Pro Bono Rank Firm
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Jenner & Block (81)


The question before the U.S. Supreme Court in Nken v. Holder was a technical one: what standard should courts use in granting stays to asylum seekers while they appeal their deportation orders. But for Jenner & Block’s client, Jean Marc Nken, who fled his native Cameroon allegedly to avoid further persecution based on his political activities, how the high court answered would potentially be the difference between life and death. Nken’s asylum case had been denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declined his request for a stay of deportation pending appeal.

Am Law Pro Bono 100Nken’s fate was in the hands of Jenner & Block third-year associate Lindsay Harrison, who had discovered a circuit split on the standard of granting stays in asylum cases. Harrison successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, which ordered expedited briefing and arguments. Although Jenner has a bench of Supreme Court veterans, it gave Harrison the chance to argue the case, which just so happened to be her first argument before any court.

In January, Harrison argued that traditional stay factors should be considered following a removal order. The government advocated for tougher stay standards for injunctions. In a decision issued in April, the Court voted 7-2 in favor of Harrison’s client and rejected the government’s argument that asylum seekers should nearly always be deported pending appeal.

According to Harrison, the tougher standard is already having an effect on asylum cases. As for Nken, his case is back before the Fourth Circuit. Harrison hopes that a settlement with the government can be worked out before it proceeds any further. “He’s hasn’t committed any crimes, and he’s married to a U.S. citizen,” says Harrison. “I think the right person hasn’t taken a look at this case.”

—Andrew Longstreth | July 1, 2009

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