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Penn Law’s Bibas to argue for petitioner in Vartelas v. Holder, assisted by students in Penn’s Supreme Court Legal Clinic

January 09, 2012

The Supreme Court Clinic students with Stephanos Bibas, Stephen B. Kinnaird, and James FeldmanOn January 18, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument for Vartelas v. Holder to decide whether the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), which strips lawful permanent residents convicted of a crime the right to travel abroad with the guarantee of reentry, should be applied retroactively to a green-card holder who pleaded guilty to an offense prior to 1996 and traveled abroad thereafter.

Stephanos Bibas, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the director of Penn Law’s Supreme Court Legal Clinic, argued the case for Panagis Vartelas, a citizen of Greece and a lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1989, who was detained at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2003 upon returning from a family visit overseas. Mr. Vartelas, a Queens businessman, pleaded guilty in 1994 to a U.S. court in a counterfeiting case – a crime that at the time wasn’t cause for deportation if he left the country and attempted reentry. However, when the IIRIRA was passed in 1996, it made even minor cases cause for deportation and was to be applied retroactively.

Professor Bibas has been assisted in the case by students in Penn Law’s Supreme Court Clinic, who have helped conduct research, draft the amicus curiae brief, and prepare strategy. Penn Law’s Supreme Court Clinic is the nation’s first to closely integrate practical experience on Supreme Court matters with an academic seminar on the workings of the Court. The year long Clinic focuses on the practical side of identifying and litigating active Supreme Court cases including participating in moot court rehearsals and attending oral arguments at One First Street, giving students intensive, hands-on experience.
The Clinic is led by Bibas, Lecturer Stephen B. Kinnaird, also a former clerk to Justice Kennedy and a partner with the Paul Hastings law firm, and Lecturer Nancy Bregstein Gordon L’78, a former clerk to Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. The accompanying seminar is taught by Penn Law Professor Amy Wax and Adjunct Lecturer James Feldman, a former clerk to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Both Wax and Feldman are former assistants to the Solicitor General, and combined have argued more than 60 cases before the Supreme Court.
Bibas litigates a wide range of Supreme Court cases, both criminal and civil. Most recently, in April 2011, Bibas argued the case of Tapia v. United States, in which the Court held that a federal court cannot impose or lengthen a prison term to foster a defendant’s rehabilitation. In March 2011, Bibas argued the case of Turner v. Rogers, which involved whether an indigent defendant has a right to court-appointed counsel when faced with being sent to jail for failing to pay child support. He and his co-counsel also won a landmark victory in Padilla v. Kentucky in 2010, persuading the Court to recognize the right of noncitizen defendants to accurate information about deportation before they plead guilty.
Professor Bibas recently discussed the uniqueness and value of Supreme Court Clinic with Penn Law’s Office of Communications.


For more information on Vartelas v. Holder and links to opinions and briefs filed in the case, see SCOTUSblog.