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Civil Rights Appellate Clinic in the fray before Supreme Court on immigration issues

The Penn State Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic recently filed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Brief in Sessions v. Baptiste.
Penn State Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On April 6, the Penn State Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic filed a Brief in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Carlton Baptiste, a 78-year-old New Jersey resident, in Sessions v. Baptiste.

Baptiste, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who has lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident since 1972, is fighting deportation under an order of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals for crimes he committed in 1978 and 2009.

The clinic’s filing with the Supreme Court comes after the clinic’s precedential victory in the Third Circuit last November, when a three-judge panel issued a decision agreeing with the clinic’s argument that Section 16(b) of Title 18 of the United States Code, which defines a “crime of violence,” is unconstitutionally vague.

Patrick Stickney, a second-year law student and clinic member, explained: “Because the Solicitor General's Office appealed the Third Circuit's favorable ruling for Mr. Baptiste to the Supreme Court, we had to build on the work that was done by clinic students from previous semesters. It is astounding to have the opportunity to research and write a brief in a matter before the Supreme Court, and I was honored to be able to assist with Mr. Baptiste's case.”

While the Third Circuit agreed with the clinic that the statute’s definition of “crime of violence” is unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the clinic’s fight for Baptiste continues before the Supreme Court. The issue presented in Baptiste’s case is similar to the issue in a case currently pending before the Supreme Court in Sessions v. Dimaya, the outcome of which will likely have an impact on Baptiste. For this reason, the clinic argued in its brief to the Supreme Court that Baptiste’s case should be held pending the court’s decision in Dimaya. The clinic further argued that, should the court not reach the constitutionality of Section 16(b) in Dimaya, the court should deny certiorari in Baptiste’s case as a true circuit split does not exist on this narrow issue.

“Having spent two semesters working on various aspects of Mr. Baptiste’s case, filing a brief with the Supreme Court on his behalf was of special significance for me,” said Rachel Naquin, a third-year law student and clinic member. “Not only does our work in the clinic allow us to weigh in on constitutional issues affecting the nation, but we also have the opportunity to give a voice to people like Mr. Baptiste, who may not otherwise be heard.”

Fellow Penn State Law students Theresa Dorsainvil, Misti Howey, and Andy Low also worked with the clinic on Baptiste’s case. The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, one of nine legal clinics available at Penn State Law, provides law students with the unique experience of working on cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.

On her time with the clinic, Howey, a third-year law student, said: “The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic has provided me with invaluable, hands-on experience. From filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on an issue in employment law, to filing a response to a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of an immigration statute, the variety of cases handled by the clinic has provided me an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of these complex areas of law.”

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