BY KATIE MAPES
The Oliver Hill Memorial Team won the 96th Ames Moot Court Competition Wednesday night. The competition was presided over by Justice Antonin Scalia. He was joined on the bench by Judge Debra A. Livingston of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Carlos F. Lucero of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Tejinder Singh, a member of the Belva Ann Lockwood Memorial Team, won the award for Best Oralist and the Oliver Hill Memorial Team was awarded “Best Brief.”
At the close of the competition, the judges uniformly praised the oralists. Justice Scalia stated that the “presentation here is comparable to what I would expect either on the D.C. Circuit or the Supreme Court,” although he then added, to general laughter, that there were a few regular advocates before the Court who were better. Said Judge Lucero, “I can assure you that your presentation here would be . . . well-balanced with the best oralists we have.”
The participants argued the case of Worldwide People’s Temple v. Lucille Rasmussen, an employment discrimination case, which asked whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can validly issue a “right to sue letter” fewer than 180 days after a charge of discrimination under Title VII, and whether a “ministerial exception” creates immunity for a religious organization from employment discrimination claims.
The Ames Court room was filled to capacity; those seats that weren’t reserved in advance for particular attendees were filled by students who waited upwards of an hour and a half to be admitted. Others lined the walls and filled overflow rooms downstairs where the arguments were shown on closed circuit television.
This year, the members of the Oliver Hill Memorial Team were oralists Frederick Fedynyshyn and Adam Hosmer-Henner, as well as Shannon Delahaye, Joseph Dvorkin, Yelena Konanova, and David Oliwenstein. The Belva Ann Lockwood Memorial Team consisted of oralists Singh and Elizabeth Barchas, and Miriam Achtenberg, Chiraag Bains, Daniel Klaff, and Amy Mendenhall.
Justice Scalia, often referred to as the “funniest” Supreme Court Justice, drew laughs from the crowd on several occasions, and peppered the panelists with questions tinged by his trademark snarkiness. “I don’t understand this world of administrative law you’re describing where ‘interpretive’ means ‘non-substantive,'” he told Fedynyshyn. “It’s a weird, weird world.” He also chastised the respondents for their failure to site a contention in their brief that most employment discrimination plaintiffs are among the most marginalized members of society.
At the close of the competition, Judge Scalia advised the competitors that they had to learn how to handle a “boorish judge,” noting “I was no nastier today than I am normally.” He added some general advice for oral argument: don’t have a set speech in mind, expect interruptions, and don’t simply repeat your brief. Judge Lucero commented that he saw oral argument as “a conversation with the court,” a dynamic he praised the oralists for mastering.
Circuit court judges Livingston and Lucero took the opportunity of sitting on the mock Supreme Court to take several shots at the actual Supreme Court. “This has been brought to us by a half-dozen or so circuit courts,” quipped Judge Livingston, “but we don’t care about them.” The Ames Moot Court Competition is an annual event at Harvard Law School dating to 1911. Entrants compete first in a qualifying round, and the top four teams advancing to a Semifinal round. The winners of those Semifinals compete in the Finals during the fall of their 3L year. Prize money is given to both the winning and losing teams in the final round, as well as to the best oralist.