May 07, 2009
On April 22, Lindsay C. Harrison ’03, an associate in the Washington office of Jenner & Block, won her first case in the Supreme Court—and the first case she’d ever argued. For immigrants appealing deportation orders, it may also be a day to celebrate.
Last year, Harrison took on the case of Jean Marc Nken, a democratic activist seeking asylum in the U.S. and a stay of deportation to his native Cameroon, where he said, he would face arrest, beatings and even death. When a 4th Circuit ruled against him, she filed a cert petition, citing a split in the circuits on the standard that federal courts used for granting stays.
Harrison put hundreds of pro bono hours into the case, assisted by other attorneys at Jenner & Block. But when it came to her first oral argument, on Jan. 23, she said she was “more excited than nervous.” She told Above the Law.com that the atmosphere during the arguments was “amazingly friendly” and that “the argument felt very much like a conversation you would have with anyone about a complex legal issue.”
The Supreme Court overturned the appeals court—by a 7-2 margin, with Chief Justice John Roberts ’79 writing for the Court—sending Nken v. Holder back for reconsideration. The government had argued that the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act limited the circumstances in which stays could be granted. But the Court disagreed.
Harrison was more than excited when she heard the news. But her mind went immediately to her client and the remand: “We are now back to how I get him permanent relief.”
“Our next step is to argue the 4th Circuit appeal which concerns reopening his asylum case based on changed country conditions,” says Harrison. ‘We are also urging the government to consider potential settlement options.”
Nken, she says, has been detained for over 11 months in a federal prison alongside criminal defendants, although he has no criminal record and poses no flight risk. He is married to an American citizen and the couple has a two-year-old child. “His whole purpose is to remain with his family and avoid a truly dangerous situation in Cameroon,” says Harrison. “It’s incredibly frustrating . . . and emblematic of greater issues in our immigration system that are in dire need of repair.”
Harrison may be on her way to changing that system. In addition to working on a number of matters for the recording industry—her focus at Jenner & Block—she has just been hired as co-counsel for another immigration case headed to the Supreme Court. Kucana v. Holder concerns the jurisdiction of federal courts to consider appeals to reopen cases the Board of Immigration Appeals has denied.