Sometimes timing is everything.
Last week, in “Skinning Cats in Different Ways,” I wrote about the efforts of the state legislature to undermine the University of Maryland’s law school clinic. The clinic’s environmental lawsuit against Perdue Farms and some of its chicken suppliers prompted Jim Perdue himself to visit Annapolis and plead the case for preserving important state financial interests.
Now, as a gigantic oil slick oozes its way toward the nation’s Gulf coast, the National Law Journal reports that a Louisiana legislator has offered a suggestion even more draconian than the one eventually abandoned in Maryland.(http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202457607971&Battleground_over_law_school_clinics_moves_to_Louisiana)
Senator Robert Adley (R-Benton — a 3,000-member community in a remote corner of northwestern Louisiana and far from the Gulf of Mexico) wants the state to prohibit law clinics at public and private colleges receiving state money from suing government agencies, individuals, and businesses for financial damages.
Apparently, Tulane is the target of this legislative attack that would include LSU. When a Baton Rouge reporter sought comment last month, the president of the Louisiana Chemical Association said that hurting LSU was not the bill’s intent:
“I know of no beefs with any of the other schools and we are not trying to impede their use of law clinics to give law students broad practical experience prior to graduation…Tulane’s environmental law clinic has consistently brought suits against industries and Louisiana state agencies and takes credit on its Web site for preventing hundreds of millions of dollars from coming to Louisiana.” ((http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/90065107.html?showAll=y&c=y)
A third-year LSU law student quoted in the article made the point with elegant simplicity:
“At first blush, it seems like a way for corporations to prevent themselves from getting sued. If you’re not doing something wrong, then why are you worried?”
She’s right. Law clinics aren’t roving bands of policymakers in search of causes they can use to remake the world. They pursue legal claims that might not otherwise see the light of day. They succeed because judges and juries determine that the defendants against whom they prevail have violated the law.
Here’s a better suggestion for Senator Adley: Just identify every current law or regulation that your corporate constituents don’t like and propose repealing all of them. It’s far more transparent. After all, what’s the point of enacting rules to pursue policies and protect rights if you’re simultaneously barring law clinics from enforcing them on behalf of those who lack the means, independence, or fortitude to do so?