Minnesota Law’s New Civil Rights Appellate Clinic Files Amicus Brief with SCOTUS 

Although Minnesota Law’s new Civil Rights Appellate Clinic won’t be offered to students until the spring 2023, its newly-hired faculty director has already filed the clinic’s first amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Acting as counsel of record for the clinic, Visiting Assistant Professor Elizabeth Bentley filed the brief in Cruz v. Arizona, No. 21-849, a death-penalty case. The brief was on behalf of the Arizona Capital Representation Project and the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

The petitioner in Cruz challenges his death sentence on the basis that he was prohibited from informing the jury that he is ineligible for parole, which he argues violated his due process rights as established in Simmons v. South Carolina and reaffirmed in Lynch v. Arizona. The issue before the Court is whether an Arizona state rule of criminal procedure that the Arizona Supreme Court relied on to deny his post-conviction claim constitutes an “adequate and independent state ground” that strips the federal court of jurisdiction to hear his claim. 

The amicus brief filed by the clinic argues that the rule is not an adequate and independent state ground because it discriminates against federal law as part of a longtime and ongoing pattern of the Arizona courts depriving capital defendants of their rights under Simmons.

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case next term. 

Bentley serves as the faculty director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, which will undergo formal faculty approval in the fall and launch in spring 2023. In the clinic, students will immerse themselves in the work of the federal and state appellate courts. The clinic’s casework will center on civil rights and social justice legal issues and may involve specific legal issues that include prisoners’ rights, capital punishment, voting rights, gender equity, and rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, section 1983 litigation, federal habeas appeals, or racial discrimination and inequity.

The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic is one of more than two dozen clinics on a wide variety of legal specialty areas offered at Minnesota Law. It is the third new clinic that the Law School has announced this year, joining the Racial Justice Law Clinic and the Sports and NIL Clinic, which will start in the fall.