For the first time in three years, a Supreme Court justice did not preside over the law school’s annual moot court, but the competition’s intensity did not waver.
The Van Vleck Moot Court Competition is GW Law School’s largest and longest-running competition. Thursday was the championship round for the competition’s participants, who have been researching and honing their arguments since September.
The case argued before the court, written by two GW Law students, dealt with physician-assisted suicide, interstate commerce regulations and First Amendment rights. In the fictional case, a high school-aged patient of a doctor took his own life after reading a pamphlet in his waiting room containing instructions for suicide.
Presiding over the court was Judge Stephen Reinhardt from the Ninth Circuit in California, Judge Janice Rogers Brown from the D.C. Circuit and federal Judge Randall Rader. The judges emulate Supreme Court justices, often interrupting the students to ask questions during the proceedings.
Rader, an alumnus and adjunct professor at the Law School, said he was more than satisfied with the students’ responses.
“I might enjoy it a little too much,” said Rader, referring to his questioning of the students. “But it has a purpose – I like testing them a little bit.”
Judge Reinhardt praised all four competitors during his comments and said they had presented the best argument he’d heard “in a long while.”
“It was worth coming all the way here from California,” Reinhardt said. “It’s very encouraging to know that we have these young men and women to look forward to.”
All three judges stressed the importance of conversation in oral arguments.
“So often the court asks questions and the lawyers will be irritated because they have a speech they wanted to give,” Reinhardt added. “But they don’t realize all that matters is convincing a judge. If he or she has a question, you’re going to want to hear and respond to it.”
Melissa Colangelo and Jeremy Glen, who advocated for the doctor assisting suicides, took home the championship prize of best team argument. The plaintiff was represented by Michael Hissam and Bonnie Vanzler, who both took home individual prizes in oral argument and best brief.
Colangelo and Glen, who met the day the team application was due, described their team as the blind date of Van Vleck.
“We both thought the other was very serious but thankfully we were both wrong,” Colangelo said. “We actually find this fun, in a sick way.”
Glen, an undergraduate music major, said seeing the Van Vleck competition two years ago, when chief justice of the United States John Roberts presided, was a defining moment.
“That’s when I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Glen said.
Last year, Associate Justice Samuel Alito sat on the panel. Law School Dean Fred Lawrence hinted he had a Supreme Court justice in mind for next year, but refused to divulge a name.
Lawrence said, “I can tell you this, however. We have reason to be hopeful.”