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Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in Oral Argument “Doubleheader” Monday and Arguing a Record Six for the Season

Publication Date: 
March 24, 2008
Stanford Law School

After only four years the clinic’s overall record--more than 63 cases--is outpacing law schools and most firms

STANFORD, Calif., March 24, 2008—Stanford Law School has announced that two faculty members who teach the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic will each argue separate cases before the Supreme Court of the United States today. The clinic is arguing six cases before the Court this semester, outpacing every private law office in the country for the Court’s January through April sittings.

Since the clinic was founded four years ago, in spring 2004, Stanford Law School students enrolled in the clinic have worked on 63 cases before the Court--a record not approached by another law school. Twenty of those are merits cases, and the running tally of 63 includes only cases for which the clinic appears as counsel; it does not include every case for which students helped other legal teams prepare cert. petitions or for which the clinic filed amicus briefs. As it stands now, the clinic will likely be representing the petitioners in three cases next fall.

The Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic is the first of its kind at any law school; it is also the largest and most emulated, and the only law school clinic principally run by full-time faculty members at the law school instead of run out of a law firm with faculty participation. All of its work is pro bono--the clinic never charges its clients.

“Compared to when the clinic started, people are now coming to us asking us to take cases,” said Associate Professor Jeffrey Fisher, who is arguing Burgess v. United States (06-11429) today. “Many of the six cases we are arguing this semester, including Kennedy v. Louisiana, are ones where local lawyers came out and asked the clinic for help.”

The clinic, which has quickly matured as an institution, also serves the public interest.

“There was a real gap in the Supreme Court bar for certain kinds of clients and certain kinds of issues that go before the Court,” said Fisher, “particularly criminal defendants, and civil rights and other kinds of plaintiffs. Even if they have access to lawyers, they’re often not the experienced Supreme Court insiders who often have a leg up in the Court. So the clinic stepped into the breach. We’re not just out there doing work that any law firm would be doing anyway. In fact a lot of the cases we do by definition—particularly the employment discrimination cases—are ones where almost all of the Supreme Court practices in the country expressly will not take it because it’s adverse to their business clients and therefore their institutional interest. The clinic is free to take those cases.”

Stanford Law School offers a variety of clinics that litigate in specialized fields, including environmental protection, immigrants’ rights, community law, cyberlaw, and educational advocacy. The clinics provide pro bono representation and operate cohesively as a single law firm, the Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School. The Mills Legal Clinic provides students an opportunity to apply classroom theory to real client situations and to develop a lifelong commitment to public service values. Unlike other Stanford clinics, which concentrate on one substantive area of the law, the Supreme Court clinic focuses on the wide range of legal issues decided by the nation's highest court. Under the direction of professors Pam Karlan and Jeff Fisher and lecturers Tom Goldstein, Amy Howe, and Kevin Russell, students prepare briefs and other filings, participate in moots for oral arguments, meet with Court personnel and reporters, and learn firsthand how the High Court operates. In the past several Terms, the clinic has represented a wide variety of clients, such as: workers raising claims under federal anti-discrimination laws, the Civil Service Reform Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act; criminal defendants with constitutional claims under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments; and various public interest and trade associations, ranging from the California Medical Association, to the National School Boards Association, to the National Women’s Law Center.

The clinic has compiled a record at both the certiorari and merits stages that would be the envy of any appellate practice. Among law schools, the clinic is known as particularly writing-intensive; students typically work in shifting teams to produce at least three briefs over the course of a semester.

“By the time they leave, students have really learned to write a first-rate brief and formulate their arguments,” said Professor Pam Karlan, who co-founded the clinic and who will argue Riley v. Kennedy (07-77) today.

Clinic alumni have gone on to a variety of clerkships, public-interest fellowships, positions in the Department of Justice, and jobs at private law firms.

About Pam Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law

A productive scholar and award-winning teacher, Pamela S. Karlan is also the founding director of the school’s extraordinarily successful Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, where students litigate live cases before the Court. One of the nation’s leading experts on voting and the political process, she has served as a commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission and an assistant counsel and cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Professor Karlan is the co-author of three leading casebooks on constitutional law and related subjects, as well as more than four dozen scholarly articles. She is a widely recognized commentator on legal issues and is frequently featured on programs such as the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Before joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 1998, she was a professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law and served as a law clerk to Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the Supreme Court of the United States and Judge Abraham D. Sofaer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

About Jeffrey Fisher, Associate Professor of Law

A leading Supreme Court litigator and nationally recognized expert on criminal procedure, Jeffrey Fisher has argued several and worked on dozens of other cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. His successes include bringing and winning the landmark cases of Blakely v. Washington, in which the Court held the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial applies to sentencing guidelines and Crawford v. Washington, in which he persuaded the Court to adopt a new approach to the Constitution's Confrontation Clause. In 2006, the National Law Journal named Professor Fisher one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America. In addition to his Supreme Court practice, Professor Fisher has published several articles on various criminal and constitutional issues, and he speaks regularly to judicial conferences and leading legal organizations. He joined the law school faculty from the national law firm of Davis Wright & Tremaine LLP where he also offered his services pro bono to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Professor Fisher clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching. The school’s home page is located at


Judith Romero
Associate Director of Media Relations
Stanford Law School