Students in Civil Rights Litigation Class Hear U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments
Steven H. Steinglass and Web Editor - Published: November 13, 2011
On November 1st, Visiting Distinguished Professor of Law Steven H. Steinglass took the students in his Civil Rights Litigation course to Washington to observe two arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States.

The course in Civil Rights Litigation (also known as §1983 litigation) focuses on litigation against state and local governmental officials and entities for violations of federal constitutional rights. The two cases being argued were important cases that the class had been studying, and it was a happy coincidence that oral arguments in both cases were scheduled for the same morning.

Both oral arguments involved highly skilled appellate lawyers and a very "hot" bench. The questions were rapid-fire, and the students found the experience very interesting and educational. Student Jonathan Odwyer remarked that he was surprised that the arguments were not as “Absolutely formal as I expected,” and that the Justices actually made some jokes.

After the arguments, the students and Professor Steinglass met privately with Chris Vasil, a Deputy Clerk of the Supreme Court, to discuss the operation of the Court.

The first case, Rehberg v. Paulk, involves whether the chief investigator for a local prosecutor in Georgia had absolute immunity for his allegedly false grand jury testimony. Witnesses in trials have absolute immunity from civil suit for their testimony, but this case addresses whether there should be an exception to the absolute immunity rule for grand jury testimony by "complaining witnesses." The suit had been brought by a putative whistle-blower who was indicted three times but whose prosecutions were dropped in each case.

The second case, Minneci v. Pollard, involves whether an employee of a private company that contracts with the federal government to provide prison services may be sued for allegedly violating the 8th amendment right of a federal prisoner to be free from cruel and unusual punishment (in this case the deliberate indifference to the prisoner's serious medical needs). Had an employee of the federal Bureau of Prisons committed the alleged violation, a federal damage action would have been available. There is no express federal statute authorizing the action being brought, so the Court will have to decided whether to extend its implied right of action approach to suits against this "private" defendant.

Visit Widener Law’s Youtube channel to hear from some of the students about their experience.