On February 7th, third-year law student and Thomas More scholar Kevin Downs took on a challenge that many lawyers may never get to tackle: arguing a case in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court, seated in Seattle for that session, was considering the case of United States v. Manuel Morfin-Diaz, where Downs, supervised by an Assistant U.S. Attorney, presented oral arguments on behalf of the United States.
Addressing Recent Legal Decisions
Morfin-Diaz is a case that asks if a defendant’s previous state conviction qualified as an “aggravated felony” for purposes of subsequent immigration proceedings and sentencing determinations. The recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Descamps v. United States specifically addressed how these issues should be analyzed. Descamps, which was argued at the Supreme Court by 1980 Gonzaga Law graduate Dan B. Johnson, was decided on June 20, 2013.
Delving Into the Law
Though Downs was responsible for arguing this case in front of the Ninth Circuit, this was not the first immigration case he had worked on. While working with an Assistant U.S. Attorney over the summer and fall of 2013, Downs worked with several other law clerks on similarly-framed cases also in front of the Ninth Circuit. This work and familiarity with the issues of the case, along with several months of working closely with supervising Assistant U.S. Attorneys, led to the suggestion that Downs be the one to address oral arguments in front of the Ninth Circuit panel. Audio of the arguments may be heard on the Ninth Circuit Court website.
A Rare Real-Life Experience
After getting word that he would be presenting oral arguments, Downs delved into preparation. “I spent the last several months researching case law, listening to pre- and post-Descamps arguments, reviewing the record, and discussing the case with my supervisors and fellow law clerks,” explained Downs. “Despite these efforts, I always felt as though there was more to be done. I recognize that arguing at the circuit court level is incredibly rare, particularly for a law school student. I feel very fortunate.”
Putting Experience to Use
After graduation in May, Downs will be returning to his native Montana in order to work as a Law Clerk at the Montana Supreme Court. Before and during law school, Downs has been extraordinarily dedicated to public service, serving around the world in communities that serve marginalized populations. Downs has also been elected as his classmates to be the Commencement Speaker at the May 2014 Law School commencement ceremony.