Kagan rules in annual moot court competition

This post was written by Hatchet staff writers Gabrielle Marush and Matthew Kwiecinski.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan handed down the ruling in the GW Law School’s longest-running moot court competition after presiding over a fictitious case Thursday in Lisner Auditorium.

In the 62nd year of the Jacob Burns Van Vleck Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition, the judges ruled in favor of third-year law students Devin Anderson and Samuel Cowin, the case’s respondents.

Kagan, Harris Hartz, judge for The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Florida Supreme Court Justice and alumna Barbara Pariente voted 2-1 to uphold the constitutionality of a mock international treaty that banned burning religious artifacts outside of religious sites during prayer hours.

Third-year law students Tyler Evans and Matthew Radler represented the petitioner and argued against the constitutionality of the law, which was the center point of a case created by last year’s Van Vleck champions Jonathan Maier and Sean Sherman.

Hartz commended all four competitors’ professionalism, speaking abilities, responses and overall presentation.

“It gives us hope for the future,” Hartz said before the decision was announced.

The final decision, Kagan told the two teams, had “more to do with the brief than with the argument,” referring to the written portion that the students prepared.

“The most important thing is that a brief can be is clear,” Kagan, who became the fourth woman to sit on the nation’s highest court in 2010, said.

The five-month competition saw 113 law students – the second-largest pool of participants in the competition’s history – vie for the moot court title.

The runners up, Evans and Matthews, won an award for the second-best brief. Cowin was given extra recognition for having what Kagan called “the toughest row to hoe” in the case presented in the final round.

“What we’re really impressed with is that you made a bad argument seem kind of okay,” she said jokingly.

Anderson, Cowin, Evans and Radler started preparing for the competition in September when the case packet was released. The last two teams standing prevailed through four rounds to earn spots to compete in the final contest.

“My participation in the competition allowed me to do something that few lawyers ever get to do: argue before a Supreme Court justice,” Evans said.

The last member of the Supreme Court to preside over GW’s competition was Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in 2009.

Pariente, who graduated fifth in her class from the law school in 1973, started a moot court competition in her Florida high school to allow “students to simulate real life experiences in the area of appellate advocacy.”

“The competitions provide students with the opportunity to hone their analytic skills as well as their oral advocacy skills,” Pariente said.

Law schools have seen heightened criticism in the last several months for failing to prepare students for the legal world. For some budding lawyers, the moot court is a way to shake out nerves before heading into law practice.

“It’s a very good learning tool and it also builds confidence. Everyone is apprehensive about the oral argument I found. It’s almost never as bad as you feared,” Hartz said.

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