BY HUGO TORRES
Proving wrong all who said otherwise, 3L Greg Lipper and the Gerald Gunther Memorial Team took home the team award for “Best Overall” in the Ninety-First Annual Harvard Law School Ames Moot Court Competition, arguing before a panel of three judges that included Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The Gunther team also took home the award for “Best Oralist,” given to Mark Freeman. Opposing counsel, the Byron White Memorial Team, took home the award for “Best Brief.”
“It was a tie,” said Justice Breyer right before announcing the results and explaining how difficult it was to choose between the two teams. Joining Breyer as associate justices were the Honorable Diarmuid O’Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit and the Honorable Ann Williams of the Seventh Circuit.
“First rate,” O’Scannlain said after the justices announced the award winners.
Indeed, the evening presented an exhibition pitting two of Harvard’s finest groups of students in a case that revolved around discrimination and First Amendment issues. The White Team consisted of 3Ls Carlos Lazatin, Jeffrey Lerner, Rita Lin, Mary Catherine Martin, Nathaniel Reinsma and Matthew Stephenson. The White team argued on behalf of Plaintiff-Petitioner Christina Morales, a landlord who refused to rent to unmarried couples on the grounds that such cohabitation violated her religious principles.
Meanwhile, the Gunther Team, representing the respondents, consisted of Norina Edelman, Mark Freeman, Beth Harrison, Joshua Solomon, Louis Tompros and the sometimes-derided but never underestimated Lipper. The Gunther team argued on behalf of the State of Ames Commission for Human Rights, which is charged with ensuring that no discrimination occurs in regards to housing.
The oralists for the White Team were Stephenson and Lin, with Freeman and Lipper representing the Gunther Team. Each team presented itself firmly, responding with poise to questions posed by the judges and engaging in sophisticated rhetoric and legal argumentation that was applauded after the competition was over.
At one point Freeman defended the respondent’s motion to dismiss by posing the question, “Why would we ask this court to wade into the swamp of hybrid constitutional rights?”
The teams debated two central questions: Whether petitioner Morales even had standing to bring the claim, and whether an unconstitutional burden was placed on Morales’s rights to free exercise and free speech.
For their part, the justices were relentless in challenging each team to clarify its arguments and consider the ramifications of what they were saying. When the White Team began arguing based on precedent, Breyer pointed out that, “not all of our precedents are perfect,” and challenged the team to explain why the case stood on its own merits. During the Gunther Team’s time to make arguments, Breyer challenged their desire to dismiss the case, suggesting they consider the impact of their argument. “You want to force her to face jail to challenge the statute,” Breyer noted, leading the Gunther Team to clarify under what circumstances they believed such a case should hold up.
“I just thought it was a fabulous display from four talented Harvard students,” said 1L Mark Barrera. “It made me proud to be a Harvard Law student.” Barrera went on to mention that the fine performances of the oralists inspired him to aim to be a better oralist himself: “Makes me want to try harder every time a professor calls on me in class.”
This year’s Ames format differed little from previous years, with the competition mirroring the appellate process to give students a taste of the appellate experience. Each team had to compose briefs and argue before judges through quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, argued in the fall and spring respectively. Winning the competition entailed a cash prize, as well as
The evening was not all serious arguments, however. At one point, Breyer posed a hypothetical which he began to answer himself, then, recognizing he was giving the answer, paused and turned towards oralist Matt Stephenson, saying, “Well, you respond.”
At another point, Stephenson was asked a question by Williams. Stephenson, who had just ended his presentation, pointed out, “Your honor, I see my time is up,” to which Judge Williams, making sure her question was not evaded so easily, replied, “Oh no, you may answer.”
Meanwhile, as arguments over constitutional issues went on inside the Ames courtroom, a more festive atmosphere pervaded the rest of Austin Hall, as students filled up the overflow areas to watch the competition on screens in the Austin classrooms. The beer, laughter and heckling that filled the Austin classrooms stood in sharp contrast to the more subdued and reverent atmosphere inside the Ames Courtroom.
Despite not being physically present in the courtroom, those in the overflow rooms were treated to scenes that were missed by most in the courtroom, such as when the camera panned to a professor sleeping through the arguments.
One-L Franz Cheng, who was watching the proceedings in the overflow area, found it to be an enjoyable vantage point. “We had a good time. It was a casual and surprisingly non-drunken atmosphere.”
One-L Lee Rowland, a fellow student watching the proceedings in the overflow area, agreed with Franz’s assertions if not his conclusion. “There wasn’t nearly enough heckling or drinking.”