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Stanford's Supreme Court Clinic Setting A Record

Publication Date: 
March 31, 2008
The National Law Journal
Marcia Coyle

The National Law Journal published a story about the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic's back-to-back arguments in the Supreme Court on March 24, "a milestone that only a few law firms have accomplished over the years."

The justices heard arguments by Professor Jeffrey Fisher in Burgess v. U.S., No. 06-11429, a case involving a mandatory minimum drug sentencing law, and by Professor Pamela Karlan in Riley v. Kennedy, No. 07-77, which raises a voting rights issue out of Alabama.


The clinic reports that its lawyers are arguing six cases this semester — more than any other private law firm in the country for the court's January through April sittings.

Professor Fisher is quoted:

"Compared to when the clinic started, people are now coming to us asking us to take cases," said Fisher, who also will argue the death penalty case, Kennedy v. Louisiana in April. "Most of the six cases we are arguing this semester are ones where local lawyers came out and asked the clinic for help."

The clinic, founded four years ago in spring 2004, is the first of its kind and the largest at any law school. It is the only law school clinic principally run by full-time faculty members instead of run out of a law firm with faculty participation. All of its work is pro bono.

Since the clinic's founding, students have worked on 63 cases before the court. 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 certiorari 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.

"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, particularly criminal defendants, and civil rights and other kinds of plaintiffs," said Fisher. "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."

Fisher and Karlan run the clinic with lecturing assistance from Thomas Goldstein, head of the Supreme Court practice at D.C.'s Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Amy Howe and Kevin Russell of D.C.'s Howe & Russell. 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.

"By the time they leave, students have really learned to write a first-rate brief and formulate their arguments," said Karlan, who co-founded the clinic.