Appellate Advocacy Clinic Hears Arguments at U.S. Supreme Court

Group photo of Appellate Clinic Students Outside U.S. Supreme Court

Appellate Clinic Students Outside U.S. Supreme Court

The Appellate Advocacy Clinic made its annual visit to the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Jan. 14.  There the Clinic members observed oral arguments in two cases, toured the courthouse, and met with Clerk of Court William Suter.  Before the trip, the Clinic reviewed and discussed all the briefs filed in the two cases.

In the first case, Alleyne v. United States, the issue was whether the Court should overrule its 2002 decision in Harris v. United States, which held that a fact that increases a mandatory minimum sentence does not have to be decided by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  Harris was a plurality decision, which Judge Breyer joined but about which has since expressed doubts.  The oral argument was of very high quality and included many questions about other Supreme Court sentencing decisions and the nature of stare decisis.  The attorney who argued Harris was a guest speaker for a meeting of the Clinic and discussed the experience of arguing at the Court.

The second case, Boyer v. Louisiana, presented an issue regarding the State of Louisiana’s funding of indigent defense.  Individuals who are charged with a felony but cannot afford an attorney are entitled to appointed counsel and payment for necessary assistance, such as investigation and expert witnesses.  Boyer was charged with first-degree murder, a capital offense, and under Louisiana law was entitled to two attorneys as well as investigative and expert witness fees.  There was only enough funding for one attorney, however, and as a result the trial was delayed for several years.  The issue was whether the delay should be attributed to the State for purposes of the Speedy Trial Act, which would result in a dismissal of the charge.  As widely reported in the press, Justice Thomas spoke for the first time during an argument since February 2006.  He made a light-hearted comment that the Louisiana defense attorneys were not qualified because they went to Harvard and Yale.

After the arguments, the Clinic had a tour of the Supreme Court building for an hour and then met with Clerk of Court William Suter for another hour.  General Suter (as he is known from his prior service as a Judge Advocate General) shared many stories about oral arguments and other happenings at the Court and also answered questions.  General Suter has spoken at Wake Forest seven times, including at the Hooding Ceremony in 2011.  He announced earlier this month that he will be retiring later this year.

The Appellate Advocacy Clinic is a two-semester course open to third-year law students who have demonstrated proficiency in LAWR I & II and Appellate Advocacy.  Contact Professor John Korzen for more information about the Clinic.