March 11, 2009 — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a client of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law.
The case, Vaden v. Discover Bank, centered on whether a federal court had the authority to move a Maryland woman's dispute with a credit card company from the state courts to arbitration.
"We were arguing that it could only be heard in state court," said clinic professor Dan Ortiz.
The court's 5-4 ruling crossed ideological lines and affirmed that the federal courts had no jurisdiction to force the case into arbitration.
For students who were enrolled in the 2007-08 clinic — and, to a lesser extent, for current clinic students — the complicated nature of the case made for an exceptional learning opportunity, Ortiz said.
"There are lots of moving parts, and it's the kind of stuff that law school students typically don't confront until their third year of law school," he said. "It was fantastic for them. It was a real law geek's case, and most of our clinic students are happy law geeks."
Former clinic student Sinead O'Doherty, 2008 graduate, said the case was intricate, but also interesting.
"Of all our cases, Vaden was the most cumbersome and yet the one with the most compressed schedule, which meant many long days for everyone," O'Doherty said. "But given the outcome, it was definitely worth it!"
Students in the clinic work on myriad aspects of their cases, from researching potential clients to petitioning the court to take up their cases. Eventually, students also work on briefs and help prepare arguments.
"The clinic was a fascinating experience — rewarding, intense and challenging," O'Doherty said. "With the guidance of our professors, we had the opportunity to explore complex issues, draft arguments and present two different cases to the Supreme Court."
The 2007-08 clinic students were also involved in Indiana v. Edwards, and traveled to Washington, D.C., in March 2008 to watch clinic instructor Mark Stancil argue that case.
The Vaden decision is also the clinic's second win. In 2007, the court ruled unanimously on behalf of the petitioner in Watson v. United States, a case centered on whether a man could be charged with a firearms violation for attempting to trade a gun for drugs.