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.
Inclusion for Disabled Athletes: The Aaron Holzmueller Story
Learn more about the Aaron Holzmueller case in this video.
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.
Judge Orders DHS to Respond More Quickly to Muslim Group’s FOIA Request
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 Associate Joshua M. Parker and Partner Kelly M. Morrison are mentioned in a Law360 article about the latest development in a Freedom of Information Act request. The team represents a public interest group called Muslim Advocates on a pro bono basis. The group seeks information under FOIA related to allegedly discriminatory policies targeting Muslims for searches following the Trump administration’s immigration ban. According to the article, titled “DHS Must Speed Up Travel-Ban Doc Production, Judge Says,” at a status conference convened at the request of Muslim Advocates, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ordered the DHS and CBP to “pick up the pace” on its productions in response to Muslim Advocates’ FOIA request. The judge shot down the CBP’s proposed cap of 250 incident reports, instead ordering that CBP produce the 1,800 incident reports Muslim Advocates requested, and to do so at a faster pace than CBP offered to do.
Partner Jessica Ring Amunson Wins US Supreme Court Victory on behalf of Pro Bono Client
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.
Partner Louis Fogel Elected to Board of the Public Interest Law Initiative
PILI’s mission is to cultivate a lifelong commitment to public interest law and pro bono service within the Illinois legal community to expand the availability of legal services for people, families and communities in need. Mr. Fogel is an alumnus of PILI’s Graduate Fellowship Program, which places associates from Chicago law firms at public interest law agencies in Illinois.
The Heart of the Matter 2017 Report
Jenner & Block is pleased to present The Heart of the Matter
, our annual report that covers highlights of our pro bono and community service from 2017.
Our dedicated micro-website reflects the breadth of Jenner & Block’s pro bono program. Through featured articles and videos, we have illustrated stories of how Jenner & Block has changed the lives of the clients and organizations we are privileged to represent.
Helping Unaccompanied Minors
To stay informed about new pro bono developments in 2018, please also visit The Heart of the Matter blog
In October of 2017 and in January of 2018, about 20 young people facing deportation from the United States – legally called “unaccompanied minors” – came to Jenner & Block’s New York office for day-long clinics aimed at screening them for immigration relief.
The firm partnered with KIND, or Kids In Need of Defense, to run the clinic. KIND’s mission is to protect children who enter the US immigration system alone and strives to ensure that no such child appears in immigration court without representation. The firm has a longstanding relationship with KIND and has handled many immigration cases referred to the firm from them.
The clinics held last fall and this year represented the first time that Jenner & Block and KIND joined forces to screen young clients on-site and direct them to their next steps in the immigration process.
The firm participants – including lawyers, staff and others – first underwent a training session and then jumped into the work, interviewing one or two clients each. At the end of the screening process, the interviewers would guide the clients toward the appropriate next step, such as applying for a visa or asylum and set them up to find lawyers to seek that immigration relief.
The firm team that organized the clinics with KIND included Partner Michael W. Ross, Associates Jacob D. Alderdice and Thomas D. Garza and Legal Assistant Azza Khalifa.
Firm’s Amicus Brief Challenges Warrantless Searches of Devices at the Border
Jenner & Block submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in support of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the government’s warrantless search and seizure of electronic devices at the border. Filed on February 2, 2018, the brief urges a federal judge to deny a motion from the US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to dismiss Alasaad, et. al. v. Nielsen, et. al. The brief argues that because electronic devices store enormous amounts of private information about a person’s thoughts, communications, associations and movements, searching them at the border without a warrant violates travelers’ First Amendment rights. The firm is representing the organizations on a pro bono basis.
According to the brief, “Because electronic devices are necessary to newsgathering, searches of these devices at the border can force disclosure to the government of First Amendment-protected activity. These searches are often highly invasive, to a degree that would make reasonable journalists question whether they are really free to conduct their work. The contents of electronic devices can reveal the stories a journalist is developing, with whom she is communicating, and her specific travel plans. Disclosure of such information can expose sensitive newsgathering methods and deter potential sources from speaking to members of the media.”
The team writing the brief included Partner Scott B. Wilkens and Associate Michael E. Stewart.
Partner Andrew Merrick Elected to the Board of Directors for CARPLS
Jenner & Block Partner Andrew F. Merrick was recently selected to serve a two-year term on the Board of Directors for CARPLS, Cook County’s largest provider of pro bono legal services. Founded in 1993 – then known as the Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services – CARPLS has helped more than 800,000 low- and moderate-income residents find solutions to their everyday legal matters.
Mr. Merrick has devoted more than 2,000 hours to representing indigent clients on a pro bono basis since joining Jenner & Block in 2006. In 2016, he received the prestigious Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award from the Chicago Bar Foundation for his commitment to pro bono, community service and the organized bar. Mr. Merrick is also the president of the Board of Directors of Compass to Care, The Mike & Sandy Ernsdorff Childhood Cancer Foundation.
Team Wins Victory for Former Students of Now-Defunct ITT Technical Institute in “Landmark” Settlement
Students of the for-profit chain would have nearly $600 million wiped out under a preliminary settlement approved by a federal bankruptcy judge on January 24, 2018. The settlement acknowledges that students who attended the college between 2006 and 2016 have a $1.5 billion claim against ITT, which closed abruptly in 2016. The settlement is expected to be finalized in June.
The team representing the student class in this pro bono matter includes Partners Melissa M. Root, Catherine L. Steege and Brian Hauck; they are serving with Harvard University’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.
“ITT perpetrated a massive fraud on students, lying to them about everything from tuition costs to their own accreditation status, and left thousands of students in massive debt that they never should have had,” said Eileen Connor, a director of litigation at the Project on Predatory Student Lending, in a press release. “This landmark settlement provides important and necessary relief to those students. ITT’s estate has now cancelled the debts of its students because of ITT’s fraudulent actions, and it’s time for the Department of Education and all private holders of ITT debt to do the same.”
News of the settlement was reported by several media outlets including the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.
Partner Jessica Ring Amunson Featured in Podcast about Pro Bono US Supreme Court Case She Argued
Jenner & Block Partner Jessica Ring Amunson discusses Class v. United States in this podcast sponsored by Counting to 5. In Class, which she argued before the US Supreme Court in October, Ms. Amunson represents Rodney Class, a retired veteran convicted of possessing firearms on US Capitol grounds. He argues that his guilty plea doesn’t bar him from appealing the conviction on Second Amendment and due process grounds. Ms. Amunson discusses US Supreme Court precedent on the issue and the circuit court split. The underlying issue, Ms. Amunson explains, is that “you should not be precluded from raising constitutional challenges that would have prevented you from being tried or convicted at all.”
“I think it’s an interesting case,” she adds. “When I tell people the question presented is whether a guilty plea inherently waives a constitutional challenge to the statute under which you’re convicted, people have strong reactions one way or another… I think it’s a case with broad appeal beyond the lawyer set.”
Ms. Amunson is co-chair of the firm’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice and chair of the firm’s Election Law and Redistricting Practice. An experienced litigator, Ms. Amunson has argued before the US Supreme Court and multiple federal and state courts of appeals and has filed dozens of briefs in those courts.