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Supreme Court Clinic Successful in Recently Decided Cases

Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic is celebrating several victories.

Carr v. United States, for which clinic members wrote a certiorari petition last spring, was decided June 1 in favor of petitioner Thomas Carr. The clinic supported Carr’s contention that the federal sex offender registration law known as SORNA cannot be applied retroactively. The law, enacted in 2006, requires convicted sex offenders who move to another state to register as sex offenders in that state.

Carr had registered as a sex offender in Alabama in 2004 but did not register in Indiana when he relocated there in early 2005, prior to SORNA’s enactment.

“We argued, and the Court agreed by a vote of 6 to 3, that the language of the statute did not affect people like our client, Thomas Carr, who had not crossed state lines since the law went into effect,” said Clinical Lecturer in Law and Supreme Court Clinical Fellow Scott Shuchart ’03.

Clinic instructor Charles Rothfeld of Mayer Brown argued on Carr’s behalf. Also working on the case were Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law Dan Kahan, who supervises the clinic; Shuchart; Ben Berwick ’09; Jeremy Licht ’09; Mark Hatch-Miller ’10; Brian Barnes ’10; Grant Martinez ’10; Danielle Sassoon ’11; and Adam Chandler ’11.

In Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the clinic represented two of the respondents, Walton County and the City of Destin. The petitioner was a group of beachfront landowners who objected to a Florida erosion-protection measure that allowed for sand to be deposited on the landowners’ eroded beaches. The landowners claimed that, in upholding the state law, the Florida Supreme Court had effected a “judicial taking” and had reduced the value of their property, for which they deserved to be compensated.

Although the court did not reach a majority on whether there could ever be a judicial taking, it did rule 8-0 on June 17 that—whether or not there could be a judicial taking—there was not one here. They held in favor of the respondents that the state’s ownership of newly created land at the shoreline was not an unconstitutional taking and that the beach protection project could continue. Clinic team members in this case were former clinic professor Tom Merrill; Charles Rothfeld; Scott Shuchart; Grant Martinez ’10; Gregory Dubinsky ’11; Bryant Hall ’11; and Brantley Webb ’10.

In a third case decided June 17, the clinic represented amicus groups in City of Ontario v. Quon, which involved the constitutionality of a police department’s search of text messages sent on department-issued pagers. While the Court ruled in favor of the City and against the party the clinic supported, the clinic’s brief was cited as the Court agreed to resolve the case narrowly and not consider the larger questions of how and when an employer can control and inspect personal communications on work-supplied devices. Team members were Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown; Dan Kahan; Travis Crum ’11; Marisa Van Saanen ’10; and Brendan Groves ’10.

The Supreme Court Clinic, begun in the fall of 2006, allows students to work on real-life public interest cases pending before the Court. They draft petitions for writs of certiorari, write merits briefs in granted cases, and represent amici curiae. Students have worked on 41 cases over the clinic’s four years.

“The clinic furnishes our students an outstanding training experience,” said Professor Kahan, “and as the results show, our students furnish clients outstanding representation.”

Clinic students also visit the Court at least once a year to watch an argument in a case they have worked on or studied.

  Clinic students went to Washington to hear the Carr argument.