Yale Law School Hosts Area High School Students at Third Annual Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition

On Sunday, March 25, 2012, Yale Law School hosted its third annual Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition for New Haven area high school students. Nineteen students from Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School and ten students from James Hillhouse High School participated. Each of them argued one side of a fictitious case dealing with the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to life without parole for felony murder.

“Today we were reminded that Yale Law School is part of a wider New Haven community when law students, high school students, teachers, and parents came together to marvel at the brilliance of the Marshall-Brennan competitors. Our students welcome us into their classrooms many times throughout the year, and it’s fitting that we open our doors to them and do our part as residents of this city,” said Jamil Jivani ’13, the 2011-12 program director for the Marshall-Brennan Project.

The competition showcased the legal knowledge the high school students gained after a year of participating in the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. The Marshall-Brennan Project organizes law students around the country to teach courses on constitutional law at public high schools in their local communities. Andres Idarraga ’11 and Zach Jones ’11 founded the Yale chapter in 2010. Chapters currently exist at eighteen other law schools.

Michelle Mangan ’13, a former New York City Teaching Fellow, and Brendan Cottington ’13, a Teach for America alum, helped develop the curriculum and implement the project. This year, Jivani, Mangan, Cottington, Kate Hadley ’13, Joshua McLaurin ’13, and Yael Shavit ’13 served as the primary classroom teachers at each school, teaching students legal doctrine and training them in oral advocacy for the moot court competition.

2012 finalists Justin Reece Pittman and Erin O’Malley (winner of best oralist prize) with Moot Court judges (L-R) Wendy Zupac ’12, Eugene Sokoloff ’12, and Daniel Hemel ’12

“It is amazing to watch high school students have a real conversation with law student judges about the most cutting-edge constitutional issues,” said McLaurin. “For three years now, the Yale chapter of the Marshall-Brennan Project has taught high school students that intellectual curiosity and months of hard work can prepare them to participate in arguments at the highest level. Each year, participating law students remark at how stunned they are to see high schoolers become such effective advocates.”

The championship round took place at Yale Law School in front of a large crowd of classmates, parents, teachers, and law students. The finalists, Justin Reece Pittman and Erin O’Malley, thoughtfully answered the judges’ probing questions, discussing topics such as the penological justifications of punishments, whether international standards should inform American judges’ interpretations of the Eighth Amendment, and what evidence should be used to evaluate “evolving standards of decency.” The finalists’ skill prompted one judge to remark, “It would be a serious disservice to society if you didn't at least consider joining the legal profession.”

The competition featured four rounds of arguments before panels of mock judges who challenged the students with legal and factual questions about the case as the students delivered their arguments. The judges—law student volunteers—evaluated the competitors based on the clarity, organization, and presentation of their arguments. The finalists will represent New Haven in the national competition at American University in Washington, D.C., on March 31 and April 1, where they will argue before panels of law students, law professors, and state and federal judges. They will be joined by the next four leading scorers in the competition: Aloysia Jean, Sarah Beckford, Ade Ben-Salahuddin, and Kristina Otfinoski.

This year’s moot court coaches were Emily Rock ’14, Tassity Johnson ’13, Vishal Chanani ’14, Cal Soto ’14, Kate Mollison ’14, Kendall Hoechst ’14, Fiona Heckscher ’14, Jeannette Figg ’14, Michael Nance ’14, Marbre Stahly-Butts ’13, and Alexander Whatley ’14.

The opening rounds of the 2012 competition were judged by Caroline Van Zile ’12, Daniel Hemel ’12, Kevin Jonke ’13, Jonathan Meltzer ’13, Danielle Lang ’12, Kasdin Miller ’12, Lindsey Trachtenberg ’12, Abigail Hinchcliffe ’12, Spencer Amdur ’13, Peter Chen’13, Amanda Elbogen ’13, Jessica Vosburgh ’13, Haninah Levine ’12, Clare Ryan ’13, Emily Gerrick ’14, Travis Silva ’13, Alexandra Harrington ’14, Fran Faircloth ’12, Kevin Chen ’13, Robert Leider ’12, Simi Bhat ’12, James Dawson ’14, Elise Kraft ’14, Renata Strause ’13, Jariel Rendell ’12, Albert Nah ’13, Kathryn Cherry ’13, Christine Buzzard ’13, and Bryn Williams ’14. The championship round was judged by Daniel Hemel ’12, Eugene Sokoloff ’12, and Wendy Zupac ’12.

For more information on the Marshall-Brennan Project at Yale, please contact Jamil Jivani at jamil.jivani@yale.edu, Joshua McLaurin at joshua.mclaurin@yale.edu, or Michelle Mangan at michelle.mangan@yale.edu.