Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. is not used to having 1,500 students as an audience at his hearings, but on Thursday the nation's top jurist was at center stage, presiding over the GW Law School's Moot Court competition at Lisner Auditorium.
Roberts originally agreed to come to GW in August, after he had been nominated as an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court but before he was nominated as the chief justice following the death of William Rehnquist in September. But even after he was confirmed to the top position on the Supreme Court, Roberts kept his word that he would attend.
"I was not only pleased that he kept the date after he was confirmed chief justice, but he was engaging with students during the competition and afterwards at the reception," Law School Dean Fred Lawrence said after the event.
Roberts sat on the Law School's Jacob Burns Van Vleck Moot Court competition with judges Guido Calabresi and Sonia Sotomayor, both of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Amanda Lynn Tyler, an associate professor in the Law School, said she met Roberts at a government function last fall when she asked Roberts if he could come to GW for the moot court competition.
"He responded quite positively telling me that one of his first clerks was a GW graduate and that he has always had a fond view of GW Law School," Tyler said.
The four third-year law students who made up the two competing teams in the final round of the contest were bombarded with questions by the judges and were competing for best oral presentation, best written brief and best overall team performance.
Law School student Jason Gould won both the individual awards and, with his partner Peter Farrell, won best overall team. Before announcing the winners Roberts said the competition was "well-run" and "professionally put together." Roberts, who did not speak much during the event except to pose questions, said one of the most important parts of being a judge during a moot court competition is challenging the competitors and "playing devil's advocate."
"They were excellent, all of them," Calabresi told The Hatchet at the Marvin Center reception after the competition.
"I just wish people that argued in front of us were always this good," he added.
After the hour-long proceeding, Roberts attended a Marvin Center ceremony where he mingled with students and faculty for nearly an hour.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg commented in his opening statements on the jurists on the moot court bench and what it means to bring Roberts to the GW Law School, ranked the 20th best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
"This is a bench of remarkable stature," Trachtenberg said in his opening statement at the competition. "The event punctuates the status of the GW Law School."
Lawrence recruited Sotomayor for the event because they knew each other from their days at Yale Law School. Sotomayor said she enjoys meeting with the next generation of lawyers.
While Lawrence said he was not yet thinking about how to recruit judges for next year's competition, at Friday's Board of Trustees meeting Trachtenberg hinted that a Supreme Court Justice may come to GW next year as well.
"We're on a roll with something unique here," Trachtenberg said. "We're already planning which Supreme Court member to have next year."