Clinic Student Argues Before 8th Circuit

Third-year law student Erin Rust recently argued a case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on behalf of a client who was raising constitutional issues related to his parole eligibility.

Rust is a participant in Washington University Law’s Appellate Clinic. The clinic is one of a handful of programs that provides law students with an opportunity to represent clients in the second highest courts in the United States. 

Rust says she considers arguing before the court to be the most important experience she’s had at law school. "It has always been my dream to argue an appeal in the federal courts,” she says. “The preparation I received from Professor La Pierre, the clinic, and the faculty who listened to my arguments gave me the confidence I needed to appear before the judges and advocate for my client. It was an amazing experience to be able to appear before such a distinguished panel."

To prepare for the argument, Rust worked closely with two other students and Professor Bruce La Pierre, who has argued numerous cases in the Federal Courts of Appeals and in the United States Supreme Court. After working together to develop a strategy, Rust underwent three practice arguments before distinguished faculty. Her experience culminated with her standing before a panel of three Eighth Circuit judges, arguing her case and answering their questions. 

“Erin did an excellent job of presenting her client’s case,” La Pierre says. “She had complete mastery of the record and answered all of the court’s questions.”

Rust’s case, Munson v. Norris, raises an important issue of constitutional law: whether a state can require an inmate to complete a religious-based rehabilitation program, without the option of a secular alternative, in order to achieve parole. Rust argued on behalf of Mr. Munson, who was denied parole because he failed to complete a religious-based rehabilitation program. The clinic and their client are currently waiting for a ruling from the judges, which could take several months.