Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Immprof Sunita Patel: Oral Arguments in Ziglar v. Abassi

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The following is from Sunita Patel, immprof extraordinaire from American University Washington College of Law:

At 4:00 a.m. two days before President Obama left office, almost 25 students met in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The group was eager to watch the last argument the Supreme Court would hear during the administration of President Barak Obama, Ziglar v. Abassi. The students were enrolled in Professor Sunita Patel’s migrants in the criminal justice system class and Professor Suzette Malveaux’s civil rights and civil procedure classes. The law students—from American University Washington College of Law and Catholic University of America Law School—represented almost half of the public ticket holders. While a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Prof. Patel served as co-counsel in the district court and Second Circuit, prior to the case going to the Supreme Court. This blog compiles selected reflections the professors collected from the students.


Ziglar v. Abassi (Turkmen v. Ashcroft in the Second Circuit) is a class action civil rights lawsuit against cabinet level officials in the Bush Administration — including U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and INS Commissioner James Ziglar — for the prolonged and harsh detention of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men based on their religion and national origin. The case arose from post-9/11 round-ups and the decision by the officials to hold the men until cleared of any ties to terrorism. None of the men were ever charged with terrorist activity. According to the Fourth Amended Complaint and 2003 reports by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Justice, the men were punitively strip-searched, beaten, pushed against the wall where a large U.S. flag hung.

Cold and bleary-eyed, the group met in the dark to secure seats. Ten people had been in line since midnight. One student huddled over an ipad with a headlamp to finish reading the parties’ briefs. Multiple students found the experience unforgettable. A student noted, “Standing outside in the cold at 4am is not everyone's idea of a good time, but it was worth it to catch a glimpse of the inner workings of the highest court in America.”

Despite the pre-dawn meeting time, the students were not disappointed! Some reflected:

  • “This is why you can't beat going to law school in DC!”
  • "It was a truly unique experience that not many can say they've done. It required time and effort, but it was completely worth it.”
  • “As citizens, we rarely get the opportunity to watch (in person) the top tier of a branch of our American government at work. Being able to see and hear working lawyers stand toe-to-toe with the Supreme Court, dissecting a Constitutional issue, was amazing.”

Other students were most struck by the advocacy of the parties’ attorneys:

  • “The arguments were supremely impressive (not sorry for that pun) and the rapid-fire questions from the bench were quite exciting.”
  • “It was like entering the coliseum and witnessing the greatest legal gladiators of our time spar with every word. Incredibly energetic.”
  • “I didn't think that such passionate advocacy could come out in an oral argument. The way Ms. Meeropol [attorney for Abassi] found an opportunity to advocate for her clients in every statement and every answer to the Justices' questions was awesome to watch.”
  • “It was an empowering and exciting experience . . . . I was intrigued by the way the attorneys argued. [T]heir tone of voice, the structure of their argument, the way they responded to questions and answered with confidence and poise-- it was like watching a suspense movie play out right before our eyes, you didn't know which Justice would present a question next or comment on some aspect of the attorneys' argument. . . Being able to observe was rewarding both for professional and personal reasons. I can't wait to go again.

Students connected their roles as lawyers and course work with the questions presented in the case.

  • “Seeing the Court in action brought to life all that we've been studying the last few months. The skill of the attorneys at the level was a feat to behold.”
  • “Visiting the Supreme Court was humbling and inspiring. Humbling because one realizes just how far one has to go as a student and aspiring lawyer, and inspiring because one cannot deny the belief that with hard work and the guidance of good professors, any one of us could one day argue before the nation's highest court.”
  • “Being a Mexican female and recognizing how tough it could be for females in the legal sphere, it was encouraging to see one of the most persuasive arguments delivered by a woman.”

Following the argument, students met counsel for Respondents with the Center for Constitutional Rights and some attended the press briefing. One student suggested, “Most eye-opening was the human side which is easy to lose sight of in reading case books full of judicial opinions. Hearing a Muslim man speak in a press conference about the harsh conditions of his detainment following 9/11 certainly moved the needle[.]”



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These students are lucky! They were witnesses to proceedings of the Highest Court in America. I'm glad that somebody is doing something about the discrimination and torture of innocent Muslims and South Asians.

Posted by: Reed James | Jan 24, 2017 8:23:15 AM

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