The MacArthur Justice Center has poached two ex-high court clerks from Big Law for its Supreme Court and appellate practice that’s won a string of civil rights and criminal justice victories since launching four years ago.
Easha Anand, who clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor and came from Orrick, and Devi Rao, who clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and came from Jenner & Block, joined the civil rights law firm’s Supreme Court & Appellate Program. They will work out of the firm’s Washington office, which is headed by deputy director Amir Ali.
Program director David M. Shapiro, in Chicago, noted the program’s expansion comes as the subject of race and policing has gained new attention.
“At this moment in history,” he said, “what the courts do and the law that they make, particularly at the appellate level, is really what will decide whether there’s accountability for law enforcement brutality.”
The hires will only strengthen a program that’s won victories on police misconduct, criminal procedure and sentencing, prison and jail conditions, solitary confinement, wrongful death and wrongful convictions, and habeas corpus, Shapiro said.
Expanding the Model
“What’s so incredible about Devi and Easha joining us,” Shapiro said, “is that they’ll allow us to expand on our model of using appellate court and Supreme Court litigation to strategically expand protection of civil rights in the criminal justice system.” They’ll also work with Daniel M. Greenfield, an attorney in the firm’s Chicago office who focuses on solitary confinement appellate litigation.
Ali, who secured a high court victory last year in a criminal case, said Anand and Rao “will have the freedom to identify problems in the criminal justice system in addition to the ones we’ve already identified, and to start spending their full time being part of the solution to those problems.”
Both lawyers spoke fondly of their firm experiences, but said it’s the right time to focus on appellate impact litigation, and that the program is the right place to do it.
“We’re in a unique moment with a lot of possibility for change,” Anand said. While at Orrick, she helped convince the justices to take up an excessive-force case that’ll be argued next term.
Historically, Anand said, firms and federal and state governments have been set up to capture and take advantage of former Supreme Court clerk expertise. She said “the way that MacArthur has set up an impact appellate practice to do the same thing is unique.” Shapiro, Greenfield, and Ali also have prior law firm and federal appeals clerkship experience.
Anand, the former Sotomayor clerk, added that she’s “excited to be part of a group that is now majority folks of color,” a rarity in the appellate world.
Rao said “it’s a really exciting time to be starting to work full time in the social justice space, with all of the momentum around the country pushing toward change and recognizing the ways in which the system is stacked unfairly against people based on race.” She said she’s looking forward to “supporting the movement from the courtroom.”
Appellate practice is a specialized skill, one Rao said she wants to use “in this particular space to try to move the needle.”
Ali said the two hires will help address a strategic imbalance disadvantaging criminal defendants and other marginalized groups. The federal and state governments have “lots of talented former Supreme Court clerks thinking very, very hard about which cases are representative, from their perspective, to bring to the Supreme Court that maximize the chances that they’ll prevail.”
Public defenders owe a duty to each client without regard to what a decision might mean for others, while law firms usually get involved in a case that may already be headed to the Supreme Court, he said, emphasizing that both entities, with which the program partners, play vital roles.
That imbalance leads to what Ali called a “relatively random development of the law on the side of criminal defendants, prisoners, and victims of civil rights abuses, whereas you have a very strategic development of the law on the other side of the equation.”