Law School Clinics and American Law

It is fantastic to see clinical work-product being used in court cases; to have clinical briefs being referenced in front of the Supreme Court of the United States shows the impact that effective experiential study can have and the effects that clinic experience can have on the future practices of these students.

“The April 30, 2013 issue of Law Week (Vol. 81, No. 41: the Supreme Court opinions issue) reports three interesting decisions, but these decisions are also interesting for another reason, visible in the lists of counsel at the end of each case. It turns out that clinical programs were on the briefs for all three cases.

The Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic helped represent Adrian Moncrieffe in his successful challenge to the argument that his conviction for possession of 1.3 grams of marijuana with the intent to distribute (not necessarily to sell) was an aggravated felony barring him from eligibility for certain discretionary relief from deportation. Moncrieffe v. Holder (No. 11-702, decided April 23, 2013)

The Institute for Public Representation, a program of Georgetown University Law Center, helped represent the plaintiffs/petitioners in McBurney v. Young (No. 12-17, decided April 29, 2013), an unsuccessful effort to establish that Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, which offers access to information only to Virginians, was unconstitutional under either the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US Constitution’s Article IV, § 2, cl. 1, or under the Constitution’s “dormant commerce clause.”

The George Mason University School of Law Supreme Court Clinic helped represent the State of Louisiana in Boyer v. Louisiana (No. 11-9953, decided April 29, 2013), in which the Supreme Court dismissed the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted. Boyer contended that the prolonged delays in his trial were attributable to the state’s failure to fund the public defender system, and that his right to a speedy trial had been violated, but the Court, over a dissent by Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) did not rule on the constitutional question.

It may be that no member of the clinical community will agree with the arguments advanced by all three of these clinical programs in these cases. That’s fine, and just as academic freedom gives protection to clinics undertaking controversial cases so it gives protection to debate over what cases clinics ought to take. But what strikes me about this issue of Law Week is the unmistakable illustration of the fact that clinics are now a force shaping American law, in many local courts and offices and also in the highest court in the land.”

Stephen Ellmann
Professor and Associate Dean, New York Law School

The original post can be found here.

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