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Citizen Coalition Continues Effort to Overturn Louisiana Supreme Court’s Restrictions on Law Clinics Serving Needy Clients

January 11, 2000

For Immediate Release
November 1, 2000

Contacts Information:
Jobina Jones, 212 998–6282
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736

Media Advisory: Citizen Coalition Continues Effort to Overturn Louisiana Supreme Court’s Restrictions on Law Clinics Serving Needy Clients
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to Hear Arguments That Rule XX Violates U.S. Constitution

The Brennan Center—representing a diverse group of civil rights and environmental organizations, neighborhood associations, law students, and law professors in Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Louisiana Chapter v. Louisiana Supreme Court—is challenging the constitutionality of burdensome restrictions imposed on law student clinics. The Louisiana Supreme Court amended its student practice rule at the request of Louisiana’s Governor and powerful business interests whose plan to place a chemical plant in a low-income community was thwarted by efforts of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (TELC) on behalf of the community’s residents.

Who: David Udell, Director of the Brennan Center’s Poverty Program, will argue on behalf of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are listed at the end of this advisory.

John Minor Wisdom U.S. Court of Appeals Building
600 Camp Street, Room 223
New Orleans, LA

When: November 7, 2000, 9:00 AM

At Issue:
The plaintiffs are appealing a federal district court ruling that had dismissed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs contend that Rule XX of the rules of the Louisiana Supreme Court, which governs legal practice by third-year law students, was amended by the Court in ways that violate the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and render disadvantaged communities in Louisiana vulnerable to ongoing threats to their health and safety. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the Rule XX Amendments violate the 1st Amendment in the following ways:

  • The Louisiana Supreme Court imposed the restrictions to retaliate against the law clinics and community groups for their successful opposition to actions by business interests and Louisiana’s Governor Mike Foster. The 1st Amendment prohibits government from retaliating against citizens engaging in protected speech.

  • Rule XX prohibits staff from offering the clinic’s free legal assistance to clients. This violates the free speech rights of clinic staff and clients as U. S. Supreme Court decisions have made clear that disadvantaged people are entitled to learn about their rights from legal advocates.

  • The rule requiring community organizations to collect information about their members’ incomes burdens the ability of individuals to undertake collective action on matters of public importance.
In the Summer of 1997, after receiving complaints from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and other business groups about the success of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic in representing community organizations in challenges to activities of corporate polluters, the Louisiana Supreme Court began an investigation into clinical legal education programs at Tulane, Loyola, and Southern University Law Schools. Although the investigation revealed that no clinic had engaged in any misconduct, the court adopted amendments to its student practice rule proposed by business interests.

By prohibiting outreach, mandating disclosure of private financial information, and imposing strict eligibility requirements for clients seeking clinic representation, the Rule XX Amendments have severely interfered with the advocacy of Louisiana’s law clinics on behalf of disadvantaged Louisiana residents. In April 1999, the plaintiffs’ filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the constitutionality of these amendments.

On July 27, 1999, the District Court granted the motion of the Louisiana Supreme Court to dismiss the suit. The District Court rested its opinion on the observation that “in Louisiana, where state judges are elected, one cannot claim complete surprise when political pressure somehow manifests itself within the judiciary.”

On appeal, a diverse coalition of parties filed “friend of the court” briefs supporting the plaintiffs. The Deans of Tulane and Loyola Law Schools, the American Association of University Professors, the Association of American Law Schools, and the Louisiana chapters of the League of Women Voter, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Appleseed, among others, all urge the Fifth Circuit to strike down the Rule XX Amendments.

Plaintiffs include:

Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Louisiana Chapter
St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment
Calcasieu League
Civil Action For Environmental Action Now
Holy Cross Neighborhood Association
Fishermen’s And Concerned Citizens’
Association of Plaquemines Parish;
St. Thomas Residents Council;
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Louisiana Association of Community
Organizations For Reform Now
North Baton Rouge Environmental Association
Louisiana Communities United
Robert Kuehn
Christopher Gobert
Elizabeth E. Teel
Jane Johnson
William P. Quigley
Tulane Environmental Law Society
Tulane University Graduate and Professional Student Association
Inga Haagenson Causey
Carolyn Delizia
Dana Hanaman

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