We propose a vision for a Network for Justice that will help to remedy this institutional gap. Today we have resources that did not exist in the mid-twentieth century. As a result of the rise of the clinical education movement, there are now appellate advocacy and public policy clinics at many law schools around the country. Some focus on U.S. Supreme Court litigation, others on cases before the federal appeals courts, and still others on state appeals. Policy clinics tackle the challenge of drafting or commenting on reform legislation. At present, these clinics generally pursue their work independently of one another without significant or sustained collaboration. However, we now have the technology to link them effectively. We believe that if properly coordinated, these programs could provide a vital network of resources for the Latino community to address the legal challenges that it faces. Although the support would not be housed at a single institution, the network would allow us to create a kind of “virtual Howard.” Indeed, this network could have distinct advantages in addressing the unique needs of the Latino population. Because clinics exist around the country, the network would be able to address regional and local challenges as well as national concerns, and it could do so at the state and federal level in both courts and legislatures.
The recent case of Evenwel v. Abbott is instructive in thinking about how a network like this one could enhance law and policy related to the Latino community. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case to determine whether the principle of basing apportionment on “one person, one vote” should instead be changed to “one eligible voting-age citizen, one vote.” This shift would have profound consequences for many communities and would negatively affect the Latino population in particular, which is more likely to include non-citizens, youth under the minimum voting age, and felons ineligible to vote. The level of representation for Latino communities would shrink dramatically just as the total population grows substantially. As of October 27, 2015, 39 amicus briefs have been filed, six of which address whether to grant certiorari and 33 of which address the argument on the merits. Only a few are from law school centers or professors, and only one of these addresses the impact on historically disadvantaged groups, including Latinos. None involve a Supreme Court clinic representing a concerned Latino constituency.
We have begun to look at recent decisions of importance to the Latino community in lower courts as well. So far, we have found a similar pattern: appellate clinics have not been representing clients or amici in cases about important issues like immigration, education, workers’ rights, and voter participation. Legislative clinics are smaller in number and newer to the clinical world, and we want to explore whether they are addressing policies of concern to Latinos in their courses.
Though these results with respect to clinical representation of the Latino community are disappointing, there is a way to change this picture. Imagine how different the landscape of advocacy might be with a network of law school clinics committed to addressing legal matters affecting Latinos. The network would alert clinics to these matters, determine which clinics in partnership with civil rights lawyers planned to file briefs or participate in legislative hearings, which clients the clinics would be representing, and what the briefs or legislative recommendations would cover. The clinics could share their materials with one another to see what approaches have been taken and how they could complement one another’s efforts.
Because the network would forge relationships among the clinics and national, regional, and local organizations working on issues affecting Latinos, those organizations could easily turn to the clinics to get advice about a case or proposed legislation and whether to get involved. Courts and legislatures in turn would benefit from broader input from a range of constituencies with an interest in the case or legislation. Last but certainly not least, students would have an invaluable opportunity to work on the briefs or legislative recommendations and to develop leadership skills that should serve them well in practice, whether as attorneys at public interest organizations, in government, or at law firms with a pro bono practice.