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YLS Supreme Court Clinic Submits Merits Brief in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation Case

On February 2, 2007, Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic filed a merits brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in a high-profile Establishment Clause case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, that challenges the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Oral arguments will be heard on February 28.

At issue is whether taxpayers, in this case FFRF’s members, may sue to challenge a White House-sponsored program that is alleged to unconstitutionally aid religious groups with general federal funds, not funds specifically earmarked for the program by Congress. The Clinic is representing the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Begun in the fall of 2006, Yale Law’s Supreme Court Clinic allows students to work on real-life legal cases pending before the Court. Working under the supervision of experienced Supreme Court litigators, including Yale Law School faculty with Supreme Court expertise, they draft petitions for writs of certiorari, write merits briefs in granted cases and represent amici curiae. They also visit the Court at least once a year to watch an argument in a case they have worked on or studied.

Thus far, participants have filed briefs in a number of cases, but Hein v. FFRF is the first case in which the Clinic represents one of the named parties.

“Working on Hein v. Freedom From Religion has presented an incredible opportunity to work on a Supreme Court merits brief as a law student,” said second year Yale Law student Paul Hughes. “I have learned how to approach a case that will be heard by nine justices who have differing perspectives and concerns.  It has been insightful learning how to craft an argument that has a broad appeal.”

 “At first, it seemed like every other brief we have written in law school,” added third-year student Terri-Lei O’Malley. “But the closer it got to the very last minute the brief could be sent to the printer, the more it sank in—this is the big league!”

Andrew Pincus and Charles Rothfeld of the firm Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw lecture at Yale Law School and supervise the students in the Clinic. Both are former Assistants to the Solicitor General, and each has been involved in more than 100 cases before the Court. Pincus will argue the case on behalf of the Clinic on February 28, and the students who worked on the brief will be in the Court watching.

Yale Law School faculty members overseeing the work of the Clinic are Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law; Brett Dignam, Clinical Professor of Law and Supervising Attorney; and Giovanna Shay, Robert M. Cover Clinical Teaching Fellow.

“The clinic is a great complement to students' classroom legal education and a terrific opportunity for them to work with first-rate practitioners,” said Professor Shay.