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Civil Rights Appellate Clinic involved in three cases pending before U.S. Supreme Court

“As a clinic working in this field, we’re still fairly young compared to some of our peers, but I think that makes what we’ve accomplished that much more impressive.”

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In the nine years since Penn State Law professor Michael Foreman founded the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, the clinic has grown and tackled dozens of important civil rights cases—and right now is involved with three separate cases currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As a clinic working in this field, we’re still fairly young compared to some of our peers, but I think that makes what we’ve accomplished that much more impressive,” Foreman said. “I’m very proud of our students who have put in so much hard work, learned so much, and now have the chance to impact the law of our nation in a positive way.”

For the students involved, the chance to work on such important cases is an amazing opportunity and learning experience.

"When I started my law school career, I never could have imagined that I would have the opportunity to work on one case, much less three cases, before the highest court in our judicial system,” said Rachel Naquin, a Class of 2017 graduate of Penn State Law. “It is truly an incredible feeling knowing that I, along with my fellow clinic members, have had a hand in influencing our nation's laws."

Each of the three cases pending before the Supreme Court deal with substantially different legal issues, but that hasn’t stopped clinic students from diving into some of the most pressing legal issues in the nation.

In Sessions v. Baptiste, the Clinic is opposing the Solcitor General’s attempt to have the case heard by the Supreme Court in its  Brief in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari.  The Clinic was appointed by the United States Court of Appeals to represent   Carlton Baptiste, a native of Trinidad and Tobago and longtime lawful U.S. permanent resident fighting a deportation order. The clinic previously won a critical and precedential victory in the Third Circuit on Baptiste’s behalf last November, when a panel of judges concurred with the clinic’s argument that the wording of the section of the United States Code used to attempt to deport Baptiste was unconstitutionally vague.

In Vaughn v. Anderson Medical Center, clinic students are co-counsel with a Mississippi law firm in tackling a subtle but important legal issue: The law prohibiting age discrimination is clear  that age discrimination is illegal,  and that retaliation for exercising your rights under the Age Discrimination Employment Act is prohibited.  But if someone is retaliated against for reporting suspected age discrimination are they entitled to compensatory and punitive damages? Different circuit courts have reached different conclusions, but the clinic argues that a plain reading of the law provides a victim of age retaliation these types of damages in a recently filed amicus brief, the AARP concurs with the clinic and urges the Supreme Court to resolve this issue.

And in Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board, the clinic has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court asking the justices to resolve a thorny procedural issue surrounding the workplace rights of federal government workers. Perry was argued on the first day that Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch heard oral arguments and the students were in the Court room that day for another oral argument.  

“Our students have done a wonderful job on each of these cases, and I’m always impressed by their hard work and dedication,” Foreman said. “Each of these cases has a civil rights component, but in appellate practice you have to be prepared to encounter and master areas of the law you may not have had previous exposure to—and our students have truly gone above and beyond with the knowledge they’ve learned, the skills they learned, and the experience they’ve gained.”

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