Firm Team Achieves Victory in Pro Bono Voting Rights Case
Jenner & Block won a victory when a federal judge rejected the efforts of the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU)—a conservative organization devoted, in part, to rooting out “voter fraud” in counties with large populations of racial minorities and Democratic-leaning swing state counties—to purge voters from Broward County’s rolls. In American Civil Rights Union v. Brenda Snipes, the ACRU alleged that the Broward County’s supervisor of elections, Dr. Brenda Snipes, failed to maintain accurate voter rolls and violated Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act; the group sought a court order requiring Dr. Snipes to purge voters. In 2016, the United Healthcare Workers East union intervened in support of Dr. Snipes and Broward County voters. The firm represented United Healthcare on a pro bono basis.
After a five-day trial in July 2017, the court found every piece of evidence offered by ACRU unconvincing, concluded that its accusations were thoroughly unfounded, and held that Broward County’s voter list maintenance program was fully compliant with federal law. On March 30, 2018, Judge Beth Bloom ruled in Dr.Snipes and SEUI's favor. In doing so, the judge wrote that Dr. Snipes “implemented a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters by reason of death or change of address.” The judge also held that the ACRU failed to prove a violation of Section 8 of the NVRA. “The court recognizes that the NVRA has a nationwide application, and for that reason, it declines to apply a subjective approach that would vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” she wrote.
The Jenner & Block team includes Partner Kali N. Bracey, Associate Tassity Johnson, former partner Carrie Apfel and former associate Marina Jenkins.
Firm Secures Victory on Behalf of Native American Tribe
Jenner & Block won a victory on behalf of a Native American tribe when a US district court ruled that the federal government has an affirmative obligation to provide adequate educational and mental health services at Havasupai Elementary School on the Havasupai Reservation in northern Arizona. In a lawsuit brought by several children and the Native American Disability Law Center, the court denied the government’s partial motion to dismiss and held that the government is required to address the impact of trauma and childhood adversity so that all students have the ability to learn and participate in school.
After the federal defendants moved to dismiss several of the students’ claims, the Havasupai Tribe enlisted Jenner & Block to draft an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs. Partner Brandon D. Fox, Associate Ben J. Brysacz and summer associate Omar Qureshi worked with the tribal chairman and tribal council to draft a brief informing the court of the history of the tribe and its federally operated school. The brief detailed not only the substandard conditions inside the school, but also decades of work by tribal officials to improve those conditions. The ruling recognizes that the federal government has been on notice of its failures for decades and will protect the rights of students at Havasupai Elementary to attend a school with enough resources, teachers and wellness services to provide a safe and effective learning environment.
Firm Team Represents the NAACP and Prince George's County, MD in Suit Over Unconstitutional Census Preparations
Jenner & Block is representing the NAACP and Prince George's County, Maryland in a lawsuit against the federal government over unconstitutional census preparations. Filed on March 28, 2018 in the US District Court for the District of Maryland, the lawsuit aims to combat the impending threat that the 2020 Census will unconstitutionally undercount minority communities, leading to inequalities in political representation and federal funding. Together with the Rule of Law Clinic at Yale Law School, the firm is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which, in addition to the NAACP and Prince George’s County, also include the NAACP Prince George’s County Branch and two county residents.
Census results determine the number of congressional seats each state receives, the redrawing of legislative district lines and the enforcement of voting rights laws. The federal government also uses Census data to distribute federal funding. In the 2010 Census, Prince George’s County, which has a majority African American population, suffered a 2.3 percent net undercount—the largest net undercount of any county in Maryland and one of the largest of any county in the nation. The lawsuit seeks to compel the Bureau of the Census, an agency within the Department of Commerce, to prepare for and conduct a full and fair 2020 Census, as the Constitution requires.
Partner Angela Allen Profiled in Chicago Lawyer for Her Pro Bono Work with the Military
The feature about Jenner & Block Partner Angela M. Allen highlights her work with the Military Spouse J.D. Network (MSJDN), a group of law-practicing spouses of active-duty service members. Ms. Allen received the organization’s 2017 Exceptional Service Award for going above and beyond to serve others in the military and legal communities through her state licensing work, pro bono and mentoring efforts. Among her efforts: Ms. Allen testified before the Michigan Senate in support of a bill that would make licensing accommodations for military spouses stationed in Michigan. Two bills were signed into law. The feature also notes that she started the firm’s Veteran/Military Families Affinity Group and that she does pro bono work with the newly established Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network. The firm’s pro bono efforts include partnering with CARPLS, a Cook County-based free legal service provider that operates a veteran’s legal aid hotline. “We continue to partner with CARPLS, supporting them and volunteering to help get the word out about the legal aid network so that veterans and military families who have pro bono needs know to call CARPLS to get assistance,” Ms. Allen says.
