PURSUING JUSTICE. IMPACTING LIVES.
PURSUING JUSTICE.
IMPACTING LIVES.

Constitutional Rights & Civil Liberties

“The pro bono representation provided by Sidley’s volunteers is invaluable to veterans who lack the resources to successfully apply for disability benefits on their own.”

— Rochelle Bobroff, Director of Pro Bono Program, NVLSP


“Thanks to Sidley’s critical support, we were able to join with other advocates … thereby defending the fundamental human rights of those seeking safety and protection in the United States.”

— Sabrineh Ardalan, Clinical Professor, Harvard Law School

“The Sidley team was invaluable to us throughout 2020 as we navigated and executed major milestones.“

— Caitlin Dolkart, Director of Capsule Global (the parent company of Flare)


“Thanks to Sidley’s critical support, we were able to join with other advocates … thereby defending the fundamental human rights of those seeking safety and protection in the United States.”

— Sabrineh Ardalan, Clinical Professor, Harvard Law School
“Our relationship [with Sidley] has been one of the mainstays of the charity’s success.”

— General Sir Nick Parker (KCB, CBE), Chair of RE:ACT Disaster Response

“... a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”

— From the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on behalf of the plaintiffs, a class of Detroit schoolchildren represented by Sidley

“The Equal Justice Initiative continues to be energized by the level of diligence, compassion, and skill that Sidley’s lawyers demonstrate in their death penalty cases.”

Randy Susskind, Deputy Director, Equal Justice Initiative


“I’ll forever be thankful for ... the team of experienced and caring professionals who championed my cause and earned my release.”

– Lebert Gordon, Sidley client, pictured here with Sidley Project Assistant S.J. Smith

“We are grateful beyond words for Sidley’s generosity and guidance.”

— Mary Colman St. John, Chief Financial & Administrative Officer, Aperture Foundation

Project Overview

2020 STAT: 16 OPEN CASES
2020 STAT: 16,000+ hours dedicated to helping immigrants
2020 STATS: 8,000+ hours | 135 matters
2020 STATS: 180+ clients | 55+ countries | 50,000+ hours

Sidley works closely with many civil rights advocacy organizations across the country to protect and defend the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all people, especially those most subjected to marginalization, persecution, or profiling. Our clients include prisoners and detainees, women in the workplace, LGBTQ+ individuals, and racial and ethnic minorities. Our pro bono practice works through the courts, administrative agencies, and legislatures to safeguard, promote, and expand individual rights and civil liberties so that all people can live freely and proudly.

“The Equal Justice Initiative continues to be energized by the level of diligence, compassion, and skill that Sidley’s lawyers demonstrate in their death penalty cases. When other law firms are reluctant to take even one capital case, we point to Sidley’s Capital Litigation Project as the example of how it can be done successfully with many clients. Sidley’s commitment to fighting for fairness and due process on behalf of people who are on death row in Alabama has created optimism for everyone concerned about justice in Alabama.”

— Randy Susskind, Deputy Director, Equal Justice Initiative

“Sidley has partnered with NVLSP since 1986 and has consistently demonstrated excellence and a deep commitment to pro bono representation on behalf of our nation’s veterans. While many firms accept only a few pro bono referrals from Lawyers Serving Warriors® per year, Sidley has been eager to help dozens of veterans each year. The pro bono representation provided by Sidley’s volunteers is invaluable to veterans who lack the resources to successfully apply for disability benefits on their own. Furthermore, since many of the veterans applying for disability benefits suffer from debilitating mental health conditions or other cognitive impairments, the assistance of volunteer lawyers from Sidley is vital to enable disabled veterans to succeed with their claims.”

— Rochelle Bobroff, Director of Pro Bono Program, Lawyers Serving Warriors®, a project of the National Veterans Legal Services Program

In the opinion, the Sixth Circuit cited decisions by the Supreme Court underscoring “the critical importance of education.” The Sixth Circuit recognized that public education is “foundational to our system of self-governance,” and “a great equalizer, giving all children a chance to meet or outperform society’s expectations, even when faced with substantial disparities in wealth and with past and ongoing racial inequality.” For these reasons, the Court held, “a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”

— From the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on behalf of the plaintiffs, a class of Detroit schoolchildren represented by Sidley

Photo above: Flare. Photos below clockwise from top: Flare; Costa Rica Insect Company (CRIC); InspiraFarms; Victory Farms; InspiraFarms; Flare.

