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Pro Bono Appeals

United States Supreme Court

Pro bono work – including many civil and criminal cases in the United States Supreme Court – is an integral part of Sidley’s Appellate practice. Sidley’s commitment to pro bono at the highest levels is reflected in the firm’s work in Grutter v. Bollinger, the case challenging affirmative action at the University of Michigan. During the oral argument and in its favorable opinion, the Court cited Sidley’s brief on behalf of the retired military leaders who supported Michigan’s program. A New York Times commentator described the brief as perhaps “the most influential amicus brief in the history of the Supreme Court.”

Sidley has represented criminal defendants, on a pro bono basis, in 29 cases in the Court in the last twelve Terms. Sidley has played a role in scores of other Supreme Court criminal cases through its program for federal public defenders, headed by partner Jeffrey Green. A Legal Times article published on May 12, 2006 discussed the complex cultural and institutional obstacles that stand in the way of criminal defense lawyers accepting professional assistance when arguing before the Supreme Court. The article noted that Sidley “quietly, and on a pro bono basis, has helped criminal defense lawyers with briefing and moot court sessions for nearly a decade.”

In the 2006 Term, Sidley’s Supreme Court assistance program worked with the Federal Public Defender in the Middle District of North Carolina on the petitioner’s brief in Rita v. United States. The case presented the Supreme Court with its first opportunity to clarify the weight to be given to the United States Sentencing Guidelines in federal criminal sentencing after establishing an advisory regime in United States v. Booker and U.S. v. Fanfan (2005). Other seminal criminal cases in which Sidley participated in the Supreme Court on a pro bono basis involved the limits on Congress’s Commerce Clause authority (U.S. v. Lopez (1995)), the validity of Miranda warnings (U.S. v. Dickerson (2000)) and the constitutionality of the Sentencing Guidelines (Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000)).

Other Appellate Courts

Sidley lawyers also have briefed and argued scores of pro bono appeals in state and federal courts of appeals across the country. Samples of cases from the past year are listed below.

  • Sidley lawyers persuaded the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church v. New York that the district court had correctly granted a preliminary injunction to the Church, blocking the City’s efforts to prevent the church from sheltering homeless individuals on church property. The Second Circuit held in April 2006 that the district court correctly determined that the Church had demonstrated that its provision of outdoor sleeping space to homeless people reflects a sincerely held religious belief and is therefore protected under the First Amendment.
  • The firm was part of an appellate team that successfully represented an organization of parents and female high school athletes in a Title IX and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action in Communities for Equity v. Michigan High School Athletic Ass’n in the Sixth Circuit. The plaintiffs had argued that the Association’s practice of scheduling women’s sports in nontraditional, disadvantageous seasons violated Title IX and their rights to Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment, enforceable through § 1983. The court had held in an earlier appeal that the Association’s practice violated plaintiffs’ Equal Protection rights. In the latest appeal, decided in August 2006, the Sixth Circuit held that Title IX was not plaintiffs’ exclusive remedy, and that they could pursue their claim under § 1983 as well.
  • In October 2006, the United States Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari filed by the California Attorney General in Tilton v. Remeidio, letting stand the Ninth Circuit's reversal of summary judgment against an inmate's First Amendment retaliation claim. The AG's petition was supported by an amicus brief from 23 states. Sidley represented Romirico Remeidio, who alleged state prison officials violated his First Amendment rights through retaliatory searches and solitary confinement after he signed a petition for academic reform of the prison’s College Program.
  • In November 2006, the firm filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit on behalf of thirteen former officers and civilian leaders of the United States military supporting the appellants in Cook v. Rumsfeld. Plaintiffs/appellants had challenged the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on Due Process, Equal Protection and First Amendment grounds. The district court had found that the policy was subject to review under the rational basis standard, and that it served the legitimate government purpose of maintaining “morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion.” Sidley argued on behalf of amici that the experience of foreign militaries, as well as the experience of the U.S. Armed Forces, demonstrate that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy lacks a rational basis, and that openly gay military personnel have served without any negative effects.
  • The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal law that guarantees rights of religious accommodation to persons in state institutions. In Madison v. Virginia, decided December 29, 2006, the Fourth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of RLUIPA, ruling that the law is a valid exercise of Congress’s Spending Clause power, and rejecting the defendants’ argument that the statute impinges on Virginia’s authority to manage its prisons. The firm successfully represented our client, a Virginia state prisoner seeking kosher meals, in a previous interlocutory appeal in the same case.

Northwestern University School of Law’s Supreme Court Clinic

Sidley lawyers have developed a Supreme Court clinical course at the Northwestern University School of Law. Our appellate lawyers teach the year-long course, which also offers students guest lectures by distinguished outside speakers. During the 2006-2007 school term, Chief Justice John Roberts spoke to the class, along with Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben and the Clerk of the United States Supreme Court, William Suter. The students’ written assignments cover the range of Supreme Court practice. Students draft petitions to the Court seeking review, as well as research and draft merits briefs in cases before the Court.

Northwestern University Law School Supreme Court Clinic Assignments (2006-2007 school term):

  • Cotto v. United States, No. 06-8168 – Cert. Petition; Reply to Brief in Opposition
  • Gall v. United States, No. 06-7949 - Cert. Petition
  • James v. United States, No. 05-9264 - Merits Reply Brief
  • Lawrence v. United States, No. 05-8820 - Reply Brief; Research and Preparation for Oral Argument
  • Rita v. United States, No. 06-5754 - Merits Brief Research
  • Sanders v. United States, No. 06-9083 - Cert. Petition
  • Whorton v. Bockting, No. 05-595 - Amicus on the Merits
  • Williams v. United States, No. 06-7734 – Cert. Petition; Reply to Brief in Opposition
  • Brendlin v. California, No. 06-8120 – Merits Brief; Merits Reply Brief
  • Brown v. U.S., No. 06-975 – Amicus in Support of Cert. Petition
  • Logan v. U.S., No. 06-6911 – Merits Brief
  • Roper v. Weaver, No. 06-313 – Amicus Brief on the Merits