In recent months, questions of legal precedence have been at the forefront of American political discourse, and there’s no better way to learn about them than by competing with fellow students in Moot Court.
Many students interested in legal professions or law in general take the course to hone their skills in legal debate. Sophomore economics major Luke Posegate explained what’s valuable about Moot Court for a University of Dallas student.
“The public speaking aspect is really beneficial, the logical formulation of an argument based on facts is … certainly something that encompasses the Core,” he said.
Moot Court is a one-credit, pass/fail course taught by Dr. David Upham, chair of the politics department, once a week. Each fall, the American Moot Court Association releases a case that is used for the entire academic year. UD participates in regional competitions offered by the American Moot Court Association every fall, and the association holds a national tournament in the spring for qualifying teams.
In teams of two, competitors formulate oral arguments for both sides of the case, referred to as petitioner and respondent. Junior politics major Alexa Hassell explained the process of a moot court competition.
She said: “The competitions work such that you present the case, so you’ll spend the whole day competing. You’ll do the petitioner argument first and then you’ll do the respondent argument second, and then you’ll finish out with one of the two, and then if you advance to finals you kind of do the whole thing again.”
All tournaments this year and last year have been held virtually over Zoom due to concerns regarding COVID-19. Sophomore English and politics major Sarah Meeks indicated that participating in the competition over Zoom has its shortcomings. Due to connectivity issues and time management, the competitions often did not start on time and Meeks indicated that she had some trouble maintaining a connection.
She said, “We had to get our computer and basically do the whole thing through Zoom. It took about an hour to get that all set up.” Meeks also indicated that there were often issues with the internet cutting out.
Posegate explained that, in Moot Court, participants argue appellate cases using the legal precedence set by the court in past rulings.
He said: “The facts have already been determined so in the lower court’s opinion, they have the findings of fact. And then, what you’re arguing is whether or not the lower court decided rightly.”
This year, Alexa Hassell and her teammate Caroline Cyr placed eighth out of 30 at the South Texas Regional tournament at Texas A&M. Also representing UD at the tournament was Sarah Meeks and Gaetano Montablano, as well as Luke Posegate and Max Lange at the Sentinel Showdown tournament at Patrick Henry College.
Posegate and his teammate, sophomore business major Max Lange, won 1 out of 3 of their trials. He said, “We had three trials and we went one and two, we won really big on our one win and then we lost by slim margins on the other two. Overall, all three trials were really, really interesting to participate in, the judges were really excellent and our competitors were skilled as well.”
Meeks also related her thoughts on how Moot Court fits into academic life at UD. She said, “Moot Court is about a lot of research and writing, so it kind of fits with the whole UD process of writing and evidence-gathering and being able to formulate arguments.”
Hassell explained why Moot Court is particularly special at UD. Most universities require students in legal studies to take Moot Court as a full class, but at UD it is only a one-credit pass/fail class, so students taking it tend to be there voluntarily.
She said, “Everyone at UD who’s participating in it is giving extra to Moot Court, which I think makes it unique at UD because it means that we’re taking the skills that we have from the Core and, particularly the writing the reading and the critical thinking, and we’re applying it to something additional.”
Hasell stated that Moot Court is an exercise in legal studies ideal for people interested in law. “It’s a great opportunity for students to practice the art of litigation,” she said. “It gives you the skills of public speaking, debating a case and working on your brief writing.”