Photo above: Flare. Photos below from top to bottom: Flare; Costa Rica Insect Company (CRIC); InspiraFarms; Flare; InspiraFarms; Victory Farms.

Photo above: Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA) - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - 2day Eye 2 Eye (5) This Is My Heart, photographed by Adi Talwar. Photos below clockwise from top: Kilowatt Dance Theater; BCA - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - Cloud Head (In The Tomb 3D), photographed by Adi Talwar; BCA - Estelle Maisonett, The Bronx Is Not for Sale, photographed by Adi Talwar; Aperture Foundation - Roe Ethridge, Apple and Black Glove, 2020; Kilowatt Dance Theater; BCA - Longwood Youth Program May 2018.

Photo above: Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA) - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - 2day Eye 2 Eye (5) This Is My Heart, photographed by Adi Talwar. Photos below from top to bottom: Kilowatt Dance Theater; BCA - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - Cloud Head (In The Tomb 3D), photographed by Adi Talwar; BCA - Estelle Maisonett, The Bronx Is Not for Sale, photographed by Adi Talwar; BCA - Longwood Youth Program May 2018; Kilowatt Dance Theater; Aperture Foundation - Roe Ethridge, Apple and Black Glove, 2020

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Overview

Europe Overview

2020 STATS: 4,100+ hours across Brussels, Geneva, and Munich
Our pro bono efforts in Europe have global reach and local impact. We help individuals and families who face significant barriers in obtaining access to justice. Our lawyers work with a range of organizations, from startup social enterprises to some of the largest charities in the world, focusing on enhancing community impact and strengthening the fundamental rule of law.

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Climate Action Network Europe

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s largest coalition on climate and energy issues. CAN Europe had concerns about reports of increased air pollution, largely attributed to emissions associated with coal-fired thermal power plants, in certain countries that are Contracting Parties of the Energy Community Treaty. Sidley advised CAN Europe on the Energy Community Treaty obligations requiring Contracting Parties to implement key EU legislation on industrial emissions and the available legal tools to enforce compliance with the relevant treaty obligations.

Gymnastics Ethics Foundation

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) and its president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former President of Switzerland, recently appointed Dorothee Schramm, partner in our Geneva office, as one of 12 members of the GEF Disciplinary Commission for the 2021–2024 term. In panels of three, the Disciplinary Commission holds hearings and decides on sanctions against coaches and judges for abuse of gymnasts and other violations of ethical rules on a global level. This prestigious pro bono appointment gives Doro the chance to uphold ethics and address abuse allegations in a sport where such allegations regularly make front-page news, including Sidley’s representation of middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

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Overview

UK Overview

2020 STATS: 8,300+ UK pro bono hours
Our pro bono program in London has expanded rapidly in recent years and focuses on access to justice, the rule of law, and assisting charities and social enterprises. We strive to find projects that have the biggest impact on our communities and match the interests and skills of our lawyers.

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DISABILITY REPRESENTATION

Children with Disabilities

During 2020, our lawyers obtained an additional 208 hours of care per week for families with disabled children through our involvement in LawWorks and Together for Short Lives’ Voices for Families project.

Working with Together for Short Lives, a UK-registered charity, Sidley helped obtain a successful outcome for a single mother with a disabled 18-month-old child. As a result of this assistance, the woman was provided with nursing care and nursing support seven nights a week, enabling her son to be discharged from the hospital and to return home to her and attend nursery school.

DISABILITY REPRESENTATION

Disability Benefits

During 2020, our lawyers recorded a 100% success rate in our representation of multiple clients in the Social Security Tribunal. At a time when poverty is increasing, people with a disability face many additional costs and higher unemployment rates. Personal Independence Payments can be a lifeline to the people that we assist through this project. The Sidley team comprises lawyers from across nearly all practice area teams in our London office.

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) UK

KIND UK is a collaboration between four UK-based nonprofit organizations that specialize in children’s immigration and asylum law. KIND UK partners with Kids in Need of Defense in the United States, the leading national organization advocating for the rights of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children in the country. In 2020, Sidley London launched a partnership with KIND UK to provide advice and support to children and their families with uncertain or undocumented immigration status. Working closely with the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, our lawyers help children to apply for British citizenship and be granted their full legal rights.

"We are delighted to have partnered with KIND UK in the provision of pro bono advice to children in their applications for British citizenship. There are many thousands of undocumented children living in the UK, many of whom know no other country as their home. We have a number of active cases already and we are starting to make a difference to the future of the children and their families."

