit through a science class, so I quickly learned I need a career where the work is stimulating and comes naturally to me. Legal work is exciting because I get to use skills that I’m proud of to do something I’m passionate about.
When did you first hear about the ACLU and why is the work appealing to you?
I can’t remember when I first heard about the ACLU, but it’s an organization I’ve been interested in since high school. I admire what the ACLU stands for and what its staff fight for. I have a passion for civil rights and believe the best way to protect civil liberties is through legislative change. The opportunity to fight for what’s right as a career is the dream and the chance to intern at the ACLU is a step in the right direction.
Which of the ACLU’s issue areas are you particularly passionate about and why?
I’m passionate about civil liberties, women’s rights, and criminal law reform. I earned my bachelor’s degree in gender studies from Nebraska Wesleyan University. It was during that program when I began to see and understand how deeply rooted inequality is in our nation. This motivated me to find ways to be part of the solution while working toward law school. Through my undergraduate program, I interned at a non-profit called Released and Restored. The goal of this organization is to teach life skills and women empowerment courses to incarcerated men and women in local jails and prisons. This experience helped me see the abhorrent way incarcerated people are treated. I continued to pursue education in these issues as a law student and am more committed than ever to working toward a real solution.
What is your favorite way to get involved in your community?
My favorite way to get involved in my community is through volunteer opportunities promoted by my law school. USD Law and its student organizations do a great job connecting students to volunteer opportunities that align with their values and passions.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in getting more politically involved in their community?
I would suggest getting on email lists for nonprofits of interest. I’ve been on a few different legal advocacy listservs since high school, so I’m able to receive up-to-date information about volunteer work and ways to get involved in my community. I would also suggest getting involved with club or groups, if available, that align with your interests. Once you’ve created or tapped into a community of people that align with your interests, it gets easier and easier to find ways to get involved.
Which of the Constitution’s amendments are most important to you and why?
Of course, all of the Constitution is important, however, I’m partial to the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. This amendment has been at issue for decades and due to recent events has been more consistently in the public eye. Attorneys are still fighting and judges are still deciding cases that affect how the Fourth Amendment is interrupted. It is vital that the government’s interest in preventing crime is reasonably balanced with the peoples’ right to privacy. As the list of exceptions grow, it is more important than ever that there are people fighting for what’s right.
What are you most looking forward to during your time as an intern?
I’m most looking forward to working with practicing attorneys who have careers in my field of interest. With how law school is structured it can be difficult to get hands-on practical learning through courses alone. The opportunity to intern and learn the day-to-day tasks of a practicing attorney will help me immensely.