As the countdown to graduation wound down and students checked through long “to-do” lists that included final exams and papers, third-year law students Alice Keh, Sulma Khalid, and Sheena Knox took on an additional challenge: preparing an amicus curiae brief for the federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
The case they addressed, K.G. Urban v. Patrick et al, is directly related to their spring semester study of Federal Indian Law in a class taught by Practitioner-in-Residence Nicole Friederichs. The three students were enrolled in Suffolk University Law School’s new Indian Law and Indigenous Peoples Clinic, launched in spring 2012.
“The clinic gave us an opportunity to put what was learned in class to use in real-life situations,” said Khalid.
Case centers on casino
The clinic had been following K.G. Urban v. Patrick et al. The case, filed by K.G. Urban Enterprises, an equity development company based in New York, focuses on the Massachusetts Gaming Law. K.G. is exploring building a casino in downtown New Bedford.
The firm alleges that it has been put at a disadvantage because a section of the new gaming law allows federally recognized tribes a period of exclusive negotiating rights. K.G. argues that by granting tribes this exclusive negotiating period, the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The case as presented by K.G. focuses on race.
Tribal sovereignty & Indian law
“After reading the plaintiff brief and the district court decision, we saw information gaps that we could fill,” said Khalid. “There wasn’t a lot of reference to federal Indian law and tribal sovereignty."
Amicus curiae loosely translates as friend of the court. It is a document that educates the court about a specific area of law.
"Our goal was to educate the court about basic principals of federal Indian law,” said Friederichs.
Because of their work in the Indigenous Peoples Clinic, Keh, Khaid, and Knox had a unique and important perspective. Friederichs asked if they would participate in researching and writing the brief.
Participating in creating an amicus brief as a student is rare, so, although they already were juggling end-of-law-school responsibilities and competing due dates, Keh, Khalid and Knox agreed to be part of the team. While they only had a few weeks to finish the document, they saw this as an invaluable experience that would provide an important service to the court.
"It was great to be part of the entire process from beginning to end,” said Knox. “We were exposed to the legal strategy that goes into preparing an amicus brief."
The three students were supervised by Friederichs and Professors Jeffrey Pokorak and Lorie Graham.