— Sidley Partner Jade Williams-Adedeji


Bloomberg Partnership

A London team acted alongside co-counsel from Bloomberg’s Legal and Compliance Department to support the Fair Education Alliance (FEA), which is a coalition of over 200 organizations aiming to tackle inequality in the education system. The FEA required advice on preparing grant award documentation for its “Scaling Award” and inaugural “Intrapreneurship Award.”

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Overview

Asia Pacific Overview

2020 STATS: 1,800+ hours across our Asia Pacific offices
Sidley is deeply committed to aiding local Hong Kong charitable organizations and businesses in achieving their goals. In 2020, the Law Society of Hong Kong honored Effie Vasilopoulos with the “Gold Award” at its 2020 Pro Bono and Community Work Recognition Program. The annual awards recognize legal practitioners in Hong Kong who have made exceptional contributions to the community.

Effie received the award for leading Sidley’s team in connection with a number of pro bono projects, including the firm’s work in developing a new domestic private fund regime benefiting the private equity, venture capital, real estate, infrastructure, credit, and hedge fund segments of the market, which was enacted in August 2020 following a multi-year commission.

Sidley also helped establish and continues to advise Hong Kong-registered charity Help for Children (Asia) Limited. Help For Children is a global foundation that is strongly supported by the hedge, private equity, and wider alternative investment management sector. The foundation provides grants to the most effective child abuse prevention and treatment organizations in six countries, with the goal of making the world a safer place for children.

We are also active in the cancer impact investment field, partnering with clients and industry contacts to establish investment funds that raise and deploy capital for companies and projects that are developing innovative research and treatment options for cancer prevention and cures, particularly in relation to pediatric cancers.

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Overview

Civil Rights Overview

Our pro bono practice has had a longstanding commitment — both firmwide and in our local communities — to promoting civil and human rights and social justice. We are dedicated to devoting our time and resources to these matters, using our legal skills to ensure a just and fair society and accelerate the societal change necessary to reach that goal.

Section 1983 work
Sidley’s Section 1983 practice — suits for violations of citizens’ civil rights — has been a fixture of our pro bono practice for many years in trial courts in New York, California, and Illinois; in the appellate courts; and at the United States Supreme Court. The firm represents numerous clients seeking redress for violations of their constitutional rights, including victims of police misconduct and violence, individuals whose rights have been violated while detained in jails, and prisoners deprived of medical care, held in inhumane conditions, or subjected to prison violence. The firm litigated more than 20 active Section 1983 matters in 2020, amounting to approximately 11,300 pro bono hours on behalf of our clients.

FEATURE STORY

FEATURE SECTION

Sidley Represents Black College Athlete Unlawfully Arrested and Detained Outside Team Bus

Along with co-counsel ACLU of Illinois, Sidley filed suit in January 2020 seeking justice on behalf of Jaylan Butler, a black college swimmer for Eastern Illinois University, who was held at gunpoint and arrested without justification by multiple law enforcement officers alongside his team’s charter bus in 2019. After reaching a settlement with two of the officers who directly interacted with Mr. Butler on that fateful evening, he filed a stipulation to dismiss the remaining claims.

When his swim team’s charter bus stopped near a rest area in Illinois on the way home from a conference championship, Mr. Butler stepped off the bus to stretch his legs. As he was walking back to the bus, several law enforcement officers raced up in front of him with weapons drawn. Surprised and confused, Mr. Butler instantly followed his father’s advice provided at a young age: he stopped, put his hands up, dropped his cellphone, and dropped to his knees. Mr. Butler was taken to the snowy ground, handcuffed, and held facedown in the snow for several minutes. One officer held a gun against Mr. Butler’s forehead, and threatened to “blow his [expletive] head off” if he moved. Mr. Butler had no idea why the officers were treating him like this, but he never resisted and fully complied with their demands.

“The end of this lawsuit is not the end of the fight for police accountability. We must ensure that officers are held to account when they violate someone’s constitutional rights. This is an effort that I will continue to support for the rest of my life.”

— Jaylan Butler, Sidley client

The officers quickly realized they had made a mistake and that Mr. Butler was not the suspect they were looking for, but they nevertheless searched his pockets, continued to hold him in the back of a law enforcement vehicle, and required him to reenter the bus and produce his identification before they released him. After experiencing this frightening ordeal — and the lasting trauma it caused — Mr. Butler sought accountability and to raise awareness of the harm caused by traumatic police interactions, even when the person harmed can walk away.

