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Nine Parties Seek Permission to Oppose Louisiana Supreme Court’s Restrictions on Law Clinics

January 24, 2000

For Immediate Release
January 24, 2000

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736

Nine Parties Seek Permission to Oppose Louisiana Supreme court’s Restricitons on Law Clinics
Broad Coalition of educators, civic leaders, and community groups urge U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse the decision of the District Court

Last week, nine diverse parties sought permission from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to oppose the restrictions on student law practice imposed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The controversial decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court, which largely prohibits the representation of community organizations by law student clinics, has aroused an unusual degree of interest in Louisiana and around the nation.

A group of twenty plaintiffs, including law students, professors, and community organizations, filed suit in federal court last spring to challenge the drastically restrictive “Rule XX” issued by the Louisiana Supreme Court. In a brief filed by the Brennan Center for Justice with the Court of Appeals, the plaintiffs explain that by prohibiting Louisiana’s law student clinics from providing free legal representation to community groups, the Louisiana Supreme Court violated their First Amendment freedoms of speech and association, and rendered the many disadvantaged communities in Louisiana vulnerable to ongoing threats to their health and safety. Now, the Deans of Loyola and Tulane Law Schools; the Louisiana chapters of the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Appleseed Foundation; and the national Association of American Law Schools, American Association of University Professors, and Clinical Legal Education Association; have all asked the Court of Appeals for permission to tell why they too believe the Louisiana Supreme Court?s restrictions are harmful and should be struck down.

An attorney for the Louisiana Supreme Court has indicated that he will oppose permitting these organizations to participate in the appeal by filing “friend of the court” briefs. This opposition to input from those with serious concerns about the harms caused by Rule XX continues a long-standing practice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Since it first responded to the 1997 requests of influential pro-business groups to modify Rule XX, the Louisiana Supreme Court has declined to provide a forum for public input, declined to release its own study that has been described as indicating there was no need to change Rule XX in the first place, and declined even to discuss two specific settlement proposals the plaintiffs have made that could preserve the First Amendment freedoms at stake and minimize the harms to citizens of Louisiana. The Louisiana Supreme Court has also turned down offers from the Presidents of Loyola and Tulane Universities, the Louisiana Bar Association, and Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub to mediate a just solution to the Rule XX problem.

The parties filing the “friend of the court” briefs seek to preserve access to the courts for the disadvantaged citizens of Louisiana, and are united in their concern about the U.S. District Court’s finding, now on appeal, that “in Louisiana, where state judges are elected, one cannot claim complete surprise when political pressure somehow manifests itself within the judiciary.”

David S. Udell, Director, Poverty Program, Brennan Center for Justice, and counsel for the plaintiffs said: “Political pressure, manifested in the judiciary, cannot justify locking the courthouse door to those who have no other place to turn when their basic freedoms are threatened.” Harold Green, director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Louisiana Chapter, a plaintiff in the suit, said: “We appreciate that the League of Women Voters, the Law Deans, the University Professors, the ACLU and many others all see what is at stake here is not just the severe problems our most disadvantaged communities are facing, but also the society’s basic commitment to the rule of law in Louisiana.”