College of William and Mary Law School wins top prize

Friday, February 18, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The team from the College of William and Mary Law School in Virginia won the 21st Annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition today at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Winning team members were Stephen P. Barry and Brandon L. Boxler.

Runner-up in the two-day competition, sponsored by the First Amendment Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, was Boston University School of Law. Team members were Leigh Campbell and Jen Mikels.

The competition problem was a hypothetical case involving student speech. The question was whether public school officials have the authority to punish a student for online expression off-campus that officials deem vulgar, invasive of the rights of others or potentially disruptive to the classroom. Teams of student advocates from 34 law schools argued both sides of the case.

The topic “was perfectly timely; certainly the proliferation of speech on the Internet and hateful speech, in particular, has become a problem and a challenge that needs to be dealt with and the extent to which it is the duty of public schools to be a part of solving that problem is a novel and important question,”
said Barry from the winning College of William and Mary team. The team represented the student plaintiff in the final round.

Added teammate Boxler, “It was a very difficult topic because there were clearly competing interests. On one hand you have freedom of speech, which everyone recognizes is one of the most important values in society; on the other hand, you have the safety and security of students. … Those two interests
clashed in a significant way.”

Recognized for “best brief” in the competition were Jeff Riesenmy and Melissa Softness from Emory University School of Law; and for “best oralist,” Reed White from Georgia State University College of Law.

Campbell of the runner-up Boston University team said of the hypothetical case, “This is something that I didn’t realize was so pervasive among the courts, that it was such a big issue, and so learning about it … is applicable to the real world of the Internet that we’re facing.” Her colleague, Mikels, said, “All the judges throughout the competition were tough, but [the final-round jurists] were certainly a hot bench — they asked a lot of very on-point questions.”

Top awards were presented to:


  • Winning team: College of William and Mary Law School
  • Runner-up: Boston University School of Law
  • Semi-finalists: DePaul University College of
    Law and University of Southern California, Gould School of Law
  • Best brief: Jeff Riesenmy and Melissa Softness, Emory University School of Law
  • Richard S. Arnold Best Oralist Award: Reed White, Georgia State University College of


Receiving competition gavels:


  • Runner-up best brief: Jacqueline Greene and Steven Chang, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
  • Runner-up best oralist: Stephen P. Barry, College of William and Mary Law School


Recognized as one of the nation’s finest constitutional-law competitions, the First Amendment Moot Court Competition attracts many of the nation’s top law schools.

“In the National First Amendment Moot Court Competition, we strive to expose significant numbers of future lawyers to vital First Amendment questions as illustrated by contemporary flashpoint issues,” said Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “Our hope is that these soon-to-be attorneys will be encouraged to become advocates and defenders of the five freedoms of the First Amendment throughout their legal careers.”

Tiffany Villager, director of First Amendment research for the First Amendment Center, said, “Each year we seek to give the Moot Court competitors a challenging and controversial issue in First Amendment law that’s drawn from today’s headlines. This year’s hypothetical involving off-campus online student speech is a question that has engaged the legal community, politicians and society.”

“For law students, the competition offers a unique opportunity to learn the skills of appellate advocacy before distinguished federal and state jurists while deepening their understanding to the First Amendment,” said Villager, who directs the Moot Court program.

Competition began yesterday morning in rounds held both at the Vanderbilt University Law School and at the John Seigenthaler Center on the Vanderbilt campus, home to the Nashville offices of the First Amendment Center.

The best-oralist award for the highest oral-argument score in preliminary rounds comes with an engraved gavel in honor of Richard S. Arnold, formerly a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Arnold, who died in 2004, was a staunch advocate for better press-bar relations so that the public would be better informed about the activities of the federal court system.

Semi-final and final-round judges in the competition included, from the federal judiciary, Marian F. Harrison, U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Middle District of Tennessee; William J. Haynes Jr., district judge, Middle District of Tennessee; Aleta A. Trauger, Middle District of Tennessee; Susan Webber Wright, district judge, Eastern District of Arkansas; Martha Craig Daughtrey, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Bernice B. Donald, district judge, Western District of Tennessee; James C. Mahan, district judge, District of Nevada; Gilbert S. Merritt, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Jane B. Stranch, 6th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals. Joining them from the state judiciary was Cornelia A. Clark, chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

A two-person team from the University of San Diego School of Law won last year’s competition. The demanding competition requires students to write an appellate brief and to answer challenging legal questions from the judges. The event requires a thorough understanding of First Amendment law, poise under pressure and expertise in fielding complex legal questions.

The First Amendment Center supports the First Amendment and builds understanding of its core freedoms through education, information and entertainment. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

The First Amendment Center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and in Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum and the Diversity Institute. Its affiliation with Vanderbilt University is through the Vanderbilt Institute
for Public Policy Studies. Its offices on the Vanderbilt campus are located in the John Seigenthaler Center.

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Press contact:
Gene Policinski