“The end of this lawsuit is not the end of the fight for police accountability,” Mr. Butler said. “We must ensure that officers are held to account when they violate someone’s constitutional rights. This is an effort that I will continue to support for the rest of my life.”

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Successful Resolution of COVID-19 Religious Liberty Dispute

In May 2020, Sidley secured a major policy change from Minnesota officials to allow houses of worship to reopen on the same terms as businesses as the state relaxed its COVID-19 shutdown orders. Working together with co-counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Sidley team represented Minnesota Catholic and Lutheran leaders whose churches could not hold services with more than 10 people, even though businesses including restaurants, bars, and shopping malls were permitted to reopen. The policy change allowed Minnesotans to attend public worship services as long as they observed the same physical-distance and hygiene requirements that applied in other public places. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order reflecting the terms of the settlement.

The victory came just three days after Sidley and Becket wrote a letter to Governor Walz on behalf of the churches, urging him to reconsider the state’s unconstitutional restrictions on religious gatherings, which were far harsher than the restrictions imposed on commercial activity. “This unequal and unfair treatment violates the Churches’ cherished constitutional freedoms,” the letter said, “and, more importantly, hobbles unconscionably their pastoral mission.” A Wall Street Journal editorial about the letter observed that “[i]t’s hard to see how under any reading of the First Amendment the Mall of America can be allowed to reopen while churches must keep their doors closed to all but a handful.”

Disability Rights Victory

After three years of intense litigation, Sidley obtained a major victory in the field of disability rights when a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted final approval to a settlement agreement between the State of Ohio and firm client Disability Rights Ohio. The class action was brought on behalf of thousands of disabled persons in Ohio who continue to live and work in segregated institutions, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead decision. The agreement obligates the state to offer more vigorous “options counseling” for individuals currently housed in, or heading toward, medium and large residential institutions; funding for community housing and employment placements; and $24 million in capital housing assistance over the next two years. The agreement also establishes criteria by which future funding and placement levels are to be determined.

Clemency Petition Milestone

In June 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he was granting clemency to 61-year-old inmate Freddie Harris pursuant to a petition submitted by Sidley in October 2018. The matter was primarily handled by Yasir Latifi, now a Sidley alumnus, who said of his representation of Mr. Harris: “From our first conversations, it was clear that Mr. Harris had turned his life around during his incarceration, including mentoring others. It was an honor to assist with his clemency application.” This development was a huge milestone for the firm’s pro bono program in New York, as this is the first decision on any of the firm’s clemency applications in the state and one of the first for a nationwide state-focused clemency initiative, the NACDL/FAMM State Clemency Project. The project has submitted approximately 120 petitions from New York lawyers, nearly all of which remain under consideration.

Groundbreaking Forensic Evidence Case

A team of Sidley lawyers helped secure a groundbreaking ruling from a New Jersey appellate court protecting the rights of criminal defendants to understand and challenge the state’s evidence against them. In a case of “first impression” in New Jersey, the Appellate Division in State v. Pickett held that an expert witness presenting evidence produced by TrueAllele, a black-box probabilistic genotyping program, must disclose the source code and other proprietary materials to the defendant for scrutiny.

Sidley represented computer science professors Jeanna Matthews and Mats Heimdahl as amici curiae in the case, and filed a brief explaining that TrueAllele — like any other complex software program — almost certainly contains undiscovered flaws that can only be identified by a thorough review of its source code. The court’s opinion relied heavily on Sidley’s brief and oral argument. As the court noted, Drs. Matthews and Heimdahl argued that the “reliability of the TrueAllele software cannot be evaluated without full access to ‘executable source code and related documentation,’ something that no one to date has seen. They contend that doing so is not only prudent, but essential to determining whether TrueAllele operates as Cybergenetics claims, which is fundamental to any fair, legitimate, and impartial assessment of reliability.” Agreeing with this reasoning, the court concluded that, without access to the source code, a defendant “is relegated to blindly accepting” the developer’s claims regarding TrueAllele’s reliability. “Hiding the source code is not the answer,” the court continued. “Intellectual property law ... was never meant to justify concealing relevant information from parties to a criminal prosecution.”

