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Southern Christian Leadership Conference v. Supreme Court of Louisiana, 61 F. Supp. 2d 499 (E.D. La. 1999); SCLC v. Supreme Court, 252 F.3d 781, 786 (5th Cir. 2001

The Louisiana Supreme Court amended a rule that imposed limits on the types of clients law school clinics may represent. A number of plaintiffs, including professors and students, challenged the rule, alleging, in part, that it violated the academic freedom of professors to teach and students to learn. The federal district court ruled that the amended rule did not violate the academic freedom of professors. The plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth Circuit. AAUP joined the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) in filing an amicus brief with the federal appellate court in January 2000. The brief asserted that the amended rule violates the academic freedom of professors by restricting what may be taught and how it may be taught because no countervailing compelling state interest exists. In so doing, the brief recognized that higher education extends beyond the traditional classroom, and that clinical programs are a vital component of legal education to which the protections of academic freedom apply.

Status: In May 2001 the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state supreme court's limits on the types of clients law school clinics may represent do not violate the First Amendment. The court found that the indigence provision of the rule, which limited the types of clients law clinics could represent based on income, did not, on its face, "implicate any speech interests." Next the court held that the state supreme court's solicitation restrictions did not violate the plaintiffs' rights of free speech: "The rule only prohibits the non-lawyer student members of the clinics from representing as attorneys any party the clinic has so solicited. . . . No one is required to participate in any of the clinical programs, and even if someone chooses to, they are not punished for or prohibited from speaking. At most, Rule XX indirectly discourages speech-by refusing the educational experience of acting as an attorney in a particular matter to unlicensed student practitioners in clinics whose members or employees engaged in solicitation of that matter." In so doing, the court noted that the impact of the court's rule "on the educational experience is far from extreme." Lastly, the court found that the rule was viewpoint neutral, and was not retaliatory. The court found "no legally significant chilling effect on the expressive speech of any of the Plaintiffs in this case," even though the court acknowledged that "the clinics themselves will either be forced to change their educational model or to refrain from soliciting particular clients." In the end, however, "this minimal impact on the clinics" was not suppressive. The Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Amicus Brief Topics: