Three Wins for Supreme Court Litigation Clinic

Three rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States May 24, 2010 nicely reflect the variety of work done by the students, faculty and staff of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic:

First, the Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of the clinic’s client in United States v. O’Brien, holding that a provision in the U.S. Code mandating a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for using a machine gun in furtherance of committing certain crimes is an “element” of an aggravated crime that must be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, instead of a “sentencing factor” for the judge to find by a preponderance of the evidence. Clinic students Rakesh Kilaru (’10), Vivian Wang (’10), and Connor Williams (’10), wrote the brief on the merits, with assistance at its late stages from Elisabeth Oppenheimer (’10) and Keisha Stanford (’10). The Court’s opinion cites directly to the brief twice (a rare tribute to the brief’s force and the fact that it included considerable original research) and recites the brief’s arguments at every turn. The students all helped Professor Jeffrey Fisher prepare for oral argument, which he gave in February.

Second, the Court agreed with the outcome the clinic advocated on behalf of The International Association of Human Rights Agencies as amicus in Lewis v. City of Chicago. The Court held that the statutory limitations period for bringing Title VII claims based on an employer’s use of a practice that has an allegedly disparate impact runs from any time the employer uses the practice, without regard to when the employer first announced it would implement the practice. Clinic students Anthony Dick (’10), Jacqueline de Armas (’11), and Vivian Wang authored the brief, supervised primarily by instructor Kevin Russell.

Third, the Court granted the clinic’s petition for certiorari in Sossamon v. Texas. The case presents the issue whether plaintiffs may recover money damages against the state or its officials for violating the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and, if so, whether Congress had the constitutional authority to provide for such damages. Clinic students Sam Bateman (’10), Beverly Moore (’09), and Anthony Dick authored the cert petition. After the petition was filed, Jacqueline de Armas and Vivian Wang (yes, Monday was a pretty good day for Vivian), assisted with supplemental briefing and a meeting successfully urging the Solicitor General’s office to file an amicus brief supporting the cert petition. Kevin Russell is the primary supervisor for this case, which the clinic is already briefing on the merits and will be set for oral argument in the fall.

In addition to the individuals named above, Professor Pam Karlan and instructor Amy Howe assisted in all of the cases, as did Tom Goldstein on the first and third. Legal Assistant Joanne Newman, as always, provided excellent support.