South Texas takes home top Moot Court honors

Friday, February 17, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The team from the South Texas College of Law won the 22nd Annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition today at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Winning team members were Chris Jordan and Avi Moshenberg.

Runner-up in the two-day competition, sponsored by the First Amendment Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, was American University, Washington College of Law. Team members were Andrew Kim and Carter Meader.

(See photos of the winners here.)

The competition problem was a hypothetical case involving the display of a 9/11 memorial with a religious symbol on government property. The competitors examined the intersection between the government-speech doctrine and the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Teams of student advocates from 38 law schools argued both sides of the case.

The topic was “very complex, it was very hard to work through, but it was challenging and fun,” said Jordan from the winning South Texas team. “It’s a cutting-edge issue because government and private speech is a deep issue” in the context of religiously themed memorials.

“The hypothetical presented an intriguing issue,” added teammate Moshenberg, “that is important to our whole way of life.”

Recognized for “best brief” in the competition were Debra McElligot and Justin Roller from New York University School of Law; and for “best oralist,” Benjamin C. Galea from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

“It was definitely a big challenge to argue both sides,” Meader of the runner-up American University team said of the hypothetical case. “We had excellent judges, great briefs, difficult questions, which is all part of the process and makes it more interesting to argue.” Her colleague, Kim, said, “This was one of the best-run competitions I’ve seen, and it’s a fantastic experience, quite exhilarating.”

Top awards were presented to:

Winning team: South Texas College of Law
Runner-up: American University, Washington College of Law
Semi-finalists: DePaul University College of Law, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Best brief: Debra McElligot and Justin Roller, New York University School of Law
Richard S. Arnold Best Oralist Award: Benjamin C. Galea, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Receiving competition gavels:

Runner-up best brief: Amye Green and Peter Segrist, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Runner-up best oralist: V.R. Bohman, Brigham Young University, J. Reuben Clark 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.

“The level of competition was extraordinary,” said Ken Paulson, president and CEO of the First Amendment Center, at today’s awards ceremony. “We are always gratified by the turnout from the legal community” as judges.

Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, said, “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. 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, “It has been more than a decade since our competition has addressed the first ten words of the First Amendment. Arguably, the establishment clause represents the most controversial aspect of First Amendment jurisprudence. Even U.S. Supreme Court justices disagree mightily over religious displays on public property.”

“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, Steven M. Colloton, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Martha Craig Daughtrey, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Bernice B. Donald, Western District of Tennessee; Sidney A. Fitzwater, Northern District of Texas; Julia Smith Gibbons, 6th Circuit; Marian F. Harrison, U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Middle District of Tennessee; William J. Haynes Jr., Middle District of Tennessee; James C. Mahan, District of Nevada; Gilbert S. Merritt, 6th Circuit; Jane B. Stranch, 6th Circuit; Aleta A. Trauger, Middle District of Tennessee; and Susan Webber Wright, Eastern District of Arkansas.

A two-person team from the College of William and Mary 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 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

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