During the 2021-22 Moot Court season, four Regent undergraduate teams competed at regional competitions, and two of those teams were invited to compete at Nationals. Before competing, the students on these teams spent months puzzling over constitutional questions: Does the Commerce Clause give the federal government the authority to mandate vaccinations for all people? If so, would exercising this power violate an individual’s right to Substantive Due Process? During competition, they faced notable undergraduate teams from University of Virginia, Yale, Duke, Patrick Henry, University of Chicago, and several other competitive schools.
Throughout this experience, my teammates and I gained more than plaques of recognition and deep knowledge of certain Supreme Court cases. We gained stronger public speaking skills, happy memories, and a little more perseverance.
What is a Moot Court Competition and How Does the Process Work?
Every year, about 500 teams across the United States -–1,000 undergraduate students — present in various competitions as if they are lawyers arguing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The substance of the constitutional arguments changes from year to year, but there is always a petitioner side —representing the party that appealed to the Supreme Court — and respondent side that won the case in a lower court. Teams of two students prepare to take either side of the case on whatever constitutional issue they are assigned.
Moot court teams spend months studying a specific case problem. This year’s case involved a fictional polio pandemic and a federal polio vaccine mandate for all Americans. The imaginary petitioner, Mr. William DeNolf, sued the federal government because of the vaccine mandate; therefore, when moot court teams prepared for both sides of the issue, they crafted arguments to attack or defend the constitutionality of the mandate.
The role of the moot court advocate is to educate the court on a specific constitutional issue. To do this, we talk about the facts of the case the court is dealing with, point to past decisions the court made, and respond to arguments the other side is making. Competitors must make their case by presenting a 10-minute memorized argument and answer any questions the judges have along the way.
What are the Benefits of Competing?
A huge benefit of competition is that a special kind of community develops when a group of people work together to accomplish something difficult. During our first few moot court practices, my teammates and I were more than a little confused about the case law we were dealing with, so we talked it out together and our wonderful coach used memes to explain things. Teammates have a unique opportunity to encourage one another too. On competition days, we recite speech warm-ups together. My favorite starts with “the centipede was happy quite until the toad in fun said…’’
Some of my favorite moments were watching my teammates succeed, from hearing them get announced to receive awards for outstanding performances to watching them deliver excellent arguments in practice.
Another benefit of doing moot court is honing public speaking and critical-thinking skills. As I prepared for competition, I recited my arguments in front of anyone who would listen – to my roommate while we walked on the beach, to my classmates while we waited for class to start, to my mom when I called her in the car, and to my reflection while I practiced in front of a mirror.
Speaking in front of people and asking them for feedback helped me realize areas I could improve my public speaking: eliminate “umms,” stop playing with your hair while you speak, add more word emphasis and more. The questions component of moot court, where judges pose hypotheticals and try to poke holes in your argument, helped me think on my feet and taught me that sometimes it is okay to start a sentence before you know where it is going to end.
As much as I enjoy moot court, it is also challenging for me. I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote my petitioner argument. That argument was like a leaky ship; as soon as I patched one hole in my logic, another sprung up in a different section. I returned again and again to the hundreds of pages of precedent we used to construct our arguments and looked for something to help me.
Moot court competitions teach lessons on perseverance, especially in elimination rounds where each round could be your last. If you make it past Regionals, the perseverance continues while you prepare for Nationals by practicing moot court over winter break. Perseverance during long hours of practice was possible because we had the joy of team collaboration and the promise of improvement with hard work.
Team 1: Nathaniel Krenik and Kaylee Salazar, both first-time moot court competitors, participated in the Albany’s Cradle of the Union Regional Competition.
Team 2: Nicole Dentel and Elsie Sikora competed at the Texas Tech Regional competition. At the close of the competition, Elsie was ranked as the 24th best oralist at the competition, and Nicole was ranked as the 15th.
Team 3: Jocelyn Lee and Hannah Bagley qualified for Nationals after they placed 3rd at the Sentinel Showdown Regional, hosted by Patrick Henry College. At Regionals, Hannah was recognized as the 16th best oralist and Jocelyn was recognized as the 4th best oralist.
Team 4: Grayson Smith and Emily Polson qualified for Nationals after they won 1st place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional, hosted by Regent University School of Law. At Nationals, Grayson and Emily were both ranked in the top 25 among the nation’s top 200 oralists.