In March, along with many in the legal ­community, Arnold & Porter celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed legal representation for indigents in criminal cases. The fact that the court appointed Abe Fortas, one of the firm’s founders, to represent Clarence Earl Gideon remains a point of pride, chairman Thomas Milch said. "The case is not just emblematic of our long-standing and heartfelt commitment to pro bono, but the briefing and argument in the case reflected the legal excellence and creativity that our firm strives for in its day-to-day work."
The emphasis on pro bono was reflected in this year’s appellate docket, said Lisa Blatt, who leads Arnold’s appellate and Supreme Court practice. "Year in, year out, I think we have more pro bono briefs in the Supreme Court than other firms," Blatt said. Counsel Anthony Franze, partner Christopher Rhee and associates R. Reeves Anderson, Sarah Harris, R. Stanton Jones and Bob Wood were key members of Blatt’s team during the past year.
Blatt’s most prominent pro bono case may have been her representation in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, a test of the Indian Child Welfare Act that has attracted wide news coverage. She argued April 16 on behalf of a South Carolina couple whose adoption of Baby Veronica was challenged by the birth father, a Cherokee. The father invoked the federal law, which is aimed at preventing the breakup of Indian families. Blatt asserted that there was no Indian family to preserve, because the father had no legal relationship to the child.
The following week, Blatt was back at the lectern, this time with a paying client, representing Oklahoma officials in a water-rights dispute, Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann. It was her 33d argument before the high court, more than any woman in history — a distinction she has traded back and forth with Patricia Millett of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
The water case is still pending, but the firm has already had a victory this term at the Supreme Court. In Marx v. General Revenue Corp., Blatt argued and won a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case on behalf of Sallie Mae subsidiary General Revenue Corp. At the state level, it won a high-profile pro bono voting rights act case late last year, challenging a Pennsylvania voter identification law before the state Supreme Court.
Throw in lower court wins on issues ranging from Internet streaming to sunken treasure, Blatt said, and "it’s been a very good year."