Jenner & Block

The Heart of the Matter Blog

October 6, 2016

Moments in History: Jenner & Block's 100-Year Story

Jean Marc Nken Asylum Case Anniversary

Lindsay Harrison US Supreme Court for pro bono blogOctober marks the fifth anniversary of the granting of asylum for pro bono client Jean Marc Nken.  Mr. Nken fled Cameroon in 2001 after having been jailed and tortured by the 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. 

Click here to learn more about the case.

CATEGORIES: Asylum, Moments in History, US Supreme Court

PEOPLE: Lindsay C. Harrison

June 14, 2016 Release from Prison Four Years Early

In 2005, client Juan Deshannon Butler was convicted of possession of a firearm after he voluntarily turned over a gun that had been forced upon him at gunpoint. The trial court sentenced him to a mandatory minimum of 15 years under the Armed Career Criminal Act’s “residual clause” based on a prior conviction for “escape,” which involved walking away from a penal institution. Mr. Butler sought relief, arguing that a 2009 Supreme Court case clarified that “escape” did not quality under the ACCA’s residual clause. The US District Court for the District of Arizona concluded his claim was procedurally barred. In September 2015, the firm offered to represent Mr. Butler pro bono before the US Supreme Court, challenging the court of appeals’ denial of his motion for relief.  By December 2015, the firm obtained a court order directing Mr. Butler’s immediate release from prison.

Please click here to read more.

CATEGORIES: US Supreme Court

June 7, 2016

Moments in History: Jenner & Block's 100-Year Story

Firm Secures US Supreme Court Victory in Case Regarding the Right to Effective Counsel

US Supreme Court Pro BonoJune marks the 13th anniversary of the firm’s victory on behalf of pro bono client Kevin Wiggins before the US Supreme Court.  Mr. 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, former partner Donald Verrilli successfully argued, failed to tell the jury of “powerful mitigating evidence” that could have spared him that fate.  

Please click here to read more and see a video about the case.

CATEGORIES: Moments in History, US Supreme Court

June 2, 2016

Moments in History: Jenner & Block's 100-Year Story

Victory in Witherspoon Case Reforms Jury Selection Process in Capital Cases

US Supreme Court Pro BonoJune marks the 48th anniversary of the firm’s victory on behalf of pro bono client William Witherspoon before the US Supreme Court.  The case would have major implications for how juries are selected in capital cases throughout the nation.  In 1960, a jury sentenced Witherspoon to death.  The jury was selected in a process that permitted the prosecution an unlimited number of challenges for cause with respect to any potential juror who expressed qualms about the death penalty.  As a result, the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was composed only of people who had no qualms about capital punishment.  Jenner & Block represented Mr. Witherspoon in a post-conviction review that successfully challenged the constitutionality of this process. 

Please click here to read more about the case.  Click here to read the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Witherspoon.  Click here for a recording of Mr. Jenner’s oral argument presented to the Court.

CATEGORIES: A Jenner, Death Penalty, Moments in History, US Supreme Court

May 5, 2016 At Supreme Court, Firm Defends Critical Voting Rights Principles

US Supreme Court Pro BonoJenner & Block was significantly involved in the two state legislative redistricting cases that were before the US Supreme Court in the October 2015 term, examining the “one-person, one-vote” principle.

  • In Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC), the Court upheld  the legislative map created by the AIRC, a five-member independent commission established by Arizona voters in 2000. A group of Arizona voters had claimed that in the redistricting that followed the 2010 census, the AIRC violated the “one-person, one-vote” principle by deliberately putting too many voters in 16 Republican districts and too few in 11 Democratic districts. In his oral argument to the Court on behalf of the AIRC, Partner Paul M. Smith contended that what the challengers characterized as partisanship was, in fact, a good faith effort by the AIRC to comply with pre-Shelby County v. Holder requirements of the Voting Rights Act and that the deviations in numbers of voters were minor and made for a legitimate purpose.  The Court’s opinion explained that the Constitution does not demand “mathematical perfection” in distributing residents among legislative districts.

