Nov 11, 2008

Moot court aids in preparation for U.S. Supreme Court case

by Drew Menard

Nine members of Liberty Law School’s faculty, acting as Supreme Court Justices, barraged Jay Sekulow with a series of critical questions to help hone his argument for an upcoming Supreme Court case.

Sekulow came to Liberty to moot, or practice, his argument for Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, a case which will be brought before the Supreme Court on Nov. 13. He is the advocate for Pleasant Grove City.

Sekulow, who has been meticulously preparing his argument, made his way to Liberty University on Wednesday, Oct. 29 for a moot court as part of a long series of such events to fine tune his oral argument before he has to make it before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“When this case was accepted before the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring of 2008, I invited (Sekulow) to come to Liberty and he was happy to do so,” Law School Dean Mathew Staver said.

For the moot Supreme Court case Mathew Staver played the role of Chief Justice and was accompanied by Liberty Law faculty members Judge Bob Ulrich, Judge Paul Spinden, Professor Philip Manns, Professor Shwan Akers, Professor Grant Rost and Professor Michael Sandez and Constitutional Law Attorneys Erik Stanley and Kelly Shackelford, who acted as the other eight justices.

Within nine seconds of presenting his oral argument for the case, Sekulow was interrupted with a critical question from Staver, in character. This opened the floodgates for an hour long exchange of questions and arguments between Sekulow and the pseudo justices.

“Anyone that was sitting on the panel looked at the case straightforward and then tried to ask questions where things were either vague, or there was a mix of law, in terms of circuits having different rulings, or there was ambiguities,” Sandez said.

Sekulow did not expect to get very far in presenting his opening argument. It is quite common for a Supreme Court justice to begin inquiry without allowing the lawyer to finish speaking. Sekulow had to anticipate what points will draw questioning from the justices.
“You’ve got to practice your answers,” Sekulow said. “While Dean Staver is asking a question, I can finish his question and answer it. That is a good problem to have.”

Liberty’s faculty did not take its roles as Supreme Court justices lightly. Hours of research and preparation went into assuming the roles. Sandez said that, in addition to reading the briefs, he looked up relaying cases and similar issues.
“It was quite extensive,” Sandez said.

Liberty’s purpose was to prepare Sekulow by making him “sharper on the things that were not clear,” according to Sandez.
“This was a good moot court,” Sekulow said. “Much tougher than it will be at the Supreme Court.”

“It was enlightening … to see the rapid interchange the justices do have in cases like these. The attorneys really have to be ready to take on all angles,” Theology Professor Dr. Gaylen Leverett said, after witnessing the event.

Sekulow will be presenting his 13th oral argument before the Supreme Court and his position in this particular case is supported by the United States, according to Sekulow.

Liberty’s Supreme Courtroom, which is modeled after the U.S. Supreme Courtroom, is often used to host moot courts. Staver’s vision for the courtroom was to “prepare some of the most important cases before the U.S. Supreme Court” at Liberty.
Staver and Sekulow have been friends for a long time. The duo “pioneered the current model of constitutional litigation in the early 1990s,” according to Staver.

As Sekulow continues preparing and reviewing his argument, he will moot at various venues such as Regent University. The final moot will take place Monday, Nov. 10.

“On Tuesday (Nov. 11) I will play golf,” Sekulow said. “If you don’t know by the day before, its your funeral.”


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