Success on Behalf of D.C. Family

A Sidley team in D.C. obtained a successful settlement in a landlord-tenant case that was referred to the firm by the Legal Aid Society of D.C. and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. The client was facing eviction for withholding rent after her landlord failed to repair a significant water leak in the ceiling of her apartment. Under the settlement, the landlord agreed to hire a contractor to remediate the water and mold damage, waive several months of rent, repair other housing code violations, and place the client’s family in a hotel until the repairs were completed. The client and her family will be able to remain in their home.

Wildlife Justice Commission

Climate Action Network Europe

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s largest coalition on climate and energy issues. CAN Europe had concerns about reports of increased air pollution, largely attributed to emissions associated with coal-fired thermal power plants, in certain countries that are Contracting Parties of the Energy Community Treaty. Sidley advised CAN Europe on the Energy Community Treaty obligations requiring Contracting Parties to implement key EU legislation on industrial emissions and the available legal tools to enforce compliance with the relevant treaty obligations.

Gymnastics Ethics Foundation

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) and its president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former President of Switzerland, recently appointed Dorothee Schramm, partner in our Geneva office, as one of 12 members of the GEF Disciplinary Commission for the 2021–2024 term. In panels of three, the Disciplinary Commission holds hearings and decides on sanctions against coaches and judges for abuse of gymnasts and other violations of ethical rules on a global level. This prestigious pro bono appointment gives Doro the chance to uphold ethics and address abuse allegations in a sport where such allegations regularly make front-page news, including Sidley’s representation of middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

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Overview

Racial Justice Overview

Racial justice issues captured headlines throughout the summer of 2020. Sidley assisted with the defense of protestors and is participating in joint programs with other firms to explore ways in which legal action might address racial injustice and other diversity issues. Sidley has a long history of pro bono success and of partnering with various civil rights and other organizations focused on combating racial injustice. We reiterate our commitment to continue to use the power of our collective voices and resources to deepen and extend the work we are already doing to combat racial injustice and to advance the fundamental principles of equality, inclusion, and justice.

Visit the links below to learn more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion:
Sidley’s Message of Solidarity
Sidley Stands Against Anti-Asian Violence
Sidley Joins ACLU Campaign Against Discriminatory Policing Practices

FEATURE STORY

FEATURE SECTION

Sidley Prevails as Minnesota Federal Judge Orders Discovery to Proceed in High-Profile Media Rights Case

Sidley won a major victory in our representation of photojournalist Linda Tirado, who was blinded in one eye by a rubber bullet while covering the protests in Minneapolis. In February 2021, a judge denied motions to dismiss related to a lawsuit filed by Sidley on behalf of Ms. Tirado. In doing so, the judge’s ruling set important precedent in two key areas related to the constitutional rights of journalists covering breaking news.

First, the court ruled that Ms. Tirado properly alleged a continuing, widespread, and persistent pattern of misconduct. Citing extensive 8th Circuit precedent, the Defendants argued that the court can only consider similar incidents (i.e., the misuse of projectiles) and that those incidents are not numerous enough to meet the legal definition of a “custom.” However, the court held, although the timeframe for the conduct was a single continuous police operation, that Ms. Tirado sufficiently alleged “widespread unlawful conduct of a period of time long enough to put the City on notice.”

Secondly, the union president argued that a conspiracy was not properly pled because the facts alleged only communication to the city but not the city’s response. The court, however, considered the union president’s position of influence over the policies and culture within the MPD to support a clear inference that the City or the officer defendants “acquiesced to [the union president’s] demands.” The court noted that establishing clear two-way communication furthering the conspiracy between the union president and the MPD will be a critical aspect of discovery.

Both of these issues were carefully briefed and argued on both sides, providing the judge with a full picture of the relevant legal issues and the ability to rule in favor of Ms. Tirado.

In an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” to discuss the case, Sidley partner Tai-Heng Cheng said: “The U.S. Constitution is clear: you simply do not shoot journalists covering civil protests. It is fundamentally un-American. And we brought this lawsuit for Linda because it's really important, we think, to establish that principle.”

This case has been widely covered in the media, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Law360, Bloomberg Law, Reuters, TMZ, Editor & Publisher, and Business Insider, which noted that Ms. Tirado was represented by lawyers “at the powerhouse firm Sidley Austin.” The Sidley team comprises lawyers from across the firm’s litigation and regulatory practices. In February 2021, AmLaw Litigation Daily gave Litigator of the Week Shout-Out honors to Tai-Heng Cheng and Margaret Allen for their work on the motion to dismiss.

