Law students aid federal court case
Clinic assists professor with generating briefs, preparing arguments for Supreme Court
Two Law School students helped Prof. James Ryan prepare his argument on behalf of a client of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic for the case Abbott v. The United States of America, which took place Monday before the Supreme Court.
Ryan's case generated considerable interest because it was the second case argued on the first day of the Supreme Court's new term, which coincided with the debut of Justice Elena Kagan, according to the press release. Kagan was recused from the case for her previous involvement with the case in the solicitor general's office.
The case concerns the existence of a clause in federal law, the "except clause," which dictates that additional prison terms for crimes that involve firearms do not apply "if a greater minimum sentence is provided by any other provision of law," according to the press release. Applying the clause to the case of client Kevin Abbott, who was arrested and convicted on two federal drug charges and charged with and convicted for two firearms violations, would lead to a reduction of the 20 years added to his prison sentence for the two firearms violations.
"To oversimplify a bit, we're arguing that the government can impose one mandatory minimum sentence, but not two if both are longer than five years," Ryan said in the release.
Abbott enlisted the help of the clinic, which selects 11-14 third-year Law students in a competitive process each year to help with interviews, research and preparation of cases. Devin Debacker, and J. Wells Harrell assisted Ryan with drafting the briefs, which contained their side's arguments in favor of their client's cause.
The students had the opportunity to take an active role in helping attorneys and professors, who supervise the clinic, Harrell said.
In addition, the students drafted questions to help Ryan prepare for his time in the courtroom. The students pretended to be Supreme Court justices for an hour and asked Ryan questions that the actual justices could ask in session.
"The biggest benefit is having to work with a team like that and just being pushed to rise to the challenge, making as many contributions as I can," Harrell said.
Ryan described his students as a great asset to the case, which according to the press release marked his first argument in front of the Supreme Court.
"They are terrific. They are energetic, they are smart, they are hard-working. It's been a great experience," Ryan said.
The case, which marks the clinic's fifth case before the Supreme Court since 2004, will likely come to a resolution in the coming months, according to the press release.