Headshot of Emi MacLean

Emi MacLean (she/her)

Senior Staff Attorney, Criminal Justice Program

Emi MacLean is a Senior Staff Attorney for the Criminal Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California where she focuses on criminal justice litigation. She is counsel for plaintiffs in UFW Foundation v. Kern, a legal challenge to Kern County’s misdemeanor plea mill; Stiavetti v. Clendenin, a successful challenge to the State’s systemic prolonged detention of people deemed incompetent to stand trial in California’s jails; Ramos v. Mayorkas, which resulted in an injunction preventing the Trump Administration’s planned termination of humanitarian Temporary Protected Status for over 400,000 people; and Zepeda Rivas v. Jennings, a federal class action challenging conditions of confinement during the COVID pandemic which resulted in an injunction and the significant depopulation of two California immigration detention facilities. She is also coordinating a statewide effort to access prosecutorial information for the purpose of implementing California’s Racial Justice Act, with public records act litigation in various counties.

Previously Emi served as a deputy public defender at the San Francisco Office of the Public Defender where she represented noncitizens in removal proceedings; an attorney and co-legal director with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, where she litigated federal cases, represented individuals in removal proceedings, and advocated for policy reforms at the intersection of immigration and criminal law; an adjunct professor with the Immigrant Rights Clinics at the University of California at Irvine and UCLA; a legal officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative; and a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights pursuing legal challenges and policy efforts to upend executive detention at Guantanamo and in CIA secret prisons.

She also worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors without Borders) as the administrator and deputy head of mission for MSF’s HIV/AIDS care and treatment project in South Africa, and as the U.S. director of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. Emi also worked as the coordinator of an emergency project responding to xenophobic violence in South Africa.   

Emi graduated from Georgetown University Law Center and Harvard College.  

Emi believes in accountability and is vehemently opposed to cages. She likes to get out in nature, bike, and hike.