Penn State Law students co-author brief in Supreme Court discrimination case

October 15, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Just five weeks into the fall semester, a team with Penn State Law’s Civil Rights Appellate Clinic co-authored and filed a brief in a case that is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark civil rights case will decide whether or not cable companies can be sued for refusing to carry programming from an African American-owned network.

“The fight to end racial discrimination is an important one and the ability to work with my team to draft a brief with the potential for great impact has been a phenomenal experience,” said Kathryn Dutton, a third-year student at Penn State Law in University Park.

At issue in Comcast vs. National Assn. of African American Owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks is just how much evidence of racial bias is needed to file a discrimination suit against a company.

Under the supervision of Professor Michael L. Foreman, clinic director, students were involved in the entire brief-writing process from formulating ideas to drafting arguments and proofreading. Joining Dutton on the core litigation team were students Caitlin Jolley, Amber Bynum, and Amanda Brunt.

“The experience was incredibly validating and encouraging,” said Jolley, a third-year student at Penn State Law. “To receive positive feedback and see our original arguments being adopted into the brief was amazing.”

In writing and filing the brief, Penn State Law students collaborated with several diverse civil rights groups including The Leadership Conference, National Urban League, NAACP and Southern Poverty Law Center. The students’ brief was co-written with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Dariely Rodriguez, director of the Economic Justice Project with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said working with Professor Foreman and clinic students was incredibly valuable, particularly in navigating the case’s complex legal theories.

“The clinic’s students brought a unique perspective to the drafting process by highlighting for the court the real-life implications of a negative ruling on marginalized workers and consumers of color,” Rodriguez said. “Their significant contributions resulted in the brief being joined by a strong coalition of social justice and civil rights groups--a nod to the great work done by the clinic.”

“This was an unforgettable experience,” said Brunt, a third-year Penn State Law student. “I was struck most by how cohesively clinic students worked together, and I am proud to have had the opportunity to work alongside such passionate and dedicated colleagues.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on Nov. 13.

The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, one of nine legal clinics available to Penn State Law in University Park students, provides intensive training in appellate advocacy by involving students in noncriminal civil rights cases before the 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.

Last Updated October 16, 2019