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Religious Liberty Clinic Goes to Washington

Kate Falkenstien (JD ‘15) and Religious Liberty Clinic Director James Sonne at the Supreme Court following argument on October 7, 2014

Kate Falkenstien (JD ‘15) and Religious Liberty Clinic Director James Sonne at the Supreme Court following argument on October 7, 2014

On October 7th, Kate Falkenstien ‘15 and Religious Liberty Clinic Director James Sonne attended the Supreme Court’s much-anticipated oral argument in Holt v. Hobbs, (13-6827). The case concerns a Muslim prisoner’s right under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) to grow a beard in accordance with his religious convictions.

During the 2014 spring quarter, Kate and Gabe Schlabach ‘14 wrote an amicus brief in support of the petitioner, Gregory Houston Holt, and on behalf of Women’s Prison Association – the nation’s oldest advocacy group for women. The brief stresses that any test for religious accommodation adopted in Mr. Holt’s case should also account for female inmates’ religious practices; for example the right to preserve long hair for Sikh women and religious head coverings for orthodox Jewish and Muslim women.

Arguing before the Supreme Court for the petitioner was Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia; Professor Laycock was the keynote speaker at the Religious Liberty Clinic’s launch event in 2013.

A decision in Holt v. Hobbs is expected in early 2015.   ◊


Supreme Court Denies Review of Same-Sex Marriage Cases, Enabling Clients of the Clinic to Marry


As of this week, 35 states, plus the District of Columbia, will have legalized same-sex marriage.

On October 6, 2014 the Supreme Court issued a set of orders declining to review seven petitions filed in five states and across three federal circuits, refusing without comment to review lower court rulings striking down bans on same-sex marriages. With nearly immediate effect, bans on same-sex marriage were lifted across Virginia (Fourth Circuit); Indiana and Wisconsin (Seventh Circuit), Oklahoma and Utah (Tenth Circuit).

The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic represented Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, the plaintiffs/respondents in the Oklahoma case, entitled Smith v. Bishop.  Despite their longstanding, committed relationship, the couple had been denied the right to legally marry due to an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution passed in 2004 by Oklahoma voters and the legislature. On August 27th, the clinic filed respondents’ brief, urging the Court to grant review and to agree with the Tenth Circuit ruling invalidating this ban on same-sex marriage.

Even though the Court did not grant review, it did allow the Tenth Circuit’s decision to stand.  This order thus represents a major victory for proponents of civil rights.   Within hours of the Court’s announcement, our clients were married in a civil union in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

See coverage in SCOTUSBlog here and here, and The New York Times.   ◊

IRC Students Help to Develop Pro Se Manual for Immigrant Detainees

Graphic for IRC Blog (October 2014)

Immigrants Rights Clinic students Nikki Marquez (‘15), Keny Zurita (‘15) and Lauren Tsuji (‘14) collaborated with Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, California to develop a pro se “Reinstatement of Removal” manual in English and in Spanish to help pro se immigrants in Northern California detention centers navigate the complex and nuanced reinstatement of removal process.

Reinstatement of removal is an expedited and administrative removal process that many immigrants are subject to, involving complicated statutory and regulatory procedures and limits to the availability of relief from removal. Students visited the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA on multiple occasions, interviewed detained immigrants, conducted research and subsequently developed and wrote the manual.

The manual is the first of its kind developed for detainees housed in Northern California. PDFs of both the English and Spanish versions can be found here.    ◊

SCOTUS Clinic Students Travel to High Court for Arguments in Fourth Amendment Case

Students from the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic traveled with Professor Jeffrey Fisher to Washington D.C. this week for oral arguments in the clinic’s case Heien v. North Carolina.  At issue in the case was whether a police officer’s mistake of law can provide the individualized suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires.Supreme_Court

The clinic represented the petitioner in the case, Nicholas Brady Heien, who was pulled over in North Carolina back in 2009 for having a rear brake light out. During the stop, the officers found cocaine in the car, so the State charged Heien with cocaine trafficking.  Heien responded that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment — and thus that the evidence the officers found had to be suppressed — because North Carolina law requires vehicles to have only one working brake light.  The North Carolina Supreme Court did not disagree with Heien’s reading of state law, but it held that the officer nonetheless had the reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that the Fourth Amendment requires to conduct a traffic stop because the officer’s mistake of law was reasonable.

“Governmental officers should be presumed to know the law, at least as well as the citizens,” argued Professor Fisher before the Court. “When questions about individualized suspicion arise under the Fourth Amendment, they should be addressed against the backdrop of the correct interpretation of the law, not simply any plausible reading an officer might have.”

Prior to oral arguments, clinic students Stephen Richards ’15, Cynthia Barmore ’15, and Chelsea Priest ’15 researched the arguments and drafted the merits brief under the supervision of Professor Fisher.

