Vanderbilt Law School hosts national First Amendment Moot Court Competition

Feb 16, 2012

Judge James C. Mahan ‘73, Jenna Farleigh ‘12, Judge Jane Stranch ‘78, Judge Bernice Donald, Nick Foreste ‘12, Sophia Behnia ‘12, Judge Gilbert Merritt ‘60, Judge Steven M. Colloton, Judge Julia Smith Gibbons ‘75 and Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey ‘68.

Vanderbilt Law School cosponsored the 22nd annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition with the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University on February 16-17.

This year’s competition focused on a hypothetical case involving the display of a 9/11 memorial with a religious symbol on government property, the same problem argued by students in Vanderbilt’s 2012 Moot Court Competition. The problem addressed the intersection between the government-speech doctrine and the establishment clause.

Teams of student advocates from 38 law schools wrote briefs for and then argued the case of Mayor Edward Hurley and the City of Waitsburg v. Washtonia Association of Humanist Liberties and Sarah Gonzalez, a problem written by Vanderbilt Moot Court Board Executive Problem Editor Michael Walker and Associate Problem Editors John Arceci and John Williams with the help of Professor David Hudson and Tiffany Villager of the First Amendment Center. The case involved a challenge to the public display of a monument commemorating the terrorist attacks of September 11. The monument, which was erected by a private party in a public park, includes a large replica of the “World Trade Center Cross,” a steel t-beam found in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Other symbols, including a Star of David and a depiction of a bald eagle, are subsequently added. “The problem required competitors to grapple with two unresolved questions in First Amendment law: When is the government a speaker, and what limits does the Establishment Clause place on the government’s speech?” Walker said. “It raised difficult questions about the role of religion in our constitutional scheme.”

(Pictured above: Judge James C. Mahan ‘73, Jenna Farleigh ‘12, Judge Jane Stranch ‘78, Judge Bernice Donald, Nick Foreste ‘12, Sophia Behnia ‘12, Judge Gilbert Merritt ‘60, Judge Steven M. Colloton, Judge Julia Smith Gibbons ‘75 and Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey ‘68.)

More than 100 attorneys, professors, federal and state judges judged the preliminary and final rounds in the two-day competition, including:

  • Senior Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey ’68, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Senior Judge Gilbert Merritt ’60, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Judge Bernice Donald, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Judge Julia Smith Gibbons ’75, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch ’78, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Judge Steven M. Colloton, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
  • Judge James C. Mahan ’73, U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada
  • Judge Susan Webber Wright, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Arkansas
  • Judge William J. Haynes Jr. ’73, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee
  • Judge Aleta Trauger ’76, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee
  • Judge Marian F. Harrison, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Tennessee
  • Chief Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas

Rounds were held both at the Vanderbilt Law School and at the John Seigenthaler Center on the Vanderbilt campus, home to the Nashville offices of the First Amendment Center.

The team of Chris Jordan and Avi Moshenberg from the South Texas College of Law won the competition; the team of Andrew Kim and Carter Meador from American University's Washington College of Law placed second.

Recognized for “Best Brief” in the competition were Debra McElligot and Justin Roller from New York University School of Law. Benjamin C. Galea from Case Western Reserve University School of Law was recognized as "Best Oralist."

Semi-finalists included the teams from DePaul University College of Law and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

The competition required competitors to write an appellate brief and to answer challenging legal questions from the judges. “Each year, the competition gives future lawyers a chance to consider fundamental First Amendment questions,” said Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center.

The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center has offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.


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