A four-year trek from the Fourth Circuit to the U.S. Supreme Court, back to the Fourth Circuit and then back to the Immigration Court ended on this day in 2011 when Jenner & Block pro bono client Jean Marc Nken was granted asylum. A native of Cameroon, Mr. Nken fled in 2001 after having been jailed and tortured by the Cameroonian government for his participation in pro-democracy protests. He lost his initial asylum case and several unsuccessful appeals and was set to be deported when Jenner & Block Partner Lindsay C. Harrison took on his case. Lindsay identified a split among the circuits on the standard applied to obtain a stay in these matters, and the Jenner & Block team sought and obtained certiorari at the Supreme Court. An associate at the time, Lindsay argued the case in the Supreme Court in 2009. In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the traditional standard for a stay motion should apply to immigration appeals rather than the more stringent standard that had been adopted by several circuit courts. The precedent helped thousands of asylum-seekers to remain in the United States while their appeals are pending as long as they have a likelihood of success and a risk of harm if deported. After the U.S. Supreme Court victory, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the Bureau of Immigration Appeals had erred and remanded the case to the BIA, giving Mr. Nken another chance to obtain asylum. The firm worked countless hours to put together the strongest possible case for Mr. Nken’s eligibility. Lindsay and her team presented Mr. Nken’s case in a contested hearing before an immigration judge. A decade after he fled Cameroon, the judge ruled that Mr. Nken was entitled to asylum, and the government agreed to waive its right to appeal. As a result, Mr. Nken was allowed remain in the United States with his wife and young son.
To recognize “Gay Pride Month,” we highlight one case that many recognize as among the most important civil rights matters for the lesbian, gay and transgender community in a generation. In Lawrence v. Texas, Partner Paul Smith, working with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, challenged the state of Texas’ anti-sodomy laws. When the Supreme Court struck down the statute on this day in 2003, it effectively invalidated anti-sodomy laws throughout the nation. Two gay men arrested after police walked in on them having sex "are entitled to respect for their private lives," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
On this day in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program, expressly relying on an amicus brief prepared by the firm on behalf of 65 major companies. “These corporations are participating in this case because they believe it is essential to their success to be able to hire individuals of all backgrounds who have been educated in a diverse environment,” said Partner David DeBruin, who filed the brief. The brief argued that it is essential for companies to recruit individuals who were trained and educated in a diverse environment that encompasses a broad range of people, backgrounds, cultures and ideas. For today’s students to realize their potential as corporate and community leaders of the next half century, they must, according to the brief, “be educated in an environment where they are exposed to diverse people, ideas, perspectives and interactions.”
Newman, Poppenhusen, Stern & Johnston was primarily a transactional firm in the 1920s, when name partner Jacob Newman represented the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association, a trade association based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Members would share weekly statistics showing charges that had been made for the various grades of lumber during the previous week, monthly statements of lumber on hand and other statistical data. In the mid-1920s, the U.S. government complained that those activities, among others, violated the Sherman Act. Newman gave the matter to Edward "The Chief" Johnston, the firm’s principal litigator. "The Chief" took depositions of lumber dealers throughout the country that dealt with the Association to show that “they had not been faced with any monopolistic price situations,” he wrote in his memoirs. The Association, he added, did not list current prices or advise members of changes in prices but disclosed only past transactions. “We contended this was permissible economic information.” On this day in 1925, the Supreme Court agreed in a landmark decision and early appellate victory for the firm. “The natural effect of the acquisition of wider and more scientific knowledge of business conditions on the minds of the individuals engaged in commerce and its consequent effect in stabilizing production and price can hardly be deemed a restraint of commerce or, if so, it cannot, we think, be said to be an unreasonable restraint, or in any respect, unlawful,” the majority opinion read.
