South Texas College of Law Wins Moot Court Competition
|Shalimar A. Simon and Michael H. Wallis|
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The team from the South Texas College of Law won the Eleventh Annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition today, at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Winning team members were Shalimar A. Simon and Michael H. Wallis.
Runner-up in the two-day competition, sponsored by the Vanderbilt University Law School and the First Amendment Center, was the team from the University of Georgia School of Law. Team members were Renee Y. Little and Gardiner Thompson.
More than 70 of the nation’s top law students from 33 law schools competed March 30-31 in the only annual national moot court to focus solely on First Amendment issues.
The hypothetical case in the competition this year concerned the extent to which the First Amendment’s establishment clause, forbidding government from establishing a religion, restricts or permits government funding of social services operated by faith-based groups, including the increasingly popular “charitable choice” programs. The specific case argued in the competition involved a hypothetical after-school program of remedial education and counseling on character education operated by a fictional Baptist church in a Tennessee high school.
|Renee Y. Little and Gardiner Thompson|
A total of $5,000 in prizes was awarded to:
- Winning team ($2,000): South Texas College of Law (Shalimar A. Simon, Michael H. Wallis)
- Runner-up ($1,000): University of Georgia School of Law (Renee Y. Little, Gardiner Thompson)
- Semi-finalists ($500 each): Florida State University College of Law (Jennifer Littleton, Braden Boucek); University of San Diego School of Law (Kelly Menck, Victor Ou)
- Best brief ($500): University of California, Davis School of Law (Rebekah Young, Rekka Fountain)
- Best oralist ($500): University of San Diego School of Law (Victor Ou).
Receiving gavels were:
- Runners-up best brief: South Texas College of Law (Shalimar A. Simon, Michael H. Wallis).
- Runner-up best oralist (tie): University of California, Hastings College of Law (Nancy Nguyen), University of San Diego School of Law (Kelly Menck).
Winning team member Shalimar A. Simon said, after the competition, “This challenging problem showed us that there is a delicate balance between what is permissible and impermissible under the Establishment Clause.” Colleague Michael Wallis said, “The experience was intimidating but exhilarating. This is why you want to practice law.”
Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, who chaired the five-member panel that heard final arguments, said, “The advocates we heard today were exceptionally good and extremely well-balanced. As one of my colleagues said, our decision was excruciatingly close.”
“This competition serves several purposes,” said Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, also a judge in the final round. “One of the two main purposes is to get these talented students to think in a more concrete way about the First Amendment.”
After a semi-final round, Senior Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said, “This problem was particularly interesting to me. I served as Justice [Hugo] Black’s law clerk when he wrote the majority opinion in the Everson case,” a landmark ruling in 1947 where legal scholars say the Supreme Court defined the purpose of the Constitution’s establishment clause. “I don’t think Everson was argued as well as you argued this problem today,” Oberdorfer said.
In the Everson ruling, the court upheld a New Jersey practice of reimbursing parents for bus fare necessary to send their children to private schools. The court ruled the assistance was to families not to religious institutions. However, the court also emphasized that the separation between church and state was a wall that must be kept “high and impregnable.”
Final round judges were: Judge Richard S. Arnold, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit; Associate Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr., Tennessee Supreme Court; Judge Todd J. Campbell; U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee; and Judge Daughtrey and Judge Merritt.
Semi-final round judges were: Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas; Judge William J. Haynes, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee; Judge Aleta A. Trauger, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee; and Judge Oberdorfer.