“Being able to travel to DC to watch the Heien argument was a terrific opportunity,” Richards said. “The argument at turns surprised, enthused, and frustrated me. But ultimately, watching Jeff argue and the Justices engage the arguments we had spent so much time thinking on was just a supremely (pun intended) cool experience. Every lawyer ought to go to the Court and watch at least one argument; it’s an experience not to be missed.”

Barmore agreed, “I’m so glad I had the chance to work on Heien. Having the opportunity to contribute to the briefing and then see that work come to life at oral argument was an incredible learning experience.”

A decision in Heien v. North Carolina is expected later in the term.    ◊


Clinic Students Off and Running with a Great Start to the fall quarter

On behalf of the Mills Legal Clinic, I am happy to announce that we have officially finished what we endearingly refer to as clinic “bootcamp” this quarter.  As reported in SLS News last year, clinic students spend the first one to two weeks of each quarter in intensive training learning the context and contours of their clinic’s practice area along with what will be expected of them during their full-time clinical quarter.

This week, students have hit the ground running, armed with their new found knowledge and the deep passion for lawyering they all share. I look forward to reporting their accomplishments and activities in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned!  For photos and details of the bootcamp experience read the recent SLS News article.   ◊

A Significant Victory for YELP Clients in the Emma C. Special Education Class Action


YELP students Alison Bloch (SLS '15) and Samantha Lefland (SLS '15) took on a decisive lead role in researching and writing plaintiffs' persuasive brief in opposition last May, leading to Judge Henderson's July 2nd order

YELP students Alison Bloch (’15) and Samantha Lefland ( ’15) took the lead in researching and writing plaintiffs’ persuasive opposition brief last May.

The Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) recently achieved a great victory in its long-standing class action regarding special education in East Palo Alto, Emma C., et al. v. Eastin, et al.  After nearly two years of disappointing negotiations with the State of California that led to a motion practice battle before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California this past spring, on July 2, 2014, Judge Thelton E. Henderson ruled unequivocally for YELP’s clients – the students of East Palo Alto.

YELP and its attorneys William Koski and Carly Munson – along with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund – represent hundreds of special education students and their families in the Ravenswood City School District (“Ravenswood”) in East Palo Alto. Pursuant to a 2003 Consent Decree, Ravenswood and the California Department of Education (“CDE”) have been implementing a systemic reform plan to overhaul the school district’s delivery of special education services for 11 years, as overseen by a court-appointed monitor. Anticipating an eventual end to the Court’s jurisdiction and the monitor’s oversight, that Consent Decree requires that the CDE have in place a statewide special education monitoring system that is capable of ensuring continued compliance with applicable laws long after the Court terminates its jurisdiction.

Ravenswood is expected to achieve full compliance with the reform plan in the near future. Accordingly, the Court posed the critical question of whether CDE’s current system can and will ensure Ravenswood’s continued compliance with the law and prevent future backsliding in the special education service delivery achieved through this 18-year lawsuit.

In January 2014, the court monitor issued a decisive 88-page report determining that the CDE’s monitoring system is inadequate as applied to Ravenswood. The monitor’s report included 42 specific determinations regarding the CDE’s insufficient monitoring system and recommended that the Court order the monitor to develop a Corrective Action Plan and hire an outside consultant to develop the Corrective Action Plan.

The State then moved Judge Henderson to set aside the monitor’s determinations. YELP vigorously opposed the State’s motion. YELP law students Samantha Lefland (‘15) and Alison Bloch (‘15) took on a significant role in researching and drafting plaintiffs’ persuasive brief in opposition.

Far from setting aside the determinations, on July 2, 2014, the Court upheld the entirety of the monitor’s findings and authorized the monitor to move forward with hiring a consultant to develop a Corrective Action Plan to overhaul and reform the CDE’s statewide special education monitoring system.

The State has chosen to appeal the Court’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In the meantime, the District Court has denied a motion by the State to stay implementation of its ruling until the conclusion of the pending appeal. Unless the Ninth Circuit stays implementation of the ruling, the monitor will soon move forward with developing a Corrective Action Plan to reform and make effective the CDE’s statewide special education monitoring system as applied to Ravenswood.   ◊



SCOTUS Clinic Culminates Another Busy Year With a Landmark Victory

Clinic students pose for "selfie" on the steps of the Supreme Court following argument in Riley. Clockwise: Tess Reed, Ben Chagnon, Kristin Saetveit, Alec Schierenbeck, Seth Lloyd

Clinic students pose for “selfie” on the steps of the Supreme Court following Riley argument. Clockwise: Tess Reed (SLS ’15), Ben Chagnon (SLS ’14), Kristin Saetveit (SLS ’15), Alec Schierenbeck (SLS ’15), Seth Lloyd (SLS ’14).

