Teams to tackle case of off-campus, online student speech

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 21st annual National First Amendment Moot Court competition, sponsored by the First Amendment Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, will be conducted Feb. 17-18.

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 student speech — whether school officials' authority extends beyond the schoolhouse gate to online student expression that officials deem vulgar, invasive of the rights of others or potentially disruptive to the classroom.

Teams of student advocates from 34 law schools will argue both sides of the hypothetical case, which challenges the student competitors to immerse themselves in complex First Amendment issues.

“This annual competition gives future lawyers an opportunity to consider fundamental First Amendment questions,” said Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center.

More than 100 attorneys, professors, federal and state judges, and legal scholars will judge the preliminary rounds and final rounds in the two-day Moot Court Competition.

Awards are presented 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.

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 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 and at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Press contact:
Gene Policinski, 615/727-1600