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#WhileWeBreathe: A Night of Creative Protest

The Greater Los Angeles office provided pro bono legal representation to develop #WhileWeBreathe: A Night of Creative Protest, a one-night-only event to benefit civil rights organizations. This event evolved as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists and allies were looking for ways to get involved at a time when the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery brought greater attention to social justice issues.

Ensuring Just Policing Practices and School Admissions Policies

Sidley represents the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts as part of the Living While Black on Campus – Massachusetts Colleges/Universities Initiative. Through this initiative, ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts created the Racially Just Policing Model Policy, which focuses on providing best practices to be used, in the first instance, by higher education institutions in Massachusetts and their campus police departments. The policy will be used as a model for all colleges and universities nationally in the quest to ensure just policing practices are implemented and to reduce incidents of racial profiling on college campuses. Sidley’s Boston and New York offices contributed to the model policy.

“Sidley had the distinct honor of assisting ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts with its Living While Black on Campus – Massachusetts Colleges and Universities Initiative,” said Sidley counsel Doreen Rachal. “ACLU has created an impactful mechanism — the Racially Just Policing Model Policy — that, when implemented by higher education institutions nationally, will inevitably change the landscape and help to address the unjust experiences of staff, students, and guests of color who have been targets of racial profiling on campuses from coast to coast. The Model Policy provides a phenomenal and thoughtful framework that will certainly provide meaningful opportunities to address racial profiling and will hopefully help to eradicate a primary area of concern that has had an extraordinary daily impact on people of color throughout the United States.”

“The Model Policy provides a phenomenal and thoughtful framework that will certainly provide meaningful opportunities to address racial profiling and will hopefully help to eradicate a primary area of concern that has had an extraordinary daily impact on people of color throughout the United States.”

— Sidley Counsel Doreen Rachal

Sidley also represents the NAACP Boston Branch along with several other community organizations and individuals in a matter seeking to uphold an interim admissions plan for Boston’s highly selective public high schools. The interim plan allows for students across the City of Boston to compete for an opportunity to attend one of these schools and promotes geographic, neighborhood, and racial diversity. The plaintiff in this matter alleged that the interim plan is unconstitutional because the defendants considered race as a factor when developing the plan. The District Court judge in Massachusetts recently issued a decision upholding the interim plan as constitutional and finding that the policy is rationally related to a compelling government interest — diversity. The matter is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

“We proudly represent the defendant intervenors in this matter,” Rachal said. “The recent decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals and the District of Massachusetts relating to the Boston Public School District’s interim admissions plan has provided students across the City of Boston opportunities to compete for spots at the highly selective schools. These are historic decisions that support the use of race as a factor when governmental bodies develop policies without triggering strict scrutiny review. These decisions will have a positive impact on education equity in Boston and throughout the United States for years to come and will have a life changing impact on students throughout the City of Boston.”

Law Firm Antiracism Alliance

Sidley is a founding member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), a partnership between several private law firms established in June 2020 to identify and dismantle structural racism through large-scale pro bono projects that seek to change laws and policies that perpetuate racial injustice. Sidley lawyers and staff are actively involved in moving LFAA’s mission and efforts forward. To date, more than 20 Sidley lawyers have signed up for at least one of LFAA’s 16 working groups. For Sidley, our allyship with LFAA and support of its work is an extension of our longstanding commitment and work to address racial and social justice issues.

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Overview

Supreme Court Overview

Sidley’s Supreme Court pro bono program has been representing clients for many years. Our pro bono presence in the Supreme Court is well reflected in our body of work. Committed to pro bono at the highest level, we have taken on many civil and criminal cases that have resulted in precedent-setting decisions and made a lasting impact on our clients.

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Northwestern Supreme Court Clinic

Sidley’s partnership with Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law gives students the opportunity to work on cases pending before the Supreme Court. Third-year law students are supervised by Sidley lawyers in researching and drafting briefs in cases at the petition stage and on the merits. The students also monitor lower court decisions to identify potential candidates for petitions for writs of certiorari. Sidley partners Carter Phillips and Jeffrey Green serve as the Northwestern Supreme Court Clinic’s directors, along with Northwestern faculty member Sarah O. Schrup.

In 2020, the Clinic filed 9 petitions for a writ of certiorari, 9 reply briefs, 2 briefs in opposition, and 3 briefs as amicus curiae. Students also contributed to briefing on the merits, including 3 briefs for petitioner, 3 reply briefs, and 1 brief for respondent.

