Tulane Beats Back Attempted Encroachment on Academic Freedom

In Louisiana, lobbyists for the oil industry tried to push through a bill that would limit the effectiveness of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. That’s right, the same people that brought you The Day After We Ruined the Gulf tried to stop a law school clinic from bringing pesky environmental lawsuits.

We’ve seen this before. Perdue Chicken got all up in the grille of the Maryland Environmental Law Clinic a couple of months ago. Did companies who rape the environment just figure out that environmental law clinics spend a lot of time trying to defend the environment?

In any event, it’s not surprising that corporate interests would try to crush the life out of law students doing work that private individuals won’t pay for. It is marginally surprising that state legislators are totally unashamed to appear to be in the back pocket of their corporate handlers.

But maybe all of the bad press the oil industry is getting just at the moment saved the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic…

The proposed legislation was effectively directed against the Tulane clinic. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:

[State Sen. Robert Adley’s] bill, as filed, would have blocked university law clinics at any school that receives state money from suing a government agency or representing a client who is suing a private defendant for monetary damages. Adley proposed an amendment today that would limit the restrictions to environmental law clinics, effectively limiting the bill to Tulane. The committee never actually adopted the amendment, though debate revolved around Tulane.

The bill, LCA executive director Dan Borne told senators, stems from two decades of lawsuits filed against chemical companies by clients represented by Tulane law clinic students and attorneys. “The mission seems to be to attack business development … in this state,” Borne said.

Adley described Tulane as “a billion-dollar industry that recruit out-of-state kids to come in and sue us.”

“Us.” Us? I’m sorry, is State Senator Adley directly on the payroll of one of the oil companies? Christ monkeys, the Tulane kids are trying to keep the environment safe for people who live in Louisiana — you know, the people Adley is supposed to be representing.  Maybe Adley enjoys his crawfish with an extra helping of fossil fuels, but I bet most Louisianans do not.

Luckily, this isn’t the best time to be the Senator from Big Oil Parish in Louisiana. The ABA Journal reports:

The committee deferred the bill, backed by chemical and oil industry lobbyists irked at environmental lawsuits, according to 2theadvocate.com and the Times Picayune. Not a single lawmaker objected…

ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm was among the critics of the bill. Law school clinics have helped Hurricane Katrina victims find housing and domestic violence victims escape abuse, she said in a statement. They also work to preserve clean air and water.

“Depriving the poorest citizens of these vital services is an affront to their dignity, and for many, diminishes their very means of survival,” Lamm said.

Is it a coincidence that this bill was defeated, yesterday — the same day that the oil from the BP disaster reached Louisiana’s wetlands? Maybe the oil industry should spend less time getting pissed off at law students and more time maintaining their pipelines?

Given the state of Louisiana’s economy, the defeat of the bill is a pretty good thing:

“I didn’t realize that when I came here Tulane University would be on trial,” said Tulane President Scott Cowen, while arguing that SB549 would hurt the state and all its residents.

“It violates just about every proven precept of economic development there is,” he said, noting that Tulane is New Orleans’ largest private employer. “This is an extremely dangerous bill.”

This kind of industry pressure on law school clinics has failed in Maryland, and now failed in Louisiana. Will our ruling oligarchs take the hint that they can’t choose which laws students are educated about? Or do we have to try this one more time in some place like Arizona to prove that no legislature is addled enough to pass this kind of bill?

Senator, Louisiana Chemical Association get no support for bill to limit student law clinics [New Orleans Times-Picayune]
Bill to Rein in Tulane Environmental Law Clinic Is Defeated [ABA Journal]
Panel derails law clinic bill [Advocate Capitol News]

Earlier: Maryland State and Perdue v. Maryland Law and Reason: An Uneasy Compromise

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