Theresa Amato founded the Illinois-based Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) in late 1993, opened the CAC publicly in 1994, and served as its first executive director for eight years. She serves on the Board of Directors and is a former president of the Board. Theresa has spent nearly three decades as a litigator, advisor, counsel, of counsel, in-house counsel, general counsel or executive director in various nonprofit, for profit and political entities. She is currently counsel at Shearman & Sterling, a global law firm, and is licensed to practice law in Illinois, New York, and Washington, D.C. Amato grew up in the CAC’s service area, graduated at the top of her class from Lake Park High School, and with honors from Harvard University in 1986 with a degree in both Government and Economics, and from the New York University School of Law in 1989, where she was a Root-Tilden Scholar, served as the Senior Notes and Comment Editor of the NYU Law Review, and was awarded both the Orison S. Marden Award for first place oralist in NYU’s moot court competition and the Vanderbilt Medal for “extraordinary contributions to the School of Law.” After a federal judicial clerkship with the Honorable Robert W. Sweet in the Southern District of New York, Amato first learned to litigate at Public Citizen Litigation Group from 1991-1993, where she was the director of the Freedom of Information Clearinghouse in Washington D.C. From 2001-2003, Amato ran Citizen Works, a national nonprofit organization, and returned to it from 2009-2015 to co-found the Fair Contracts project to educate about and reform fine print consumer contracts. She served as the Distinguished Scholar in Residence and an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law from 2013-2015, and on its Board of Regents, and currently serves on the Advisory Boards of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies, and on its Consumer Law Review. She also taught a course on Mobilizing for Justice in the Justice Studies Department for four years as an adjunct instructor at NEIU. Amato has experience litigating and supervising the litigation of lawsuits at all levels of state and federal courts, testifying in front of public bodies, navigating regulatory agencies, philanthropic fundraising and grant-making, and conducting corporate transactional work in the areas of banking, trusts, and securities. She also spent three years in the D.C. International Arbitration Practice of her current law firm. In 2000 and 2004 Amato was the national campaign manager for two presidential campaigns outside of the two major parties, and in 2000, with a small budget, produced the largest progressive vote for a third-party candidate since 1924. In 2009, The New Press in New York published her book on the barriers to entry for independents and third parties to participate in the political process. In addition to serving on the CAC's board, while in Illinois in the 90’s, Amato was first a member of the League of Women Voters in Elmhurst, and later became the co-president of the Oak Park-River Forest League of Women Voters from 2009 – 2011, then the largest local League in the state. Amato serves on the boards of additional DC-area nonprofits and is also a former executive director of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation.
Amato is an elected member of the American Law Institute and the Economic Club of Chicago, and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. She has received several public interest honors, including being named a Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School, and being selected as a Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she led a seminar entitled “Mobilizing for Justice: How to Take on the System and Make a Difference.” On February 21, 2001 she was the featured speaker at the Harvard Law Forum on Bridging the Democracy Gap. Amato has received both NYU’s and Loyola University of Chicago Law School’s Public Interest Awards. In 1997, The American Lawyer named Amato, at age 32, as one of “the 45 young lawyers under 45 outside of the private sector whose work is changing lives.”
The New York Times profiled Amato in its Public Lives section and she has appeared in media outlets around the world, including the BBC, NPR, CNN, CSPAN, CBS, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Nation, among others. Her work has been published in the New York University Law Review, The National Civic Review, The Stanford Law & Policy Review, The Yale Journal of International Law, and Trial Magazine, and VOX among other publications; she speaks to audiences around the world about building democracy, transparency, human rights, corporate power, professional responsibility, electoral reform, and advancing justice. Amato appears in various documentaries including the Sundance-selected and Academy Awards short-listed documentary about Ralph Nader, “An Unreasonable Man," as well as “The Contenders,” an OZY Media documentary series for PBS, and distributed worldwide by the BBC, on “the 16 most dramatic presidential campaigns in modern history.”
In 1995, shortly after opening the CAC, Amato received Lake Park High School’s Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2001, the Women’s Division of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans recognized Amato with its Impresa Award for “women from the Chicago Italian-American community who have demonstrated outstanding accomplishments during their lifetime.”
On September 23, 2001, The Hon. Nancy J. Katz married Theresa Amato and Todd G. Main in Chicago and they now have two daughters. For five years, from 2010-2015, in homage to her parents, grandparents, and especially for her daughters, Amato wrote “Vita Bella Stories,” a monthly column on parenting and Italian-Americans in Fra Noi, an Italian-American magazine published in Stone Park. In 2013, Casa Italia published the first anthology about Italian and Italian-American women in Chicagoland; it was translated into Italian and presented at the Senato della Repubblica, Rome, Italy, in October 2015. Both of Theresa’s grandmothers are included in the fifty profiles of the anthology.
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