A Supreme Competition

A Supreme Competition

Scalia's presence enlivens BC Law moot court

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

If most students get the jitters before making a big presentation in class, Briana Thibeau had a case of the butterflies larger than most on April 14. As a finalist in the Wendell F. Grimes Moot Court Competition, the second-year BC Law student was playing to a house that consisted of most of her professors and classmates - and a sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Thibeau and partner Patrick Manzo rose to the occasion to win the finals of the competition before a three-judge panel headed by US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and some 200 spectators in Stuart Hall East Wing on Newton Campus.

"All in all it was a moot-court experience that I will never forget," said Thibeau, who hails from the small town of Fort Fairfield in northern Maine and plans a career in intellectual-property law. "There were definitely some nerves that had to be calmed the week before the finals, and it was daunting to see such a large number of our peers and professors in attendance. But the experience was worth every minute of stress that came with it."

The Grimes Moot Court, sponsored annually by the Board of Student Advisors at BC Law, is an in-house competition in which second-year students argue mock cases in trial settings. Thirty-seven teams of two students apiece compete in the tournament.

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (center) questions a student presenter during the April 14 Wendell F. Grimes Moot Court Competition at Boston College Law School. Also judging the competition were Sandra Lynch of the First Circuit Court of Appeals and Paul Barbadoro of the US District Court in New Hampshire. (Photo by Sue Orutsky)

Arguments in the recent competition centered on the use of tuition vouchers in public education. Law students debated the fictional case of a teacher who had sued the school board over the use of state tuition vouchers at private religious schools and at public single-sex schools.

Thibeau and Manzo argued the court should uphold the constitutionality of vouchers and single-sex magnet schools. The bench agreed, according to Board of Student Advisors member Sarah Evans, even though, she said, "the law traditionally has been on the side of the respondents" in this year's finals, Whitney Roberts and Denis Cleary, who presented the anti-voucher position.

Great interest had attended the participation of the conservative Scalia in a mock hearing on a legal issue which has been hotly debated in the current presidential election, and which may be taken up by the Supreme Court in the near future.

"Unfortunately Scalia did not give his opinion at the end," said Evans, "but during the questioning he asked some questions that seem to indicate that he was for vouchers at sectarian schools and single-sex magnet schools."

Also serving on the panel were Paul J. Barbadoro, JD '80, chief judge of the US District Court in New Hampshire, and Judge Sandra Lynch of the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The competition and the argument before such an accomplished panel was a great experience," said Manzo. "Very few attorneys ever argue before a Supreme Court Justice and I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity.

A Navy veteran considering a practice in trial law, Manzo said he found persuading live judges a distinct departure from classroom debate.

"The final panel seemed to have brought some pre-formed notions about the problem, as opposed to approaching it as a strictly neutral academic experience," he said. "This brought a nice sense of reality, as it underscored that the real goal of oral argument is to convince the bench, as opposed to merely completing a pre-arranged logical argument sequence."


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