The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic had a busy and productive spring, culminating in late June with a landmark victory. With co-director Pam Karlan on leave at the Department of Justice, the clinic had the good fortune of teaming up with Don Ayer of Jones Day to teach the clinic with Professor Jeff Fisher. Under their joint supervision, the clinic drafted briefs in seven cases on behalf of criminal defendants and civil plaintiffs as follows: petitions for certiorari asking the Court to resolve (1) whether the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause applies at capital sentencing hearings and (2) whether the Fourth Amendment allows police officers to trespass in the common areas of locked apartment buildings without a warrant in order to look for evidence of crime; briefs in opposition to certiorari in cases involving (3) how the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum-wage rules apply to travel expenses incurred by immigrant farmworkers and (4) how the Confrontation Clause applies to statements teachers obtain from children alleging child abuse; and briefs on the merits arguing (5) that a police officer’s mistake of law cannot provide the individualized suspicion the Fourth Amendment requires to justify a traffic stop; and (6) that the Fourth Amendment does not allow officers, absent a warrant, to search the digital contents of cell phones seized incident to arrest. In its seventh case, the clinic drafted a letter brief to the Solicitor General in a case in which the Court invited that Office to express its views. The issue is whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act allows a U.S. citizen who purchases a ticket for foreign travel on a state-owned carrier to sue the carrier in this country for a subsequent breach of the duty of safe passage, and the clinic followed up this summer with a meeting at the DOJ with top governmental personnel.

About that cell phone case, Riley v. California: the clinic achieved the rare feat of a unanimous victory on behalf of privacy rights, in an opinion that commentators are terming “sweeping,” “bold,” and even “revolutionary.” All the credit goes to the students, whose tireless work not only astutely educated the Justices about the realities of cell phone usage and data storage in the digital age, but also crafted an eloquent legal theory to match, centered around the theme that “digital is different.” As if to seal their moment in time, the students also took a “selfie” on the front steps of the Court after the oral argument – an image the Mills Legal Clinic will savor for years to come.  ◊

Religious Liberty Clinic Settles Workplace Accommodation Dispute

During the 2014 spring quarter, Kate Falkenstien ’15, and Jordan Rice ’15, successfully mediated a religious accommodation case arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a state Religious Freedom Protection Act. Kate Falkenstien, JD ’15, and Jordan Rice, JD ’15, RLC Students

The case involved a public school employee’s right to wear an unshorn beard in accordance with his Muslim faith.  Partnering with lawyers from the Department of Justice, Kate and Jordan drafted and filed the complaint in federal court, coordinated discovery, wrote a mediation brief, and negotiated the settlement before a Magistrate Judge.  The judge praised the students for the quality of their work on behalf of their client. ◊

Discussion | USPTO Deputy Director Michelle K. Lee on “Speaking Truth to Patents”

IP graphic 1

On June 26, 2014, the Juelsgaard IP and Innovation Clinic co-sponsored a speech by Michelle Lee, the deputy director and acting head of the US Patent and Trademark Office.  Lee’s talk, Speaking Truth to Patents: The Case for a Better Patent System, covered many of the issues regarding the relationship between patents and innovation on which the Juelsgaard Clinic focuses. Watch the video here.  ◊

Students Report on Their Work With a Client Facing Long Standing Challenges in Immigration System

Last Spring, clinic students Nikki Marquez ’15 and Kara McBride ’15 worked with an Immigrants’ Rights Clinic client who had spent over 10 years seeking permanent status in the U.S. after escaping extreme conditions in her homeland. Read on for Nikki and Kara’s account of the experience.

Nikki Maarquez and Kara McBride prepare for court hearing.

Kara McBride and Nikki Marquez at work on their client’s case.

As we began our client work, we were shocked at the volume of binders that came with her file. As her new advocates, we joined a line of attorneys who had gone before us to seek relief for our client. She had tried several different possibilities without success: it seemed at times as though there were no options left. She has been through an unimaginable struggle to get where she is today. This journey has included fleeing political persecution and violence in her home country, severe domestic abuse in her new country and, at times, an unforgiving  criminal justice system.

Despite her many years living in this country and over a decade seeking relief from the immigration system, she is still hopeful for a permanent life in the United States with her children. After fleeing a horrifying past in her home country, our client and her children are thriving here but this life is still lacking a sense of security, due to her immigration status.

Through our legal research and advocacy, we provided our already informed client with knowledge to better understand the challenges of her case; what had happened in the past; and the potential paths to relief. We were humbled by our client’s resilience and positivity and are deeply grateful for the experiences we shared, both personally and professionally. While there are still challenging legal arguments ahead, we are deeply excited to have found a potential strategy for her to obtain a “green” card. By the end of the Spring quarter, we had begun this process for our client by drafting a declaration with her. We cannot believe more firmly in our client or her case.    ◊