Pro bono work, including many civil and criminal cases in the Supreme Court, is an integral part of Sidley’s Appellate Practice. Sidley’s pro bono presence in the Supreme Court is well-reflected in the firm’s work in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Court upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan School of Law. During argument and in its opinion, the Court cited Sidley’s brief on behalf of retired military leaders who supported Michigan’s program. A New York Times commentator described the brief “as the most influential amicus brief in the history of the Supreme Court.”
Sidley has participated in a number of cases on behalf of pro bono clients in recent years, including:
Burrage v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 881 (2014): The Supreme Court held that, at least when the use of a drug distributed by the defendant is not an independently sufficient cause of the victim’s death or serious bodily injury, a defendant cannot be liable for penalty enhancement under the penalty enhancement provision of the Controlled Substances Act unless such use is a but-for cause of the death or injury. The case received significant media coverage, including an article published in the January 27 edition of The National Law Journal that quoted firmwide pro bono chair Jeff Green, who said “This is big, because the principle will hold across many other statutes.”
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 133 S. Ct. 2411 ( 2013): On behalf of the Deans of Harvard and Yale Law Schools, Sidley prepared a Supreme Court amicus brief in this high-profile case involving the constitutionality of admissions policies at the University of Texas at Austin, which include both race-conscious and race-neutral considerations. The brief focused on the educational benefits student body diversity, the importance of admissions policies that holistically evaluate applicants, and impact that a contrary ruling would have on universities and students. In a 7-1 decision, the Court reaffirmed prior precedents about diversity in higher education and remanded the case for further consideration of the application of strict scrutiny.
Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 832 ( 2013): Working with Northwestern University Law School’s Supreme Court Clinic, Sidley filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National College for DRI Defense supporting the respondent in this important Fourth Amendment case. In a 5-4 decision, the Court rejected the state’s argument that the natural dissipation of blood alcohol presents a per se exigent circumstance that would permit the police to draw blood without a warrant from the driver in a drunk-driving investigation.
Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 2321 ( 2013): This matter involved a First Amendment challenge to a provision of the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003 (the “Act”) that requires non-governmental organizations to have a policy opposing prostitution as a condition of receiving federal funds under the Act (the “Policy Requirement”). Sidley filed an amicus brief supporting respondents on behalf of nine current and former United States Senators and House Members instrumental in the passage of the Act and/or its reauthorization. The Court, agreeing that the government could not require funding recipients “to pledge allegiance to the Government’s policy of eradicating prostitution,” held the Policy Requirement unconstitutional.
Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013): On behalf of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Sidley filed an amicus brief in this closely-watched case challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that requires jurisdictions with records of voting discrimination to seek DOJ preclearance of electoral changes. The brief focused on how these provisions remain vital to protecting the voting rights of Latinos. The Court struck down the preclearance provisions in a 5-4 decision.
Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S. Ct. 1376 (2012): Sidley represented a Michigan defendant who rejected a favorable plea offer on the basis of admittedly erroneous advice from his attorney. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel extends to the consideration of plea offers, even if a defendant is convicted after a reliable trial.
Sidley also participated in recent high-profile pro bono cases in the U.S. Courts of Appeals and state appellate courts, including:
Rodriguez v. Robbins, 715 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2013): Sidley’s clients obtained a major victory in this case that Sidley handled with lawyers from the ACLU and the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. At issue is whether the U.S. government can continue its policy of imprisoning certain categories of lawful permanent residents and other immigrants for extended periods of time without a hearing. The district court issued a preliminary injunction, ruling that the government must provide bond hearings for over 100 immigrant detainees who have been detained for longer than six months; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to stay the decision pending appeal, and ultimately upheld the injunction, finding that the Attorney General does not have authority to detain immigrants indefinitely.
Hooper v. Ryan, 729 F.3d 782 (7th Cir. 2013): The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s denial of Sidley’ client’s habeas petition, and held that the Illinois Supreme Court had unreasonably applied Batson in finding no prima facie case of race discrimination where the prosecutor struck all five eligible African-Americans from the jury venire, thereby producing an all-white jury.
Housler v. Tennessee: Since 2007, a Sidley team has worked on behalf of David Housler, who was wrongly convicted and served 15 years in prison for a quadruple homicide he did not commit. Sidley represented Housler in an extensive post-conviction review proceeding, obtaining an unprecedented vacation of a murder conviction by a Tennessee state trial court. Seeking to reverse this historic victory and send Housler back to prison, the State of Tennessee appealed. In 2013, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the vacation of Housler’s conviction – allowing him to continue to rebuild his life outside prison.
People v. Melongo, 6 N.E. 120 (Ill. 2014), and People v. Clark, 6 N.E. 154 (Ill. 2014): The Illinois Supreme Court struck down Illinois’ Eavesdropping Statute as unconstitutional, affirming dismissal of criminal charges against two defendants charged with illegally recording their own conversations regarding matters of significant public concern. The Illinois statute was one of the most draconian eavesdropping or wiretapping laws in the United States.
Cook v. FDA, 733 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2013): Sidley’s pro bono clients, death row prisoners from Arizona, California and Tennessee, won this high-profile case against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) involving the importation and use of a misbranded and unapproved lethal injection drug, sodium thiopental, into the United States. The district court had permanently enjoined the FDA from admitting future shipments of sodium thiopental into the country after we successfully argued that the FDA had violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by allowing state corrections agencies to import the drug. The D.C. Circuit upheld the injunction in a unanimous decision which is expected to have a significant impact on execution methods in the U.S. The Sidley team on the case worked closely with the Arizona Federal Public Defender’s Office and the University of California-Berkeley Death Penalty Clinic.
ACLU of Illinois v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012): Sidley’s client obtained an important victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which held that there is a First Amendment right to audio record police officers on duty in a public place and that the Illinois Eavesdropping Act burdened that right by restricting far more speech than necessary to protect a right to privacy. The decision paves the way for the ACLU to make recordings as part of its CopWatch program, which monitors police during demonstrations and other public events. The Sidley lawyers teamed with ACLU lawyers Harvey Grossman, Adam Schwartz and Karen Sheley.
McGarry v. Pallito, 687 F.3d 505 (2d Cir. 2012): Sidley’s client had alleged that Vermont prison officials violated his Thirteenth Amendment rights by compelling him to work long hours in the prison laundry as a pretrial detainee. The court of appeals held that the 13th Amendment applied and that the complaint stated facts sufficient to overcome qualified immunity.