University of San Diego wins top honors

Friday, February 19, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The team from the University of San Diego School of Law won the 20th Annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition today at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Winning team members were Courtney Randall and Derek Hecht.

Runner-up in the two-day competition, sponsored by the First Amendment Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, was the team from Brooklyn Law School. Team members were Sarah Young and John Mulvaney.

The competition problem involved “free-speech zones” imposed on political protest, pitting the First Amendment freedom to assemble against public-safety concerns. Teams of student advocates from 36 law schools argued both sides of the case.

“It seemed like a really relevant topic because these cases are circulating in the circuit courts right now,” said Courtney Randall from the winning University of San Diego team. “It really is a significant issue.”

Said teammate Derek Hecht, “It dealt with a lot of ambiguous standards that the courts have laid down in various areas. … Trying to grapple with that from both sides of the issue was really difficult.”

Recognized for “best brief” in the competition were Zack DeMeola and Nicole Mansker from William and Mary Law School; and for “best oralist,” Daniel Singer from Duke University School of Law.

John Mulvaney of the runner-up Brooklyn Law School team said, “It is a very controversial issue, and it's tough in this case to balance what the law says versus what your common sense says about what free speech should be about.” His colleague, Sarah Young, said, “It was difficult to argue from both perspectives … . It was eye-opening because when I read the problem I didn't realize just how applicable it was” with so many comparable situations involving protest around the country.

Top awards were presented to:

  •  Winning team: University of San Diego School of Law 
  •  Runner-up: Brooklyn Law School
  •  Semi-finalists: Loyola University Chicago School of Law and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
  •  Best brief: Zack DeMeola and Nicole Mansker, William and Mary Law School
  •  Richard S. Arnold Best Oralist Award: Daniel Singer, Duke University School of Law

Receiving competition gavels:

  •  Runner-up best brief: Alex Handelsman and John Tokarz, University of Wisconsin Law School
  •  Runner-up best oralist: Michael Beder, Georgetown University Law Center

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.

This year’s Moot Court problem examined one of the most pressing issues in modern First Amendment jurisprudence — the phenomenon of free-speech zones. The problem forced competitors to grapple with a city’s “protest policy” that created such zones at a health-care town hall meeting. The student-competitors addressed not only the zoning of speech and governmental motivation, but also the core free-speech principles of viewpoint discrimination and secondary effects.

“This annual competition, based on a contemporary issue involving First Amendment freedoms, is a way to expose a sizeable number of future lawyers to important First Amendment questions,” said Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “We hope it encourages them to become advocates and defenders of those freedoms throughout their legal careers.”

Tiffany Villager, director of First Amendment research for the First Amendment Center, said, “For the National First Amendment Moot Court Competition we seek to provide the competitors with a challenging and controversial issue in First Amendment jurisprudence that mirrors today’s headlines. This year’s hypothetical involving the zoning of political protesters is an issue that has engaged the legal community, politicians and society.” 

“The competition provides a unique opportunity for many of these competitors to learn the skills of appellate advocacy before distinguished federal and state jurists while broadening their exposure 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; Sidney Fitzwater, chief judge, Northern District of Texas; Julia Smith Gibbons, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Marian F. Harrison, U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Middle District of Tennessee; William J. Haynes Jr., district judge, Middle District of Tennessee; James C. Mahan, district judge, District of Nevada; Gilbert S. Merritt, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Susan Webber Wright, district judge, Eastern District of Arkansas. Joining them from the state judiciary was Camille McMullen, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

A two-person team from Brigham Young University 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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