One Day, One Clinic — Two Cases

November 24, 2014 —

It’s not often that a legal organization — even a big national law firm — has two of its cases heard in federal appeals court on the very same day. But on Monday, October 27, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation did just that.

Visiting Professor Michael T. Kirkpatrick, the new head of IPR’s civil rights division, argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on the same day that IPR’s former co-director, Brian Wolfman, argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

“It is kind of amazing for a very small clinic,” Kirkpatrick said, noting that six students and one fellow work in IPR’s civil rights division each semester. (IPR also has a First Amendment/media law division and an environmental division.) “We’re doing such a wide variety of work all over the country, important big cases.”

In the 5th Circuit, Kirkpatrick argued Texas RioGrande Legal Aid v. Range, asking whether a federal regulation requiring states to release employment records preempts Mississippi laws authorizing the state to withhold the same records.

The clinic represents Southern Migrant Legal Services, a nonprofit legal services organization trying to obtain the records so that they can better represent migrant farm workers in the federal H2-A guest-worker program. 

Meanwhile, in the D.C. Circuit, Wolfman — now a visiting professor at Stanford — argued Hairston v. Vance-Cooks, the Title VII case of an employee claiming racial discrimination against the Government Printing Office for failing to promote him. 

Both professors enlisted clinic students to help them prepare for oral arguments, anticipating the kinds of questions the appellate judges would ask. Sam Kramer (L’15) joined IPR fellow Meghan Boone (LL.M.’19) and Supreme Court Institute Director Dori Bernstein on the bench in the Institute’s moot courtroom on October 21, with each student acting as a judge during Kirkpatrick’s moot. (Kramer then accompanied Kirkpatrick to New Orleans for the real thing.) 

So how does a student help a professor prepare for oral argument? “It means looking at everything that has happened in the case so far, thinking about what sorts of questions the judges are likely to have and where the weakest parts of our case are, the things that might need some explaining,” said Daniel Colbert (L’15). Colbert helped Wolfman write a letter to the court concerning new case law and then moot his argument at the Law Center on October 25. (Colbert and his clinic classmates accompanied Wolfman to the D.C. Circuit for the oral argument.) 

The clinic, Colbert said, was a “good way to get exposure to the ins and outs of litigation at lots of different levels.”

Many generations of IPR clinic students have worked on the two cases including Bradley Girard (L’14) and Shahzadi Ahmed (L’14), who wrote the opening brief in the 5th Circuit case, and Jessica Westerman (L’15), who assisted with the reply brief. Shelby Leighton (L’14), Justin Rowinsky (L’14), Girard and Chris Miller (L’14) wrote the appellate brief in the D.C. Circuit case.

Kramer said these it’s important for students who plan to do public interest law to have these opportunities. “You find that these are really important issues … which is cool as a law student,” he said. “You are involved in something that has the potential to be really impactful.”

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