    Please click here to read more about the Court's decision.
  • In Evenwel v. Abbott, the Court agreed with the points made in an amicus brief the firm filed on behalf of four former directors of the US Census Bureau. In Evenwel, two Texas voters had contended that legislative districting should be based on voter-eligible population numbers, rather than on total population numbers. Texas and nearly all other states and local governments use total population figures published by the US Census Bureau every decade, for redistricting purposes. The firm’s brief contended that there is no data available to support the argument that states should be constitutionally required to draw district boundaries based on numbers of voting-age citizens or registered voters and that total population figures are the most accurate source of data and satisfy the Equal Protection Clause.  The Court ruled that states are not constitutionally required to divide districts by voting population.

    Please click here to read more about the firm's amicus brief.

CATEGORIES: US Supreme Court

April 26, 2016 Firm Secures Victories for Pro Bono Clients before the US Supreme Court

Amir Ali Headshot In March 2016, fifth-year Associate Amir H. Ali argued before the Court on behalf of pro bono client Gregory Welch.  Mr. Welch was convicted and sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)—a catchall provision that courts had relied upon for approximately 30 years to increase a defendant’s sentence for an illegal possession of a firearm from a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment to a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment and up to life imprisonment.  Under ACCA, that increase in sentence was mandatory if the defendant had at least three prior convictions for a serious drug offense or a “violent felony,” which included any conduct that presented “a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”  But Mr. Welch’s conviction and sentence became final before the Court’s 2015 ruling in Johnson v. United States, which held that this definition of “violent felony" is unconstitutionally vague.  Mr. Ali argued that the Court’s holding in Johnson must be applied retroactively to people like Mr. Welch.   In April, the Court agreed.  Mr. Ali’s argument can be heard here.  A profile of Mr. Ali in Above the Law can be read here.

The victory in Welch v. United States was just one win for pro bono clients before the Court in the past term:

  • Pro bono client Lawrence Owens was convicted of first-degree murder after a short bench trial in Cook County Criminal Court in 2000 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.  In the span of less than a year-and-a-half, Jenner & Block lawyers appeared on his behalf in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the US Supreme Court, and the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division. As a result of  the firm’s work, Mr. Owens, who had almost 11 years of a 25-year prison sentence left to serve, was released from prison under an Alford plea agreement to time already served.

Please click here to read more about the Owens' case.

  • Pro bono client identified as V.L. sought vindication of her parental rights over three children she adopted while in a relationship with the children’s biological mother.  The Court held that the adoption of her children must be honored nationwide, restoring her legal bond with her children and ensuring that other same-sex couples would not be stripped of their parental rights.

Please click here to read more about the V.L. case.

CATEGORIES: US Supreme Court

January 1, 2012

A History of Pro Bono and Public Service: 1970s

Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party

In 1978, Associate Jeffrey D. Colman argued this case in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The case arose out of the need for a special mayoral election in Chicago following the death of Mayor Richard J. Daley. At issue was a disparity in signature requirements for independent candidates running for statewide versus local office. The Supreme Court unanimously (albeit in five opinions) adopted our argument that the signature requirement disparity violated equal protection guarantees.

CATEGORIES: A History of Pro Bono and Public Service, US Supreme Court

PEOPLE: Jeffrey D. Colman

December 12, 2011

A History of Pro Bono and Public Service: 1970s

Elrod v. Burns

US Supreme Court Pro BonoJohn C. Tucker, a lawyer and partner at Jenner & Block from 1958 to1985, argued this case in the US Supreme Court.   Agreeing with Mr. Tucker’s argument, the Court struck down Chicago’s patronage system.  Mr. Tucker helped win $1.2 million in back pay for Republican deputies fired when Democrat Richard Elrod became sheriff in 1970.

CATEGORIES: A History of Pro Bono and Public Service, J Tucker, US Supreme Court

October 1, 2011

A History of Pro Bono and Public Service: 1960s

Witherspoon v. Illinois Impacts 350 People on Death Row

US Supreme Court Pro BonoIn this landmark death penalty case, the Jenner & Block team led by Albert E. Jenner, Jr. helped stop a planned state execution of Mr. Witherspoon on constitutional grounds just a few weeks before the sentence was scheduled to be carried out.  Mr. Jenner argued that the jury selection process was unconstitutional and impermissible.  The US Supreme Court agreed.  After this ruling, an estimated 350 people on death row across the United States were re-sentenced.

CATEGORIES: A History of Pro Bono and Public Service, A Jenner, Death Penalty, US Supreme Court