In October, I wrote a post describing an apparent shift in the Court's policy on granting in forma pauperis (IFP) status to indigent parties represented by law school clinics.  In the past, the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic (and probably others as well), had filed petitions on behalf of indigent clients as "paid" petitions (non-IFP); if the petition was granted, the clinic moved to permit the client to proceed IFP on the merits and for appointment of an attorney from the clinic as counsel for the petitioner.

The benefit of switching to IFP status and obtaining an appointment was that the Court would pick up the cost of printing the merits briefs and pay for travel costs to the argument, plus a small stipend that would be used to offset some of the cost of running the clinics.

In October, the Court unexpectedly denied a clinic motion to switch to IFP status on the merits, leading me to infer that the Court had likely decided that it would no longer permit parties to switch status mid-stream.

In December, however, the Court denied a motion from the University of Pennsylvania clinic for appointment of counsel, even though the Clinic's client had proceeded IFP at the cert. stage.  (The case was Turner v. Rogers, No. 10-10).  As a consequence, although the client was allowed to continue IFP at the merits stage "“ and, hence, the Court picked up the printing costs "“ the Court would not pay for the travel costs and stipend that accompany an appointment of counsel.

The Court offered no explanation, and still has not amended its rules, leaving the bar to guess as to what principle it is actually applying in these cases.  But this is my revised best guess as to the current state of the rule: (1) parties represented by clinics (and presumably big law firms) will not be permitted to switch from paid to IFP status after cert. is granted; (2) if such parties file IFP at the cert. stage, however, they will be permitted to retain that status at the merits, and the Court will pay the printing costs; but (3) the Court will not appoint clinics (or big law firms) as counsel for indigent parties under any circumstance.

Posted in Turner v. Rogers, Analysis, Merits Cases

Recommended Citation: Kevin Russell, Further evidence of shift in IFP policy, SCOTUSblog (Apr. 22, 2011, 10:25 AM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2011/04/further-evidence-of-shift-in-ifp-policy/