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U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear four cases submitted by Stanford Law School clinic students

Publication Date: 
September 28, 2004
Stanford Law School

Today the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Douglas Spector, et al. v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., a case for which students in the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic helped write the petition for certiorari. During the clinic's first semester of operation (spring 2004), its students wrote four such petitions. With the Court's decision to hear Spector, all four of those petitions have now been granted.

Each year the Supreme Court receives more than 7,000 petitions for writ of certiorari, and of those, agrees to hear only about 80. The petition for writ of certiorari is a document intended to persuade the Court that the case raises an important issue and is the appropriate vehicle for resolving it.

The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic was launched at Stanford Law School in January 2004 to teach students this highly specialized form of appellate litigation, as well as to give them intensive instruction in legal writing and working as a team.

The clinic was designed by two veteran Supreme Court advocates-Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, and Thomas C. Goldstein, a lecturer at the law school and principal at a boutique Supreme Court practice in Washington, D.C., Goldstein & Howe.

"There is no other clinical offering like it in the country," said Karlan. "Many law schools offer seminars that focus on the current Supreme Court term. They conduct simulated arguments in which students act as lawyers or justices. And a few schools run clinics that enable students to work on Supreme Court cases, but only in one substantive area-such as the death penalty. Stanford's clinic is the only one that enables students to work on real cases before the Court, and experience the full range of substantive areas on the Court's docket, from bankruptcy to discrimination to maritime law."

"For years, I'd been thinking about turning our pro bono practice into a unique opportunity for students, who wouldn't otherwise have the chance to work on cases at the Supreme Court," Goldstein said. He approached Karlan and the idea caught fire.

"We look for cases that the Supreme Court is likely to take, and in which the clients deserve pro bono help," Goldstein explained. "We don't care if the cause is liberal or conservative; the principle is the need for an attorney. The most important factor for the justices is that the case clearly would have been decided differently by another court of appeals, which we call a 'circuit split.'"

The clinic, with seven students and three faculty members, operates as a small law firm focused solely on pro bono cases. Students participate in drafting cert. petitions, oppositions to cert. petitions, merits briefs, and amicus briefs. They also comment on drafts of briefs being filed by lawyers in other cases, and help prepare advocates for their oral arguments through moot courts.

"Of course, the students in the clinic receive close supervision," said Karlan. "We probably did at least a dozen drafts of everything we've filed. But ultimately, the Stanford students' work has been every bit as good as the work of experienced Supreme Court advocates with dozens of years and cases worth of experience."

The four Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic cases in which the Supreme Court has granted cert. are:

  • Azel P. Smith, et al. v. City of Jackson, Mississippi, et al., which concerns whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act covers practices that have a disparate impact on older workers-that is, imposes liability without proof of a discriminatory purpose (Cert. petition 03-1160 filed: February 11, 2004. Cert. petition granted: March 29, 2004)
  • Richard G. Rousey, et ux. v. Jill R. Jacoway, which concerns the applicability of bankruptcy exemptions to money in individual retirement accounts (Cert. petition 03-1407 filed: April 6, 2004. Cert. petition granted: June 7, 2004)
  • Haywood Eudon Hall v. United States, which considers whether conspiracy to commit money laundering requires proof of an overt act (Cert. petition 03-1294 filed: March 10, 2004. Cert. petition granted: June 21, 2004 -- case is consolidated with No. 03-1293)
  • Douglas Spector, et al. v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., which concerns the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act to foreign-flag carriers (Cert. petition 03-1388 filed: April 1, 2004. Cert. petition granted: September 28, 2004)