Public Service and Pro Bono

Public Service and Pro Bono

WilmerHale maintains a steadfast commitment to pro bono representation and public service, and believes in an inherent obligation to ensure equal access to justice for underserved communities around the world.

Experience

  • With the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, successfully convinced the US government to release a non-citizen who had been detained by Immigration and Custom Enforcement for more than three months, separating her from her US citizen husband and 10-year-old son. This client is among many others represented by WilmerHale who are challenging the US government's efforts to separate families pursuing lawful immigration status, including a proposed class action specifically challenging the separation of married couples.
  • Obtained approval from the US military on behalf of a 90-year-old client to have her 1955 discharge from the Air Force upgraded to “honorable” after finding that her separation from the service was more than likely due solely to her being a lesbian. She had been expelled from the Air Force with an “undesirable” discharge.
  • Argued to the US Supreme Court that the Veterans Benefits, Heath Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to restrict competition for certain contracts to veteran-owned small businesses. On behalf of a veteran-owned business in Maryland, argued that the contracting preference was mandatory, while the United States argued that the contracting preference was discretionary. The court ruled on behalf of our client, meaning veteran-owned small businesses will receive priority to compete for billions of dollars in contracts each year before the VA can turn to other suppliers.
  • Acting as pro bono co-counsel with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, achieved a major victory when the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit unanimously held the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. That decision marked the first ruling striking down DOMA by a federal appeals court, and was affirmed by the US Supreme Court’s historic decision in United States v. Windsor, which ensured the legality of same-sex marriage.
  • Obtained a verdict on behalf of a death row inmate in a US Supreme Court case in which the Court declared unconstitutional Florida’s use of a clinically arbitrary IQ test score cutoff to determine whether an individual has an intellectual disability and is thus ineligible for the death penalty—without regard for the measurement error inherent in IQ testing.
  • Represented the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) in a key election law case before the US Supreme Court that upheld the constitutionality of the AIRC, created by the People of Arizona using their initiative power under the Arizona Constitution to eliminate gerrymandering by elected officials. The decision affirmed the constitutionality of similar commissions created in California and other states, and acknowledged that the People of the States may reform the political process through direct popular lawmaking.
  • Represented six Bosnian-Algerians who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for seven years in the historic Boumediene v. Bush decision, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. Subsequently, a federal court upheld the claim that the US government had no lawful basis for imprisoning five of the six Bosnian-Algerian men at Guantanamo Bay.
  • Successfully contended that the Eighth Amendment forbids the death penalty for persons under the age of 18 in Simmons v. Roper, one of the most significant death-penalty decisions in recent history.
  • On behalf of the creator of Pepe the Frog, enforced intellectual property rights to shut down distribution of a controversial children’s book that featured a character named Pepe the Frog; espoused racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes; included allusions to the alt-right movement; and was deliberately targeted at children. Under threat of litigation, the defendant admitted infringement and agreed to stop distribution of the book in all forms.
  • Prosecuted a civil human trafficking complaint on behalf of a young woman from Cambodia alleging that the defendants in the case participated in a scheme to traffic, exploit and abuse her in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, California and Federal labor laws, tort law, and RICO. The team successfully defended a motion to dismiss and secured a favorable holding from the chief judge of the Central District of California. Trial is set for early 2019.
  • For several years, along with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, represented a single plaintiff challenging Texas’ unduly restrictive and racially discriminatory voter identification requirements. The Fifth Circuit ultimately held that Texas’s voter ID law had a discriminatory effect on minority voters. In April 2017, on remand from the Fifth Circuit, the district court held that the voter ID law was also passed with a discriminatory intent.
  • In August 2017, filed suit on behalf of five Jane Doe plaintiffs seeking to declare that the US president’s directive to categorically exclude transgender people from military service is unconstitutional and to enjoin its enforcement. Following on several federal court rulings that blocked the president’s directive, the Department of Justice withdrew its initial appeals, paving the way for transgender people to enlist in the military beginning on January 1 of the year.

Pro Bono Contacts

Public Service

Expand All Collapse All

Community Partnerships

Bread for the City serves 10,000 low-income and homeless people in Washington DC each month through food and clothing distribution, a medical clinic, a legal clinic, and social service programs.

Cathedral High School is an urban, co-educational school in Boston that serves nearly 300 students with a diverse mix of ethnic, economic and faith backgrounds.

Citizen Schools is revolutionizing the way children spend their out-of-school time through challenging, hands-on apprenticeships that unite volunteer citizen teachers with children ages 10 to 14. WilmerHale works with the organization in Boston and Palo Alto.

Dayton Early College Academy is a K-6 school designed to immerse students in a personalized, rigorous elementary curriculum to ensure they will succeed in high school, college and beyond.

Discovering Justice: The James D. St. Clair Court Education Project is a nonprofit organization in Boston dedicated to providing civic education and teaching children and adults about the role of the justice system in American democracy.

Hyde Square Task Force serves 1,000 youth ages 6 to 21 from across Boston through leadership development, college preparation, arts and cultural enrichment, youth-led community organizing, and positive community-building events.

Sanctuary for Families provides 10,000 domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims and their children with a range of comprehensive services in New York City annually.

See Forever Foundation/Maya Angelou Schools creates learning environments in lower-income Washington DC communities where teens who have not succeeded in traditional schools can reach their full potential.

Bread for the City

Cathedral High School

Citizen Schools

Dayton Early College Academy

Discovering Justice

Hyde Square Task Force

Sanctuary for Families

See Forever Foundation/Maya Angelou Schools

Recognition

Expand All Collapse All