Today is Law Day, celebrating the rule of law and its significance to society. In recognition of the day, we highlight Don Verrilli's successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Wiggins v. Smith in March 2003. Pro bono client Kevin Wiggins had been found guilty of capital murder after a bench trial in 1989; a jury sentenced him to death. But the two public defenders did not thoroughly investigate Mr. Wiggins’ background and, therefore, Don argued, failed to tell the jury of “powerful mitigating evidence” that could have spared him that fate. In its June 2003 ruling, the Court held that the performance of Mr. Wiggins’ attorneys at sentencing violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel. The case reaffirmed the importance of the right to counsel in capital cases and helped to establish meaningful standards for defense counsel’s performance. Mr. Wiggins was resentenced to life in prison and ultimately sent to a state facility for mental health treatment and rehabilitation.
On this day in 1976, John Tucker argued Elrod v. Burns before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involved the City of Chicago’s time-honored party patronage system that typically governed how non-civil service positions were staffed. In this case, the new Democratic sheriff had been discharging employees who were “sponsored” by appointees of the previous Republican sheriff. On June 28, 1976, the Court struck down the patronage system, ruling that the First Amendment protects state and local government employees from being fired for partisan political reasons. While dissenters complained that the 5-to-3 vote dismantled a “practice as old as the Republic,” Justice William J. Brennan wrote for the majority that “the process functions as well without the practice, perhaps even better.” The Washington Post noted the significance of the ruling, observing that “the decision struck directly at the political machine of Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, but it is expected to safeguard the jobs of thousands of public employees across the nation.”
In recognition of “National Library Week,” we recall Bruce Ennis’ successful challenge of the Federal Communications Decency Act on behalf of the American Library Association and other clients before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Act made it a crime to provide “indecent” material to minors over what was then a fairly new medium: the Internet. In March 1997, the Court heard arguments in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union – a case the Washington Post called the Court’s “first venture into cyberspace.” Bruce argued that the Act infringed on the First Amendment rights of adults across the country. Readily available software blockers would be far more effective than the government in protecting children from adult material, he said. As for the Act’s impact on the First Amendment, he wrote in a brief that "it is hard to imagine a criminal standard that provides less guidance, or to conceive of a speech prohibition that would have a broader chilling effect.” On June 26, 1997, the Court ruled that free speech protections apply just as much to the fast-growing digital universe as to books and newspapers. The Act, wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community."
On this day in 2005, in perhaps the most watched commercial case of the Supreme Court’s term, then-partner Don Verrilli argued on behalf of client MGM and other studio and content owners in MGM Studios v. Grokster, a case that would establish whether file-sharing services such as Grokster could be held liable for infringement for enabling customers to download music and movies protected by federal copyright laws. Lower courts held that because Grokster could point to legal uses of its software, such as distributing works in the public domain, it could not be held liable. But Don told the justices that these file-sharing companies could show only "minuscule" legitimate uses of their products – and should not "get a perpetual free pass" simply because they could speculate on ways a customer might use their services legitimately. In June, the Court agreed, ruling that Grokster could be held liable for inducing copyright infringement. In November, the company announced that it would no longer offer its peer-to-peer file-sharing service.
Albert Jenner successfully represented the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the United States and America in a dispute between the Diocese and a defrocked bishop. The matter dated back to 1964, when the Mother Church, based in Yugoslavia, defrocked Bishop Dionisije Milivojevich, based in Libertyville. Bishop Dionisije sued, seeking to have the courts declare him the “true diocesan bishop” of the undivided diocese. The Illinois Supreme Court sided with the bishop, determining that the Mother Church had violated its own procedures and internal regulations in defrocking him. On this day in 1976, Bert argued on behalf of the Diocese before the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 21, 1976, the firm secured its victory for the Diocese when the Supreme Court reversed the Illinois Supreme Court, holding that its ruling violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. “For where resolution of the disputes cannot be made without extensive inquiry by civil courts into religious law and polity,” the majority opinion read, “the First and Fourteenth Amendments mandate that civil courts shall not disturb the decisions of the highest ecclesiastical tribunal within a church of hierarchical polity, but must accept such decisions as binding on them, in their application to the religious issues of doctrine or polity before them.”