Tanner Russo '18
VP 3L Lile Competition
On Saturday, March 25 in Caplin Pavilion, the two remaining 3L teams faced off in the final round of the William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition. Arguing for the Appellee, Kyle Cole and Tuba Ahmed defeated Adam Stempel and Danielle Desaulniers, who argued for the Appellant. Tuba Ahmed was awarded the Stephen Pierre Traynor Award for best oralist. All four finalists received the James M. Shoemaker Jr. Moot Court Award. Reedy Swanson (Class of 2016), one of last year’s winning finalists, presented Cole and Ahmed with the Kingdon Moot Court Prize.
The finalists faced a hot bench, with tough questioning from three distinguished judges: Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Judge Pamela Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Justice David Stras of the Supreme Court of Minnesota. Both teams had thirty minutes of oral argument time each. After hearing argument, the judges deliberated, selecting the overall winner on the basis of both the teams’ briefs and argument performance.
Written by 3L Kevin Palmer, this year’s final problem involved amendments to the Voting Rights of 1965. These amendments prohibited voter discrimination on the basis of “belief” in addition to race, color, and language minority status. In the State of Hamilton, the legislature had enacted a gerrymandered redistricting plan that aimed to give one party permanent control over a majority of districts. The Governor of Hamilton challenged this plan on the grounds that it violated both the United States Constitution and the amended Voting Rights Act. But her suit had two legal hurdles to overcome: First, it was unclear whether the Governor, as a resident of a non-gerrymandered seat, has standing to sue, or whether the Constitution provides a cause of action for political gerrymandering. Second, it was unclear whether the word “belief” in the Voting Rights Act refers only to religious belief, as the Congressional Record suggests, or to political belief as well.
Before announcing the results, the judges each gave remarks about the finalists’ impressive capacity for oral advocacy and the role of oral argument generally.
Justice Stras encouraged the advocates to “be conversational” during argument: “Being conversational with the judges, viewing them as almost law school professors or law-school classmates that you’re trying to convince of a particular argument can be helpful. I find that the best oral advocates are the ones where, yes, there is formality to the proceedings but at the same time I almost feel like I’m discussing an interesting legal issue with them over a beer. . . . We’re just being conversational and exchanging ideas.”
Judge Reeves called the arguments “very excellent,” and recognized Kevin Palmer for writing, noting how difficult it can be to “write a problem like this and have the sides be balanced.” Reeves also encouraged visiting parents to stand for a round of applause. Cole had family members from California present to hear the argument, and Ahmed had family visiting from Alexandria, Virginia.
Judge Millett noted that the students delivered a “tour de force” of oral advocacy, and commended them all for their “exceptionally written” briefs. In particular, she noted the students’ “good eye contact” and ability to “show the passion for [their] positions.” Millett said that she generally encourages oral advocates to “argue for an opinion [the court] could write,” and to consider writing a “shadow opinion as you’re preparing for oral argument, and then write a shadow opinion for the other side, and figure out why theirs doesn’t work and yours does as a rule of law.” Millett said exceptional oral advocates leave a court “with something to remember your position by, a visual—paint a picture.”
Saturday’s argument marked the conclusion of the 88th Lile Moot Court competition, which started in the competitors’ 2L year with around eighty competitors.
In the evening following oral argument, faculty, Lile Moot Court Board members, and the finalists joined the judges for a banquet at the Boar’s Head Inn.