GW law students argue in courtroom competition

GW Law School students argued constitutional issues at a court competition Saturday, which narrowed the field of teams to four semifinalists.

To participate in the annual Van Vleck Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition, students prepare a 15-page written brief to support their arguments and present a 20-minute oral argument to three judges. Students are divided into teams of two.

The experience has been very valuable, said Kit Bobko, a law student who made it to the semifinals. It’s probably one of the only chances in law school to use your talent and skills in a live environment.

Second-year law student Rodney Pratt said he always had fear of public speaking.

This has helped me get over my fears, he said. Any practice helps.

Pratt and his partner Bryan Shilling made it to the semifinals, but they were beat out by Zach Cunhan and Chris Pugsley. The winners will compete in the finals against Seth Cohen and Jeff Foor.

Contestants agreed the competition was extremely valuable and challenging.

It’s nerve-racking, said Siama Schilling while she waited for the judges’ scores.

The students presented arguments dealing with current cases in the federal circuit.

These are really big constitutional issues, finalist Chris Pugsley said. An appellate argument requires a high degree of formalism, which is very difficult.

The competitors argued two cases, both of which will be considered by the Supreme Court in the spring.

They’re hot topics right now, said Matt Hank, chairman of the Van Vleck committee.

One case involves Miranda rights, the legislation that requires police officers to read you your rights upon arrest. The other case challenges the constitutionality of a law designed to punish people who cross state lines with the intent of violating a protective order.

The problems were so borderline, you really had to figure out your argument (ahead of time), said Bryan Schilling, a second-year law student and semifinalist.

Pugsley said he was impressed with the judges.

They were thoroughly ready for each of our arguments, he said. They nailed us on every issue.

The judges scoring the competition said they were impressed with some student presentations.

I see people argue in my line of work every day, and I don’t always see such quality arguments, Maryland Court of Appeals Judge James Kenny said. (They) really did a great job.

The final round, which will be held in February, has traditionally brought highly respected judges to score the competition, Hank said. Last year, Judge Steven Williams of the United States Court of Appeals for D.C. scored the final competition.

We’ve never failed to bring highly accomplished justices to Van Vleck, Hank said. The team that wins in the final competition in February will have an opportunity to compete nationally next year.

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