A Landmark Decision on Behalf of Detroit Schoolchildren

Sidley obtained a landmark victory on behalf of a class of Detroit schoolchildren who have been denied their fundamental right of access to literacy. In an historic decision, the Sixth Circuit held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution confers a fundamental right of access to literacy, and held that the Detroit schoolchildren stated a claim that they were deprived of this right. This groundbreaking decision is the first time a court has held that there is a fundamental federal right of access to literacy, and has been described as “the most momentous circuit court decision in the field of education in decades.”

The class action, originally filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, was brought against Michigan’s then-Governor Rick Snyder and state education officials. That court dismissed the complaint, on the ground that the schoolchildren failed to state a claim because there is no fundamental right to a defined minimum level of education by which they can attain literacy. On April 23, 2020, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ due process claim, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Sidley partner Carter Phillips, who argued the appeal, said, “The court in Cincinnati took a bold step today in recognizing a fundamental constitutional right of access to literacy and in doing so has given hope to the school children in Detroit who were so neglected for so long.”

The Sidley team worked together with co-counsel Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project, and Professor Evan Caminker of the University of Michigan Law School, who said, "This is an extraordinary legal ruling. The court recognized that both historically and today, access to a basic minimum education supporting literacy is an extraordinary prerequisite for full participation in our constitutional democracy."

“The court in Cincinnati took a bold step today in recognizing a fundamental constitutional right of access to literacy and in doing so has given hope to the school children in Detroit who were so neglected for so long.”

— Sidley Partner Carter Phillips

In the opinion, the Sixth Circuit cited decisions by the Supreme Court underscoring “the critical importance of education.” The Sixth Circuit recognized that public education is “foundational to our system of self-governance,” and “a great equalizer, giving all children a chance to meet or outperform society’s expectations, even when faced with substantial disparities in wealth and with past and ongoing racial inequality.” For these reasons, the Court held, “a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”

“Today’s decision will help ensure that future schoolchildren are not burdened with the stigma of illiteracy, but instead benefit from — in the court’s words — the ‘great equalizer’ of a basic education," said Sidley partner Tacy Flint. "I’m honored to represent the plaintiffs in this case, who have fought for and deserve the chance to learn, and to work alongside all the lawyers on this outstanding team.”

In recognition for the outstanding quality of Sidley’s work and the service that the firm has given to their clients, Public Counsel previously awarded Sidley its 2019 Public Counsel Pro Bono Award.

Voting Rights Brief

On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of so-called “faithless elector” laws, which penalize or remove presidential electors who fail to vote for the candidate they have pledged to support. Sidley filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of the Campaign Legal Center and Issue One in support of the states in the two cases before the Court: Chiafalo v. State of Washington and Colorado Department of State v. Baca.

Supreme Court Brief on Behalf of Prisoners Convicted by Non-Unanimous Juries

Sidley filed an opening merits brief in the Supreme Court in defense of the rights of prisoners in Louisiana and Oregon who were convicted by non-unanimous juries under state laws the Supreme Court invalidated earlier in 2020. In April, the Supreme Court recognized that non-unanimous jury rules in Louisiana and Oregon offended the Constitution and were rooted in discrimination based on race and religion; however, the Court left open the question of whether those already in prison as a result of non-unanimous jury verdicts could challenge their convictions in federal habeas proceedings. Sidley now urges the Supreme Court to hold that prisoners convicted by non-unanimous juries should have a path to a new trial.

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Wildlife Justice Commission

Climate Action Network Europe

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s largest coalition on climate and energy issues. CAN Europe had concerns about reports of increased air pollution, largely attributed to emissions associated with coal-fired thermal power plants, in certain countries that are Contracting Parties of the Energy Community Treaty. Sidley advised CAN Europe on the Energy Community Treaty obligations requiring Contracting Parties to implement key EU legislation on industrial emissions and the available legal tools to enforce compliance with the relevant treaty obligations.

