Appellate Advocacy Clinic visits U.S. Supreme Court
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Office of Communications and Public Relations
April 2, 2015
The Appellate Advocacy Clinic visited on Monday, March 30, the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C., which the Clinic has done annually since 2007. The 10 Clinic members and Professor John Korzen (’91) observed oral argument in Brumfield v. Cain, a federal habeas case originally tried in Louisiana state court. Before the trip, the Clinic reviewed all the briefs filed in Brumfield. After the argument, the Clinic met with Jeff Minear, Counselor to the Chief Justice.
In Brumfield, the petitioner is on death row, after being convicted of murder and sentenced to the death penalty. A few years after his conviction, the Supreme Court established that it is unconstitutional to execute defendants who are mentally disabled. Louisiana state courts then denied a request by Brumfield’s counsel for a hearing to establish that he is mentally disabled, reasoning in part that evidence from his original sentencing was sufficient to show he is not mentally disabled. A federal trial court then allowed Brumfield’s application for habeas corpus and concluded, following an evidentiary hearing, that Brumfield is mentally disabled. The Fifth Circuit, however, reversed, concluding that Brumfield was not entitled to a hearing, and then the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
The Court actively questioned both Brumfield’s counsel and counsel for Louisiana, with eight of the nine Justices asking questions. The Clinic saw a wide variety of questions, including hypotheticals, calls for concessions, clarifying inquiries, and questions following up on ones asked by other Justices. It was a great learning experience to see the Justices in action and counsel grappling with the questions.
Following the argument, Mr. Minear graciously met with the Clinic and shared information about his responsibilities to the Court and his prior practice (he argued to the Court 56 times!), as well as asking and answering questions about appellate practice. Mr. Minear previously visited Wake Forest and spoke at the law school in the Fall 2013 semester.