The Jenner & Block Supreme Court and Appellate Clinic represented clients in a number of significant cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit this academic year. All of the Clinic’s students did important work on the Clinic’s cases—from researching legal issues, to assessing potential arguments, to developing case strategy, to drafting and editing briefs.
U.S. Supreme Court Cases
Nance v. Ward, Supreme Court Case No. 21-439.
In a 5-4 majority opinion, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Petitioner Michael Nance, a death row inmate. The Clinic was co-counsel for Mr. Nance at both the certiorari and merits stages of the case. The decision allows Mr. Nance to challenge his execution by lethal injection under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a federal civil rights law that allows individuals to seek remedies when their constitutional rights are violated.
At issue in the case was the appropriate procedural vehicle for a prisoner’s method-of-execution claim. In the proceedings below, Mr. Nance brought an as-applied Eighth Amendment challenge to Georgia’s sole statutorily authorized method of execution, lethal injection. The Court previously had held that a prisoner challenging his method of execution under the Eighth Amendment must identify a readily available alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce the risk of severe pain. The Court also previously had held that such a claim can go forward under §1983 when the alternative method proposed is authorized under state law. Because Georgia statutorily authorized only one method of execution, however, Mr. Nance had identified an alternative method of execution that was not already authorized under state law. This case therefore raised the question of whether Mr. Nance could still bring the claim under § 1983.
A majority of the Court held that Mr. Nance could challenge his method of execution under § 1983. The case thus confirmed that prisoners have judicial recourse to seek protection from cruel and unusual punishment.
The Clinic’s students worked on every aspect of the case, including drafting the briefs and preparing for argument. Clinic co-director Matthew Hellman argued the case in the Supreme Court.
Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, Supreme Court Case No. 21-429.
The Clinic was co-counsel for Respondent Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, which also was argued in the Court this Term. The question presented in this case was whether the federal government and the state of Oklahoma have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country.
In a 5-4 majority opinion, the Court ruled in favor of the Petitioner, holding that the federal government and state of Oklahoma have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute these crimes. Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Gorsuch stated in the dissent:
Today, the tables turn. Oklahoma’s courts exercised the fortitude to stand athwart their own State’s lawless disregard of the Cherokee’s sovereignty. Now, at the bidding of Oklahoma’s executive branch, this Court unravels those lower-court decisions, defies Congress’s statutes requiring tribal consent, offers its own consent in place of the Tribe’s, and allows Oklahoma to intrude on a feature of tribal sovereignty recognized since the founding. One can only hope the political branches and future courts will do their duty to honor this Nation’s promises even as we have failed today to do our own.
Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, No. 21-429, Slip Op. at 42 (2022).
The Clinic’s students did significant work on the briefing in the case.
Seventh Circuit Cases
Clinic students also argued two Seventh Circuit appeals, both of which raised questions under the Fourth Amendment. Both cases previously had been briefed by Clinic students during the 2020-2021 academic years.
United States v. Price, Seventh Circuit Case No. 20-3191.
Clinic student Crofton Kelly, ’22, argued United States v. Price before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on September 14, 2021. The Seventh Circuit panel for the case was Chief Judge Diane S. Sykes, Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, and Judge Michael B. Brennan. The Seventh Circuit had appointed the Clinic to represent Mr. Price on appeal.
In the case, Mr. Price argued that officers’ searches had violated the Fourth Amendment. He argued that it was unconstitutional for a federal agent to use state parole officers as pawns to conduct searches that the federal agent could not legally conduct, and that these searches further were unreasonable under the totality of the circumstances. Mr. Price therefore argued that the fruits of these unconstitutional searches should have been suppressed. Mr. Price also argued that the trial evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction and that the district court erred in applying sentencing enhancements in the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in an opinion issued on March 9, 2022.
United States v. Seay, Seventh Circuit Case No. 21-1104.
Clinic student Henry Walter, ’22, argued United States v. Seay before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on November 16, 2021. The Seventh Circuit panel for the case was Judges Michael B. Brennan, Michael Y. Scudder, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi. The Seventh Circuit had appointed the Clinic to represent Mr. Seay on appeal.
In the case, Mr. Seay argued that a traffic stop by police violated the Fourth Amendment. Mr. Seay argued that the government failed to carry its burden of establishing that information known to officers who were not present at the scene of the stop could be imputed to the officer who conducted the stop for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Mr. Seay therefore argued that the evidence uncovered following the stop and during the resulting search should have been suppressed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in an unpublished nonprecedential disposition on December 22, 2021.