Penn State Law student argues case in front of federal appeals court

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Third-year Penn State Law student Penelope Scudder had a rare opportunity on April 5 when she argued a case against the U.S. Department of Justice before a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, garnering praise from the judges and opposing counsel for her performance and preparation in the case.

Scudder argued on behalf of Penn State Law’s Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, which is challenging the constitutionality of part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in Baptiste v. Attorney General United States. The complete audio recording of the hearing is available online on the U.S. Courts website.

The clinic is representing Carlton Baptiste, a 77-year-old New Jersey resident who is fighting deportation to his native Trinidad and Tobago after having lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident since 1972. Baptiste is subject to an Oct. 15, 2014, order of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals for crimes committed in 1978 and 2009. His attempted removal is governed by section 242 of the INA.

Scudder argued that the Board of Immigration Appeals cannot legally deport Baptiste because his crime did not constitute an aggravated felony or a crime involving moral turpitude and because a portion of the INA under which Baptiste would be deported is unconstitutionally void for vagueness.

Though each side was allotted 15 minutes for oral arguments, the hearing ran nearly an hour long, something Penn State Law professor Michael Foreman attributes to the constitutional issue at stake in the case.

“Penny did a wonderful job that far exceeds her status as a third-year law student,” said Foreman, who is director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic. “Being permitted to argue in the appellate courts is becoming a rare opportunity in any case. Here, Penny seized that opportunity, spending countless hours in preparation and in moot courts to prepare, which showed in the poise she exhibited during the argument.”

That poise did not go unnoticed by the 3rd Circuit judges hearing the case, who remarked at the end of the hearing that Scudder did a “super job” and offered “kudos to you and your teacher.”

Even the opposing counsel from the Justice Department complimented Scudder and the clinic for taking on such a complex case. “For a law school to jump in on a difficult case like this, I give them a ton of credit and so does the department,” said Senior Litigation Counsel Jesse Bless, who argued the case for the Justice Department. “You did a fine job.”

The oral arguments were the culmination of two semesters’ worth of work by all of the students in the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, who contributed to the case in drafting briefs, researching case law, culling through the prior opinions of the 3rd Circuit judges on the panel, and acting as judges and opposing counsel in moot courts leading up to the arguments.

“I thought that it was wonderful to see the culmination of the clinic's work in Baptiste,” said third-year student and clinic member Alex Park, who traveled to Philadelphia to listen to the argument. “Penny wonderfully represented the points that we had been working so hard to bring to the attention of the 3rd Circuit. It was extraordinary to see Penny put her hard work, poise and determination to work in the oral argument.”

For Scudder, the opportunity was one of the highlights of her educational career at Penn State Law.

“I’m so grateful that Professor Foreman placed his trust in me to prepare and deliver a convincing argument before the 3rd Circuit,” she said. “We had a great team behind the oral arguments, from my colleagues in the clinic to all of the professors who helped us prepare for the arguments in moots. Together, I think we came up with a convincing and well-articulated argument.”

There is no timeline for the 3rd Circuit to rule on the case, but in the meantime the clinic is moving forward with other legal options on behalf of Baptiste.

The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, one of nine legal clinics available to Penn State Law students, provides intensive training in appellate advocacy by involving students in noncriminal civil rights cases before state appellate courts, federal courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Students conduct research, draft briefs, assist in case selection, develop substantive legal positions, and plan appellate strategy. The clinic is an exciting opportunity for law students to learn appellate advocacy and get involved in federal civil rights cases.

Last Updated April 14, 2016