The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) and WLF’s Economic Freedom Law Clinic at the George Mason University School of Law last week urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans to approve restrictions placed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana on the filing of disruptive lawsuits by activist law school clinics in Louisiana.
In a brief filed with the Fifth Circuit WLF argued that the Louisiana restrictions on law clinics and law student legal practice were a valid exercise of the state supreme court’s authority to govern the rules of legal practice within the state.
“Activists have no business using law school clinics to disrupt the free enterprise system,” WLF Senior Counsel for Litigation Affairs Shawn Gunnarson said after filing WLF’s brief. “The Louisiana Supreme Court was right to rein in the abusive litigation brought against legitimate businesses by law school clinics and their activist supporters.”
When the Shintech Corporation announced that it was planning to build a plastics plant in St. James Parish, Louisiana, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic led a coalition of environmental activists in an effort to block construction. The clinic did this despite an NAACP poll showing that 73% of local residents wanted the scores of jobs represented by the Shintech plant. In the end, the Law Clinic and its allies managed to keep Shintech—and its jobs—out of St. James Parish.
Soon afterward the Supreme Court of Louisiana amended Rule XX of its rules of court, which permitted law students to practice law in certain circumstances. The amendments impose four new requirements on law students or law school clinics practicing law in Louisiana state courts. First, law students and law school clinic staff members may not represent a person or family whose annual income is more than twice the federal poverty level. Second, any community organization seeking legal representation by a law clinic must certify in writing that it is unable to pay for legal services. Third, the supreme court may terminate the certification of any law student to practice law without notice or hearing or a showing of cause. And fourth, law school clinic staff attorneys and law students certified to practice must avoid soliciting cases or clients.
Led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, more than a dozen activist organizations, including the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Louisiana Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, filed a complaint in federal district court against the Louisiana Supreme Court. They alleged that the amendments to Rule XX violated various provisions of the federal and Louisiana constitutions. The supreme court filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which the federal district court granted. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Fifth Circuit, where the case is now pending.
In its brief WLF urged the Fifth Circuit to affirm the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims for three reasons. First, under our federal system a federal court must give great deference to a state supreme court’s rules regulating the practice of law in that state. Second, such deference is particularly fitting where the plaintiffs can claim no legal right to practice law. Third, the Fifth Circuit should follow the well-established rule that state courts are entitled to legislative immunity regarding the validity of disciplinary and practice rules.
The Washington Legal Foundation is a public interest law and policy center with supporters in all 50 states. It devotes a significant portion of its resources to defending and promoting the principles of free enterprise and individual rights.
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For further information, contact WLF Senior Counsel for Litigation Affairs, R. Shawn Gunnarson, at (202) 588-0302.