As we mentioned in our recent open thread on appellate work, Mayer Brown has one of the best appellate and Supreme Court practices in the country. The firm is also known for being rather democratic when distributing SCOTUS arguments; they tend to spread the argument wealth around, instead of funneling all the arguments to a single prominent advocate.
Make that very democratic about doling out SCOTUS arguments. Today Steve Sanders, a fourth-year associate in Mayer’s Chicago office, argued the case of Pottawattamie County v. McGhee before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Of course, Biglaw associates have appeared before the high court before. E.g., Lindsay Harrison of Jenner & Block, who also argued — and won — her first case at One First Street. But one thing that’s unusual about Pottawattamie County is that it’s a paying case, not a pro bono matter.
Sanders has some serious opposition. Read more, after the jump.
Is this a case of David versus Goliath? Steve Sanders’s opposing counsel is former Solicitor General Paul Clement, a partner at King & Spalding with more than 50 Supreme Court arguments under his belt. (Experience like that is why Clement earns a reported $5 million a year.)
Sanders may be less experienced than Clement, but he’s no twentysomething fresh out of school. From the WSJ Law Blog:
Interestingly, the prosecutor’s side in that case will be argued by Mayer Brown associate: Steve Sanders. According to his bio page, though, Sanders is no wide-eyed Gen Y-er, having served for 15 years at Indiana University, including as Assistant Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. Still, Sanders v. Clement ─ the associate against the SCOTUS giant ─ screams Hollywood drama.
If this case gets turned into a Hollywood movie, a musical montage sequence might show Sanders preparing nonstop for his big day — reading Supreme Court opinions while eating cereal, practicing his oral argument in the shower, etc. As Sanders told the Chicago Lawyer, he’s done about a half-dozen moot court sessions to prepare. Colleagues at Mayer Brown have been very supportive:
Sanders said the nice thing about having a case before the Supreme Court is that everyone respects his time at the firm, and realizes this case must be his top priority.
All the written work is done, so he will be preparing his oral argument, rereading the briefs, immersing himself in lower court record, and trying to anticipate any possible question that a justice might ask him.
“I’m making good notes, but I’m also trying as much as possible to commit those answers to memory,” he said.
Perhaps Sanders was planning to emulate Clement, who is famous for “going commando” — i.e., arguing without notes — before the Supreme Court?
As for the case itself, Pottawattamie County addresses whether a prosecutor can be held liable, via a Section 1983 action, for procuring false testimony during an investigation that was then introduced at trial, resulting in a wrongful conviction and incarceration. From the question presented: “Whether a prosecutor may be subjected to a civil trial and potential damages for a wrongful conviction and incarceration where the prosecutor allegedly violated a criminal defendant’s “substantive due process” rights by procuring false testimony during the criminal investigation, and then introduced that same testimony against the criminal defendant at trial.”
Interestingly enough, as noted by the WSJ Law Blog, the conservative Clement — solicitor general in the Bush Administration, and a fixture at Fed Soc events — is representing the “liberal” side, namely, the plaintiffs seeking money damages from the prosecutors. Sanders represents the County and its two former prosecutors.
The Washington Post editorial board has weighed in on the side of Clement’s clients. But this case will be decided by justices, not journalists — and several recent precedents from the Court strongly support broad immunity for public officials. E.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal.
It will be interesting to see how this case is decided. Good luck, Steve!
UPDATE (1:45 PM): Thank you, commenters (#10 and #14). We are ashamed for having missed the 90210 connection! God that show was great….
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post, which we started drafting yesterday, stated that the argument would be taking place tomorrow. The argument actually took place today. We are reaching out to Steve Sanders to see how the argument went.
UPDATE (11/6/09): Check out our post-argument interview with Sanders.
Steve Sanders bio [Mayer Brown]
Mayer Brown associate heads to the U.S. Supreme Court [Chicago Lawyer]
Prosecutors nationwide keep eyes on Bluffs case [World-Herald News Service]
The right not to be framed: Can prosecutors be sued? [Washington Post]
Paul Clement, Bush’s former SG, Flirts With Liberalism [WSJ Law Blog]
Earlier: Jenner & Block Associate Argues Her First Case – In the Supreme Court
Update: Jenner & Block Associate Scores SCOTUS Win