Moot Court legal teams take on commercial speech

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

  • Legal Times Supreme Court Correspondent Tony Mauro is writing a blog during this year's Moot Court.

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 17th annual National First Amendment Moot Court competition, sponsored by the First Amendment Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, will be conducted Feb. 22-23.

    Recognized as one of the nation’s finest constitutional-law competitions, it attracts many of the nation’s top law schools. The competition this year focuses on a hypothetical case involving attorney advertising. Teams of student advocates from 35 law schools will argue both sides of complex legal issues involving whether a state regulation of lawyer ads is constitutional.

    “This annual competition provides future lawyers with an opportunity to consider fundamental questions about our basic freedoms, this year focusing on an emerging area, commercial speech,” said Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “This hypothetical case raises several interesting questions: Are attorney ads fully First Amendment-protected political speech, or less-protected commercial speech?

    “If they’re a form of commercial speech, then the students will have to address whether the ads are false or misleading. The teams will also have to consider the Supreme Court’s Central Hudson test to examine the constitutionality of regulations on commercial speech,” Policinski said.

    The 1980 case Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Comm. sustained a First Amendment claim against a New York ban on advertising to promote the use of electricity.

    More than 200 attorneys, professors, federal and state judges, and legal scholars will judge the preliminary rounds and final rounds in the two-day Moot Court Competition.

    A total of $5,000 in prizes is awarded to winning, runner-up and semi-finalist teams, and to individuals for “best brief” and “best oralist.”

    Competition is conducted 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 student who receives the highest “oral argument” score in preliminary rounds will receive 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 2007 competition will include, from the federal judiciary, Steven M. Colloton, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Martha Craig Daughtrey, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Robert L. Echols, district judge, Middle District of Tennessee; Sidney A. Fitzwater, district judge, Northern District of Texas; Julia Smith Gibbons, 6th Circuit; Marian F. Harrison, bankruptcy judge, Middle District of Tennessee; William J. Haynes Jr., district judge, Middle District of Tennessee; and Aleta A. Trauger, district judge, Middle District of Tennessee. Joining them from the state judiciary will be Cornelia A. Clark and Gary R. Wade, Tennessee Supreme Court.

    A two-person team from the University of Georgia Law School 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 works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. 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 right to assemble and petition the government.

    The First Amendment Center is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum. The center has offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Arlington, Va. Its affiliation with Vanderbilt University is through the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies.

    Press contact:
    Gene Policinski, 615/727-1600

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