Ms. Allen is a member of the firm’s Restructuring and Bankruptcy Practice. She serves as the director of the Illinois chapter of MSJDN and on the board of directors of the Turnaround Management Association.
Team Petitions Seventh Circuit for Rehearing in Case of Disabled Athlete
A firm team is seeking to revive its lawsuit that aims to compel the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) to create a separate division to accommodate para-ambulatory athletes.
Partner Jessica Ring Amunson Wins US Supreme Court Victory on behalf of Pro Bono Client
Since 2010, the firm has represented Evanston High School senior student-athlete Aaron Holzmueller on a pro bono basis. Aaron, who has cerebral palsy, asked IHSA to establish a separate division and qualifying times for certain races in its track program for para-ambulatory athletes. He also asked IHSA to create a para-ambulatory division for the Road Race, a 5-K race open to high school students across Illinois.
IHSA’s executive director denied his requests in October 2015. A team led by Partner Louis E. Fogel assisted Aaron’s family in its administrative appeal of the denial, but the IHSA board affirmed the decision two months later. The team filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking injunctive relief to permit Aaron to have a chance to compete.
In September 2017, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of IHSA. Aaron. appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. With Mr. Fogel’s assistance, Jenner & Block lawyer Devi M. Rao, then an associate and today a partner, argued the case in November 2017. In early February 2018, a Seventh Circuit panel affirmed the District Court’s decision.
While the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, the panel was ultimately divided. Judge Ilana Rovner dissented, explaining, “Allowing disabled athletes to compete in a separate division would no more undermine the competitive nature of the track-and-field program than does the current practice of allowing wheelchair athletes and male and female athletes to compete in separate divisions.”
Mr. Fogel and the team have petitioned the Seventh Circuit for en banc rehearing, and that petition is currently pending.
To learn more about the case, please visit The Heart of the Matter annual pro bono report.
Jenner & Block Partner Jessica Ring Amunson represents Rodney Class, a retired veteran who was convicted of and pleaded guilty to possessing firearms on US Capitol grounds. In Class vs. United States, Ms. Amunson argued that her client’s guilty plea does not bar him from appealing the conviction on Second Amendment and due process grounds. In a 6-3 decision announced on February 21, 2018, the Court held that “a guilty plea, by itself, does not bar a federal criminal defendant from challenging the constitutionality of his statute of conviction on direct appeal.”
“In this case, Class neither expressly nor implicitly waived his constitutional claims by pleading guilty,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch. The holding flows directly from the Court’s prior decisions, according to the opinion. The holding means that the earlier decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
This term, the firm has six cases before the Court; five of those are for pro bono clients. The Court’s decision in favor of Mr. Class is the second victory this term for a Jenner & Block pro bono client in the Supreme Court. On January 22, 2018, the Court agreed with arguments made by Partner Adam G. Unikowsky in Artis v. District of Columbia, a case that concerns the statute of limitations for litigants who file state-law claims in federal courts only to have those courts decline to exercise jurisdiction over those claims. The firm also represents pro bono clients in Marinello v. United States, argued by partner Matt Hellman on December 6, 2017; Gill v. Whitford, argued by former partner Paul M. Smith on October 3, 2017; and Abbott v. Perez, which has not yet been set for argument.
“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision,” said Ms. Amunson. “Mr. Class has maintained all along that he was convicted under an unconstitutional statute, and he will now have the chance to make those arguments to the court of appeals. As to the broader ramifications of the decision, as the dissent pointed out, roughly 95 percent of felony cases in federal and state courts are resolved by guilty pleas, so this decision potentially impacts a broad range of cases.”
In addition to Ms. Amunson, the team representing Mr. Class includes Associates Joshua M. Parker, Corinne M. Smith and Leonard R. Powell; Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson; Docket Assistant Tyler J. Edwards; and Legal Secretary Sheree A. Anyiam.