Making his Mark

When Brandon Wharton ’21 was elected editor-in-chief of the Maryland Law Review, he made history as the first Black student to hold the post at the law school’s oldest journal.

“We feel great pride in Brandon Wharton,” says Prof. Russell McClain, associate dean for diversity and inclusion. “He is just one in a long history of outstanding Black students at Maryland Carey Law, but I hope his achievement serves as an example and an inspiration for students coming up behind him.”

Little did Wharton know when he got the news that he had been selected by last year’s executive board to take the helm, he will also be remembered as the editor-in-chief who steered the publication during the COVID-19 crisis.

With four issues a year, the Maryland Law Review is a year-round commitment and one that requires overlapping executive boards to work simultaneously throughout the spring semester. So, when the Frederick, Maryland, native ascended from staff editor to the top job in February, he got right to work reviewing manuscripts and meeting every Monday morning at the law school with the rest of the incoming executive board.

Then the coronavirus hit, forcing law school operations to go remote in mid-March.

Having already selected most of the pieces for the new board’s first issue before spring break, the initial transition was practically seamless, says Wharton, because “a lot of our work translates well on the substantive side to being done remotely.” In some ways it was easier to attend convenient FaceTime chats, he laughs, than making it to those weekly 8am meetings in person.

As the pandemic wore on, Wharton also managed to adapt many of his other spring and summer plans to the circumstances, always grateful that his family remained healthy.

Spurred by longstanding injustices that came into sharp relief as the coronavirus had a devastating impact on vulnerable populations, including those incarcerated, he and co-writer Nina Marks ’21 produced an op-ed advocating for the release of adult ‘juvenile lifers’ during the pandemic. With support in the process from Prof. Michael Pinard, co-director of the Clinical Law Program, Wharton and Marks published the piece in The Baltimore Sun in May.

“We got some positive feedback and there were some people who didn’t like what we had to say,” remembers Wharton, who welcomed the controversy because it meant they had brought attention to an issue he says is often overlooked.

Wharton was also invited to stay on remotely over the summer as a clerk for Gallagher Evelius & Jones where he had worked for several months during the academic year. The firm is a partner in Maryland Carey Law’s Diversity and Inclusion Scholars Initiative through which cohorts of academically talented students receive financial and professional support. Wharton is a Diversity Scholar from the initiative’s second class. In June, he took time off from Gallagher to participate in Venable’s summer associate program, appreciative that the position wasn’t eliminated due to the pandemic, though it was shortened from 10 weeks to four.

Now, as Wharton faces an online fall semester, he remains optimistic but acknowledges that new challenges are emerging. He misses the easy collaboration nurtured in the Law Review offices in the law school building and is working with his colleagues to bring the journal community together and build relationships in the virtual landscape.

In lieu of its annual in-person orientation, the board hosted an online meeting in August to welcome the new crop of enthusiastic staff editors and match them with notes and comments editors who provide mentorship for the recruits.

Peer mentorship has always been critical to the journal’s success, notes Wharton, adding that now it is more important than ever. That is why he is encouraging senior editors to step up efforts to work closely with the new staffers, emphasizing regular, online meetings in the absence of more spontaneous in-person encounters.

As Wharton provides steady leadership, he reflects on the mentorship he himself has received in his time at Maryland Carey Law, from faculty, alumni, the Law Review editors who came before him and, especially, from members of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) in which he is active.

“It means something to be at law school and see people who look like you,” says Wharton. “It was helpful to me particularly when I was first coming into law school to get advice and mentorship from the second- and third-year students in BLSA, and I hope that I am fulfilling a similar role for the new law students.”

At the February 2020 BLSA banquet, Wharton was honored for his achievements with an official announcement of his selection as editor-in-chief of Maryland Law Review and as a scholarship recipient from the Murphy Family BLSA Scholarship Fund. In that moment and as he continues to excel in his doubly historic position, Brandon Wharton is indeed an example and an inspiration. Not just for the students coming up behind him but for everyone sharing his value of equal justice for all.

After Wharton graduates in May, he will clerk for the Hon. Paula Xinis of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland for the 2021-2022 term, after which he will join Gallagher Evelius & Jones as a litigation associate.


Feature photo: Lauren Castellana, Towson University


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