Gymnastics Ethics Foundation

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) and its president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former President of Switzerland, recently appointed Dorothee Schramm, partner in our Geneva office, as one of 12 members of the GEF Disciplinary Commission for the 2021–2024 term. In panels of three, the Disciplinary Commission holds hearings and decides on sanctions against coaches and judges for abuse of gymnasts and other violations of ethical rules on a global level. This prestigious pro bono appointment gives Doro the chance to uphold ethics and address abuse allegations in a sport where such allegations regularly make front-page news, including Sidley’s representation of middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

IMPACT LITIGATION

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Sidley Prevails as Minnesota Federal Judge Orders Discovery to Proceed in High-Profile Media Rights Case

Sidley won a major victory in our representation of photojournalist Linda Tirado, who was blinded in one eye by a rubber bullet while covering the protests in Minneapolis. In February 2021, a judge denied motions to dismiss related to a lawsuit filed by Sidley on behalf of Ms. Tirado. In doing so, the judge’s ruling set important precedent in two key areas related to the constitutional rights of journalists covering breaking news.

First, the court ruled that Ms. Tirado properly alleged a continuing, widespread, and persistent pattern of misconduct. Citing extensive 8th Circuit precedent, the Defendants argued that the court can only consider similar incidents (i.e., the misuse of projectiles) and that those incidents are not numerous enough to meet the legal definition of a “custom.” However, the court held, although the timeframe for the conduct was a single continuous police operation, that Ms. Tirado sufficiently alleged “widespread unlawful conduct of a period of time long enough to put the City on notice.”

Secondly, the union president argued that a conspiracy was not properly pled because the facts alleged only communication to the city but not the city’s response. The court, however, considered the union president’s position of influence over the policies and culture within the MPD to support a clear inference that the City or the officer defendants “acquiesced to [the union president’s] demands.” The court noted that establishing clear two-way communication furthering the conspiracy between the union president and the MPD will be a critical aspect of discovery.

Both of these issues were carefully briefed and argued on both sides, providing the judge with a full picture of the relevant legal issues and the ability to rule in favor of Ms. Tirado.

In an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” to discuss the case, Sidley partner Tai-Heng Cheng said: “The U.S. Constitution is clear: you simply do not shoot journalists covering civil protests. It is fundamentally un-American. And we brought this lawsuit for Linda because it's really important, we think, to establish that principle.”

This case has been widely covered in the media, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Law360, Bloomberg Law, Reuters, TMZ, Editor & Publisher, and Business Insider, which noted that Ms. Tirado was represented by lawyers “at the powerhouse firm Sidley Austin.” The Sidley team comprises lawyers from across the firm’s litigation and regulatory practices. In February 2021, AmLaw Litigation Daily gave Litigator of the Week Shout-Out honors to Tai-Heng Cheng and Margaret Allen for their work on the motion to dismiss.

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Sidley Represents Black College Athlete Unlawfully Arrested and Detained Outside Team Bus

Along with co-counsel ACLU of Illinois, Sidley filed suit in January 2020 seeking justice on behalf of Jaylan Butler, a black college swimmer for Eastern Illinois University, who was held at gunpoint and arrested without justification by multiple law enforcement officers alongside his team’s charter bus in 2019. After reaching a settlement with two of the officers who directly interacted with Mr. Butler on that fateful evening, he filed a stipulation to dismiss the remaining claims.

When his swim team’s charter bus stopped near a rest area in Illinois on the way home from a conference championship, Mr. Butler stepped off the bus to stretch his legs. As he was walking back to the bus, several law enforcement officers raced up in front of him with weapons drawn. Surprised and confused, Mr. Butler instantly followed his father’s advice provided at a young age: he stopped, put his hands up, dropped his cellphone, and dropped to his knees. Mr. Butler was taken to the snowy ground, handcuffed, and held facedown in the snow for several minutes. One officer held a gun against Mr. Butler’s forehead, and threatened to “blow his [expletive] head off” if he moved. Mr. Butler had no idea why the officers were treating him like this, but he never resisted and fully complied with their demands.

“The end of this lawsuit is not the end of the fight for police accountability. We must ensure that officers are held to account when they violate someone’s constitutional rights. This is an effort that I will continue to support for the rest of my life.”

— Jaylan Butler, Sidley client

The officers quickly realized they had made a mistake and that Mr. Butler was not the suspect they were looking for, but they nevertheless searched his pockets, continued to hold him in the back of a law enforcement vehicle, and required him to reenter the bus and produce his identification before they released him. After experiencing this frightening ordeal — and the lasting trauma it caused — Mr. Butler sought accountability and to raise awareness of the harm caused by traumatic police interactions, even when the person harmed can walk away.

“The end of this lawsuit is not the end of the fight for police accountability,” Mr. Butler said. “We must ensure that officers are held to account when they violate someone’s constitutional rights. This is an effort that I will continue to support for the rest of my life.”

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