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Turner Environmental Law Clinic students cut their teeth on case before D.C. Circuit

Emory University School of Law |
Appearing for oral arguments before a skeptical U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in late November, Turner Environmental Law Clinic students were part of the legal team representing 24 regional and national organizations challenging a license issued by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Clinic students drafted the petition in Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that argued that the NRC violated federal law when it issued a license for two proposed new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Ga., without fully taking into account the potential for a Fukushima-like disaster. They further argued that current license does not reflect safety recommendations adopted by the NRC, and that a supplemental environmental impact statement is required.

Law clinic Director Mindy Goldstein noted that the experience students gain from this direct participation in a case is a vital part of a rigorous law school education. “Law students in our clinic work directly with clients and opposing counsel, functioning under the direction of an attorney. Their involvement in cases is time intensive. Yet students are willing to make this commitment because of the deep legal practice they gain while still in law school.”

The experience of practicing law with its real-world results and pressures is a goal of the Turner Clinic, beyond its focus on environmental law. “At the Clinic students become well-versed in the entire procedural and factual background of a case before ever beginning any work on it,” said Suedabeh Walker 13L. “It’s clear how our work contributes to the big picture goals of the case.”

Eli Burton 14L said, “Often an assignment will come from Mindy that involves a question we do not have an answer for, and [there] may not be any answer to it known to anyone in the country. To be on the literal frontier of a legal problem is exciting and not something I had expected to experience as a 2L.”

“This case has required almost all of my time,” said David Jerger 14L. However, “working on the case has been a wonderful opportunity to apply what professors talk about in the classroom to ongoing litigation.”