Penn State Law Civil Rights Clinic files amicus brief in Supreme Court case

April 03, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Law in University Park Civil Rights Appellate Clinic recently filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court. "Biel v. St. James," a religious-liberty case that was granted certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court that poses the question of which test the court should apply in determining who qualifies as a “minister” under the ministerial exception.

“Working on 'Biel' was probably one of the most fulfilling and interesting working experiences in law school,” shared Nika Gigashvili, a third-year law student.

The students of the clinic, led by Director Michael Foreman, assisted the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), a nationally recognized employee rights organization, in filing the amicus brief.

“We are a small staff and rely on volunteer resources to draft and edit briefs in cases that will impact the lives of working people across the country,” said Ashley Westby, NELA program manager. “When we work with Michael and the clinic, we are guaranteeing that a brief going out under our name is of the highest quality.”

The amicus brief filing provided clinic students with invaluable experience.

“This was probably the most challenging yet rewarding project I have worked on in my two semesters with the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic,” said Kathryn Dutton, a third-year law student. “It was an uphill battle, starting from a place of little knowledge on the topic. But with the help of my fellow classmates, Professor Foreman, and ample research, I believe we put together a very strong brief.”

Glenn Kohles, another third-year law student, reflected positively on his first semester at the clinic.

“Not only are we now able to say we have submitted a filing in the U.S. Supreme Court, but we were able to work with a number of highly experienced attorneys through the process. In addition to our teamwork, we were able to collaborate with these attorneys to produce a product that we should all be proud of,” said Kohles. “Being a member of the Penn State Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic team continually provides such great opportunities.”  

“As a law student, I especially appreciate having an opportunity to write an amicus in a case that will be decided by the Supreme Court and that will hopefully change someone’s mind or perspective on the issue,” said Gigashvili.

The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic is one of nine legal clinics at Penn State Law that provides student training in appellate advocacy and writing. Students work with clients on an array of noncriminal civil rights cases before state and federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In representing clients, students gain practical experience through research and analysis, drafting and editing briefs, and planning appellate strategies.

Last Updated April 06, 2020